Dunleavy budget vetoes include peninsula projects, bonus funding for schools

Funding for Kenai Peninsula projects and a slash to the extra money approved by state lawmakers for K-12 education are among the vetoes made by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to Alaska’s budget documents for the 12-month period starting July 1. Dunleavy’s amended budget and list of vetoes were published Monday by the Alaska Office of Management and Budget.

Vetoed by Dunleavy is $150,000 for the expansion of the kitchen at the Ninilchik Senior Center, $600,000 for the reconstruction of Wildwood Drive in Kenai and $670,500 for the relocation of the Hope Transfer Site. Dunleavy justified the three vetoes as being necessary to “preserve general funds for savings and fiscal stability.”

The City of Kenai as recently as March made clear that it wishes to split the costs of maintaining Wildwood Drive with the State of Alaska. The road — dubbed the worst in Kenai — stretches from the Kenai Spur Highway to Wildwood Correctional Complex and is more than 50 years old. The city has said that because the road is so heavily trafficked by state vehicles, the state should help repair it.

The final iteration of the state’s operating budget also includes about $2.3 million for the Kenai Peninsula Youth Facility, $16.6 million for Kenai Peninsula College and about $500,000 for Kenai Peninsula Stream Watch.

Dunleavy in a press release celebrated the document, which he called a “responsible path for Alaska’s financial future.” He highlighted new investments in public safety, funding for various education initiatives and one-time bumps to economic development initiatives like tourism and marketing.

“While this is a responsible budget for FY24, I look forward to working with lawmakers and Alaskans to establish a long-term, sustainable fiscal plan,” Dunleavy is quoted as saying in a press release.

The biggest cut made by Dunleavy was to extra money state lawmakers approved for K-12 education, which he reduced by half — about $87.4 million.

The Alaska Legislature heard hours of testimony this session from school districts around Alaska calling for an increase to the base student allocation, or the amount of money the state gives school districts per student. That amount hasn’t changed since fiscal year 2017, and proponents say the result is school funding has not kept up with inflation.

Unlike one-time funding, a statutory change to the BSA amount would set the new normal for that amount. Lawmakers failed to adopt a BSA increase this session, instead approving $175 million in one-time funding. The $87.4 million still in the budget amounts to a BSA increase of about $340.

Among those lobbying the state for a BSA increase this year was the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, which started its budget process this year with a $13.1 million deficit. The KPBSD school board earlier this month directed the district to start the process of bringing back positions it had considered cutting, such as pool managers and theater technicians.

KPBSD staff told board members during a June 5 committee meeting that, even if Dunleavy vetoed all $175 million, it could pay for the positions brought back using all of the money in the district’s savings account. In all, the school district’s budget cut about $3.4 million in staff and has about $2.4 million in savings.

Documents associated with Alaska’s fiscal year 2024 budget process can be found at omb.alaska.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.