When A Leader Chooses to Prevent His Organization from Living Outside of Its Means


On June 28 Alaskans were told that significant budget cuts were on the way and as you can imagine it caused quite a stir. Governor Mike Dunleavy’s little red pen danced across the finances of numerous state departments and when its work was done the office of management and budget released a veto summary totaling 182 line items and more than $400 million dollars in state funding that would no longer be available as of July 1. Those most affected by this aggressive effort to balance the state’s budget include the department of early learning coordination, the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission, the Alaska Council on the Arts, a ranger program to prevent further pollution of Alaskan waterways by cruise ships, the benefits program for low income elders, the Behavioral Health Administration, crucial judiciary and safety measures in rural Alaskan communities, Medicaid benefits including adult dental coverage, and the University of Alaska systems. While it is staggering to be informed that the UA systems would receive $130 million less in the new operating budget than in the previous year it is also important to be objective about a couple of things.

First, while these cuts mean the UA system receives 41% less money from the state than in previous years, it does not mean their entire budget is cut in half. This reduction in state funding means the total budget of UA systems is impacted by 17% and while that number is still significant it is not quite the travesty our media sources would have us believe. This is but one example of how the budget cuts aim to trim the fat, a necessary action, without entirely pulling the rug out from under anyone’s feet.

Second, most of the 182 line items in Dunleavy’s veto summary exist to reduce travel budgets across all departments by at least 50% which is both prudent and reasonable if we are in such dire financial circumstances as this document would suggest. Furthermore, the veto summary also eliminates vacant or redundant positions across all departments, another sage fiscal decision in the current economic climate.

Last, and most important, the Alaska Legislature begins yet another special legislative session to continue arguing about the state’s operating budget on July 8 and legislators have five days from the first day of the session to overturn the governor’s vetoes if they so choose. Such a move by the legislature would require 45 of the 60 members to agree on an override and if they are as struck by the magnitude of Dunleavy’s vetoes as the Alaskan people then it is not out of the question that they might be overturned. Some say the legislature is so deeply divided that such a vote is not likely but the exact nature of the legislature’s position remains to be seen. We should know what Alaska’s state politicians decide no later than July 15.

Now, here is something important to keep in mind when considering Alaska’s financial climate for the next year: it is not as bad as it seems, most of the cuts are the kind you would make from your own home budget if money became tight such as eliminating frivolous or unnecessary spending, and the rest of your elected officials still have time to fight for funding to keep health, safety, and education services alive within reason even as so many other departments are held accountable for their spending. Never in the history of mankind has it ever been helpful to tell worked up, passionate people to calm down, especially where money is involved, but in the meantime, I’m begging you: calm down.

At this time I would like to direct our attention away from Dunleavy’s little red pen and towards the courage it must have taken to announce what departments would be affected in an effort to balance the budget. Governor Mike Dunleavy is a leader who put his foot down and has demanded that his government stop living outside of its means. What will result from such an act of bravery is not that every little thing will be defunded exactly as his veto summary says it will but rather important discussions will arise amongst community leaders tasked with making hard decisions regarding what our society can realistically afford. Right now we are stretching every single dollar, spreading them so thin its comical like a little bit of butter on way too much bread and that is not sustainable. In choosing what is important to us we will be able to fund those departments more adequately. It will also provide us with an opportunity to brainstorm and innovate how to come up with the money to fund the other things that are important to us that we cannot afford right at this moment. I for one think that could be an exciting opportunity for all Alaskans, not just politicians, to come together and build a new industry that generates money for the state. This is not the doom and gloom financial apocalypse some have imagined. Rather, it is a sobering reality check that tells us we need to be wiser with our spending before we are in so far over our heads in debt that we cannot be saved.

It is really easy to hate your parents when they take away your allowance if you don’t understand that it is not that they want your pockets to be empty but rather that there is no money with which to fill them. Governor Mike Dunleavy is that parent who has said they will no longer live outside of their means no matter how upset everyone becomes and I commend him for that decision. Now I hope that our leaders and the Alaskan people will be willing to have those difficult discussions regarding our resources so that we may recover from past economic missteps, so that we may balance our budget in the present, and so that we may look forward to greater economic prosperity in the future. It may be painful to go without in the meantime, but just as it motivates us to work harder and save more in our personal budgets to afford the things we want, so too may this serve to motivate and unite we the people.

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