Berkowitz: Dunleavy budget represents an 'attack' on Alaskans
The mayor of Alaska's largest city has added his voice to those criticizing Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget proposal unveiled Wednesday, which includes drastic cuts to education and health care services.
"When you try and balance the budget, and do it on primarily by landing on children and on people who are sick, people who are vulnerable, that says a lot about the values that you have," said Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, as members of his staff continued to review the proposed budget.
Dunleavy's budget doesn't increase expenditures beyond revenues or call for new taxes from Alaskans. The balanced budget he promised includes slashing the University of Alaska's budget nearly in half, a 31 percent cut to the Department of Health and Social Services, a 24 percent cut to K-12 education, and a 33 percent cut to the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
The mayor tweeted a quote from late Alaska governor Walter Hickel shortly after Dunleavy's news conference Wednesday.
"I keep thinking of Wally Hickel," Berkowitz said, "'cause he said, basically, that if your sole vision is to cut the budget, then Alaska has no hope and has no future. And this budget is a rejection of the future that Alaska can and should have."
The Dunleavy administration is also proposing that the state receive local taxes levied on oil and gas infrastructure. Statewide, municipalities stand to lose an estimated $420 million, with roughly $372 million coming from the North Slope Borough.
Anchorage would lose about $2.5 million.
"There’s a lot of cost-shifting that occurs in this budget where the Dunleavy budget pushes cost onto the Municipality of Anchorage and the taxpayers of Anchorage," Berkowitz said. "For example, there are things like elimination of assistance and revenue sharing, the elimination of our ability to collect property tax from oil and gas properties in this town, and those shift cost onto existing taxpayers."
Berkowitz said the municipality's losses extend far beyond oil taxes.
"There’s the reduction of the base student allocation as well as bond debt reimbursement for the school district, which is way more than $100 million of a cost shift," he said. "These are not small numbers, and these are large burdens to expect us to absorb quickly."
Dunleavy said the tough cuts now will ultimately pave the way for a stronger economy.
"It's going to touch all Alaskans, no matter where they live and no matter what they do," Dunleavy said Wednesday. "It's going to be a different way of budgeting and all Alaskans are going to have to pull together through this process."
Berkowitz estimates job losses as a result of the budget will be much farther reaching than the roughly 700 initially calculated by the administration.
"If you’re building a budget based on the idea that you’re trying to protect the economy, and at the same time you shove tens of thousands of people into unemployment, if you’re completely oblivious to the idea that when you cut state services or state functions like the university, that has a ripple effect, that there are consequences in terms of how money multiples in an economy," Berkowitz said. "That shows a basic lack of understanding of how government works, how the economy works, and how business works."
Dunleavy's proposed budget would, however, share revenues from alcohol taxes with municipalities.
"That’s a total sucker's deal," Berkowitz reacted. "It’s like, 'I’m gonna share 20 million dollars with you, and I’m gonna take away 300 million dollars.' So that doesn’t even pass the blush test with me."
When asked how the municipality would address the cuts if Dunleavy's budget were passed by the Legislature, Berkowitz said he isn't willing to concede that a budget of this nature will pass.
"We’re gonna fight this. We’re gonna make sure that as many improvements can be made, as should be made, because this is not who we are," he said. "I am confident that the people of the state of Alaska are gonna rise to the occasion."
When asked how, Berkowitz lashed out even more deeply against the budget.
"This budget represents an attack on who we are," he said. "It represents an attack on individual Alaskans, on Alaskan families, on Alaskan communities, on Alaskan businesses. And we have, as we showed in the earthquake, demonstrated an ability to come together in order to combat adversity."
"This is adversity," he said.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.