Gov. Dunleavy makes case for cuts, gets warm reception in Eagle River

Friday, May 3, 2019 - 15:23
  • Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy waves after giving a speech to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 in Eagle River, Alaska. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)
  • Gov. Mike Dunleavy gives a a speech to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 in Eagle River, Alaska. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy told a supportive Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce crowd Wednesday he’ll continue to push for a state budget that cuts expenses, provides for a Permanent Fund Dividend and won’t force new taxes on Alaskans.

“There’s really no need for taxes if we reduce our spending and commit to it,” Dunleavy told a packed house at the Matanuska Brewing Company in downtown Eagle River.

The governor got a warm welcome upon entering the Matanuska Brewing Company flanked by an entourage that included deputy chief of staff Amy Demboski of Chugiak, communications director Mary Ann Pruitt and several security staff.

A hostess said the gathering was the largest she’d seen in almost two years of chamber meetings at the downtown Eagle River brewpub, and there was a buzz as the governor strode across the room to his seat near the brewpub’s pizza kitchen.

Announcements were kept brief in order to get to his remarks, though chamber president Julie Estey did recognize Dunleavy deputy Demboski and chamber executive director Debbie Rinckey reminded the crowd of the upcoming Chamber Tea (May 4), Chamber Golf Tournament (June 7) and the upcoming Bear Paw Festival (whose motto this year is “Shake, Rattle and Rebuild and which is scheduled for July 10-14).

The governor presented a version of a slide show he’s used at several locations around the state this spring outlining his rationale for proposed cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System, K-12 education, Medicaid and the University of Alaska. Alaska faces a $1.2 billion deficit, and Dunleavy said state spending over the past several years has been unsustainable and needs to be brought in line with declining revenues.

“We wouldn’t have this issue if we had controlled our spending,” said Dunleavy, who represented Wasilla in the Alaska Legislature for seven years before defeating incumbent Gov. Bill Walker in the 2018 election thanks largely to widespread support in Chugiak-Eagle River and the Mat-Su.

On Wednesday, the Alaska Senate passed an $11.6 million operating budget that ignored most of Dunleavy’s cuts and includued a $3,000 PFD — a budget the House was expected to reject to set up negotiations on a compromise bill that would go to the governor’s desk. Dunleavy told the audience he thinks an acceptable budget deal can be reached between the Legislature and himself by the end of the session of May 16.

“I’m optimistic that we will,” he said.

The governor admitted “it’s not going to be easy,” to implement all his ideas at once, and said it will likely take another year to reach a budget that accomplishes all his goals.

Dunleavy also made his case for constitutional amendments that would guarantee the traditional PFD payout formula, tighten the state’s spending limit and require all new taxes or tax increases be approved by votes of both the public and the Legislature.

“We believe if we put these things in place it’s going to help our private economy,” he said.

Dunleavy said he thinks reduced spending and better performance can go hand-in-hand, and laid out his vision for a more efficient ferry system, a university that’s “the best in the northern hemisphere in a few areas,” and a leaner public education system.

He also told the chamber he’ll continue to push for tougher crime laws and a diversified economy — which he thinks can be kick-started through decreased regulations and promoting the state to Outside companies. He said a recent trip to Texas convinced him investors are eager to come to the Last Frontier, and said a consultant is producing a video to tout the state’s advantages such as its proximity to China and Europe and its mining and timber potential.

“I’m actually excited about Alaska’s future,” said Dunleavy, who also spoke Wednesday at the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274.

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