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Reality Check w/ John Tracy: Pioneer Homes are pawns in the battle over budget cuts

By John Tracy 4:46 PM April 13, 2017

State lawmakers shook up Alaska pioneers this week, threatening to toss them out of the Pioneer Homes in Juneau and Palmer.

The hubbub demonstrates what happens when your public policy becomes a public relations nightmare.

The Senate last week approved a 10 percent budget cut, nearly $6 million to the State’s Pioneer Homes Division.

The Department of Health responded by warning residents at the Palmer and Juneau homes to prepare to leave. Then the finger pointing began.

The agency says if the Senate didn’t want cuts to Pioneer Homes, it shouldn’t have targeted them.

The Senate says its not to blame because the House might restore the money, and after all it gave the agency discretion to spread the cuts elsewhere if it wanted to.

Clearly, the Senate and the Walker administration are using the budget cut for political theater. But this is really a problem with the Senate’s approach.

It’s not that difficult to make budget cuts without specifics and leave it to state agencies to do the dirty work.

In other words, the Senate would like the credit for making a big budget cut, but not the blame when the cut actually impacts Alaskans.

Should the Pioneer homes be shut down? Of course not. Nor will they.

But, I would argue, if one is going to be shut down, it should probably be Palmer. And stay with me here, I love Palmer.

The Mat-Su delegation unanimously condemned the Pioneer Home threat.

However, as a group, they are among those calling for the deepest cuts in the budget.

In fact, their Senator, Mike Dunleavy, quit his own majority caucus last week because the Senate isn’t cutting enough.

So here’s an idea that might actually solve this debate.

What if every lawmaker who believes we can cut our way out of our fiscal dilemma would step up and accept larger cuts in services in their districts first.

Just to set an example.

Reality Check. If you’re a lawmaker who campaigned on making deep cuts, then you need to own them.

Because it’s OK to be a budget hawk in Juneau, but you’re only credible if you don’t become a chicken hawk when the cuts land in your district.

John’s opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of Denali Media or its employees.

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