NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019

Alaska’s right wing governor uses his line item veto pen to attack state universities

Higher education is under attack in the State of Alaska like never before — and the man leading the charge is the state’s chief executive, Mike Dunleavy.

The University of Alaska is the biggest target of Dunleavy’s line-item veto pen, losing $130 million in state support atop the $5 million cut approved earlier by lawmakers. The resulting reduction is nearly 41% of the state’s support for the university system. University officials said the cuts would be devastating to the UA system.

“I believe they’re going to be able to work through this … I don’t believe they can be all things to all people, and I think that’s generally speaking, the state of Alaska. We can’t continue to be all things for all people,” the governor said Friday morning in a news conference that was broadcast statewide.

What Dunleavy really meant to say is that he doesn’t believe in the idea of public education. Like so many radical right wingers across this country, he believes tax dollars should only be spent on corporate subsidies, defense contracts, and law enforcement. All other public services ought to be gutted.

The notion that the University of Alaska is “going to be able to work through” a forty percent cut is absurd, and demonstrates what a fool Dunleavy is.

This is the kind of revenue hit the University system may never recover from.

If the State of Alaska has a foremost economic engine, it’s the University of Alaska. The University is a force for good jobs and economic prosperity.

Dunleavy doesn’t care about Alaska’s future or investing in Alaska’s people. He only cares about his myopic, self-serving, short term agenda of austerity measures.

Everything must be sacrificed in pursuit of a fatter Permanent Fund Dividend.

University of Alaska officials were aghast.

“There’s no question this budget — if not overridden by the Legislature — would be devastating to the university and to our mission and to the state and to our economy now and for years to come,” [University of Alaska President Jim] Johnsen told the UA Board of Regents at an emergency meeting Friday.

Dunleavy’s veto of $130.25 million in state funding for UA is on top of a $5 million cut already approved by the Legislature.

In total, that’s a 41% reduction in state support to the public university system compared to last year. It’s the largest cut in the university’s 100-year history, UA officials said.

[…]

John Davies, chairman of the UA Board of Regents, called the veto “completely irresponsible.” A cut that massive must be phased in over several years — not days before the fiscal year starts, he said.

“To ask us to take a $135 million cut in one year? It’s just beyond the pale,” Davies said. “Whole chunks of the university are going to have to disappear, that’s the only way we can possibly balance the budget. We don’t have any slush funds anywhere.

Here’s Johnsen’s letter to the university community:

University of Alaska response to Dunleavy attack on Alaska's universities

Our team at NPI would like to see how well Dunleavy operates as Governor of Alaska with a sudden forty percent reduction in the funding for his office.

“The fundamental question is now squarely before Alaskans. What’s more important: a healthy economy, our schools, university, and seniors, or doubling the Permanent Fund Dividend at the expense of essential state services? The governor has made his choice clear,” wrote Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, in a statement sharply critical of Dunleavy’s vetoes.

Alaska’s Legislature could override some or all of the line item vetoes when it gathers for a special session next week. But that would require supermajorities of each chamber of Alaska’s Legislature. Some of Dunleavy’s allies would have to vote against him in order for sense and sensibility to prevail.

NPI stands with everyone who has risen up in opposition to this devastating attack on higher education in the State of Alaska.

We call on every legislator, whether Democratic, Republican, or independent, to vote to overturn this extremely harmful, shortsighted budget veto.

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