Editorial: Dunleavy’s Procrustean budget

Gov. Mike Dunleavy deserves both acclaim and criticism for his proposed fiscal year 2020 budget. While he’s not the first governor to present a budget fully paid for by state revenues — hello, Sarah Palin! — he’s the first governor since oil revenues started plummeting to propose a budget that matches revenues. When he ran for governor, he said he would do that, so no one should be surprised that he’s lived up to his promise.

Dunleavy deserves credit for making real what had been imagined: a budget that makes the deep cuts necessary if you don’t seek new revenues like an income tax, don’t change our oil and gas tax structure, and don’t use Permanent Fund earnings.

Like Procrustes, the demigod of Greek mythology who made travelers fit into his bed by chopping off limbs, Dunleavy has crafted a small frame and forced the budget to fit. The wailing you hear from the North Slope to Ketchikan is of Alaskans contemplating a future with Dunleavy’s Procrustean budget.

During his campaign, Dunleavy was careful never to say exactly how he would cut the budget. He said he would restore our Permanent Fund Dividends and he would not ask for new taxes. You don’t win votes by telling citizens you will cut ferry service, take away revenue sharing, cut education funding, close prisons and eliminate good paying jobs.

Dunleavy has forced a conversation Alaskans didn’t want to have. If you don’t raise revenues by a statewide income tax or sales tax, and if you don’t dip into Permanent Fund earnings, what kind of government results? Dunleavy and Donna Arduin, his loyal budget hawk — more a velociraptor actually — have done that.

They also have proposed a budget that lacks any analysis of the short-term economic impact on Alaska. While Dunleavy shows great imagination in contemplating a leaner, stingier future, he hasn’t done the harder job of considering what that will mean to Alaska’s economy, not exactly in stellar shape at the moment. When you cut spending, lay off state employees, cut ferry schedules, fire teachers and professors, and reduce health care benefits to the poor, there’s bound to be some economic effect. Will that be offset by the economic boost of $3,000 dividends next fall? That’s a good question pesky legislators have asked of Dunleavy and he hasn’t answered.

Is it better to maintain a status quo government that doesn’t make cuts to education? Can the people best determine their economic future if the government lets them spend the money it gives them? Those are the questions Dunleavy has set forth. Before we didn’t know what a tight budget looked like. Now we know. Now we and our legislators can determine if that’s a future we want to make and live in.

But Gov. Dunleavy also should remember the ending to the story of Procrustes. The hero Theseus ended his reign of terror by capturing Procrustes, and punished him by making him fit into his own bed.

Right or wrong, Dunleavy has made his bed, and he will have to lie in it.

– Michael Armstrong, editor