The sun came out in Juneau today, ominous and strange after days of rain. By noon the temperature was plunging toward a projected single-digit nadir and the wind was pushing snow off the peak of Mt. Juneau. Flags - Alaskan, American - went haywire in the wind.
In contrast to the outdoors, the hallways of the state capitol were warm and quiet. House offices have a vacant, transitory feel. File boxes are still packed and stacked in anticipation of the reshuffle of offices that will occur when the House formally determines its power structure. For now the freshmen - who would usually get a shoebox for an office - are stationed in the luxuriant offices of their predecessors.
The axe is in a slow-motion fall, and it is going to hit the chopping block very soon, everyone knows this in their bones. The Dunleavy Budget is a phantom, a rumor, a specter. It is a tale told with wide eyes by fire-light. It is the mighty shape-shifting Kooshdakhaa. It is Sasquatch, staggering grievously through the high mountain night and wind toward Juneau.
In the privacy of their offices, Legislators languish in breathless expectation. Will the Department of Environmental Conservation be rolled entirely into the Department of Natural Resources? Will the Alaska Energy Authority be rolled into the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority? Will the Power Cost Equalization Fund and the Commercial Fishing Revolving Loan Fund and the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Fund be devoured by other needs? Will the University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alaska Southeast be shuttered and centered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks? Will the Department of Public Safety be privatized to Blackwater Security or changed to a pro-bono militia? You see where the mind can go here...
There is a rumor that House organization may not come together until the Governor’s budget hits the legislature on or just before February 13. Foreseeably, the House will get a peek at just how awful and bloody the $1.6 billion cut to the operating budget is, and will cling to one another, united in terror and disbelief. By mid-February, a reaction will be warranted, and some kind of Majority will come together to react. Once the Majority forms, legislators and staff will quickly play a game of musical chairs and alight to their formally assigned offices, unpack their boxes and settle in for what will be a rocky three-plus month of budget negotiation.
Informal polling of legislators and staff on one, seemingly obvious fiscal remedy - repealing the $1.2 billion in North Slope oil tax subsidies in order to forestall cuts to education and public safety - has yielded a very mixed response, from “yes” to “the timing is wrong” to “it’s more complicated than that”. Juneau claims many heroes and one of them is Pat Race of Alaska Robotics who crafted a nice visual explanation of this issue on the Twitter>>
Whatever the Dunleavy Budget reveals - it is helpful to remind ourselves that there are solutions and that the future is not, and does not have to be, as dire as we are told it will be.
Stay alert friends,
Government Affairs Director
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