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We Build Alaska

The Sunday Minefield – June 30, 2024

I can’t believe June is already over! Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) announced his vetoes and unceremoniously signed the operating and capital budgets into law on Friday afternoon. Anchorage Mayor-elect Suzanne LaFrance will be sworn in tomorrow at a ceremony at Town Square Park that starts at noon. The deadline to withdraw from the primary was yesterday. A last minute withdrawal left yet another House incumbent unopposed, taking the total to eight. In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decisions holding that enforcing anti-camping ordinances on city property constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. Constitution. And the Alaska Supreme Court reversed Judge Zeman’s ruling that the correspondence program is unconstitutional.

A friendly message and reminder to all our readers. The Landmine is made possible by myself and a team of awesome Alaskans. I recently returned from Juneau for my sixth session in a row reporting on the Legislature. We will again be providing in-depth coverage for both the primary and general elections. If you enjoy the content we provide, please consider making a one time or recurring monthly donation. You can click here to donate. We have a system that makes it super easy. We would really appreciate it. And thanks to everyone who has been supportive.

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Gov. Dunleavy’s $230 million in budget vetoes

The following is a small excerpt from a recent special edition of the Alaska Political Report. You can click here for more information about the Political Report. A subscription is $1,299/year per organization. Discounted pricing is available for non-profits and government entities. Our coverage of the budget starts with the governor’s proposed budget, and we track everything in detail through the entire process. If you have any questions or would like to subscribe, please email jeff@akpoliticalreport.com.

On Friday, June 28, GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed the state operating, capital, and Mental Health appropriations bills. He made line item vetoes to all three budgets reducing total spending by $232 million, $203 million from state unrestricted general funds. The enacted UGF budget is $6.3 billion, a small increase from the FY24 budget after supplementals.

For historical context, Gov. Dunleavy’s first budget, FY2020, was $5.5 billion when he signed it into law, after several special sessions, and had a deficit over $150 million. His FY2025 budget is $837 million larger (15%) and has a near $150 million surplus.

Most of the vetoes made by Dunleavy this year were to discretionary district projects added during the legislative process. Although these are sure to disappoint the individual communities impacted, and may delay planned investments in energy and housing, they are unlikely to impact the overall operations of the state. There are, however, a few notable vetoes that could have follow-on effects for state services in FY25. Here they are:

Education

The Governor held true on his promise to leave intact the one-time BSA increase of $680/student ($175 million) included in the Legislature’s budget. However, he vetoed an $11.9 million UGF appropriation intended to bring the state back into compliance with the requirements of federal funding accepted and distributed by the Dunleavy administration during the COVID pandemic.

Due to the state’s failure to meet these requirements, Alaska has been labeled as a “high risk” grantee resulting in restrictions being placed on some future federal awards. By vetoing the $11.9 million appropriation the Governor may be putting future awards from the Federal Department of Education at risk. For more information on this issue the recent reporting by Claire Stremple of the Alaska Beacon is a good resource.

The Governor also vetoed $5.2 million UGF that was intended to assist districts in the implementation of reading instruction under the Alaska Reads Act. Many districts have expressed frustration that the goals of the Reads Act will not be achievable unless properly resourced.

Snow Removal

The Governor vetoed a $1.3 million UGF addition made by the Legislature to address recruitment of maintenance workers in the central region. This was primarily intended to attract more plow drivers to the region. Recent winter storms have overwhelmed capacity in the area. The Governor also vetoed $250,000 UGF associated with the increased cost of storing snow removed from roadways.

Big Court Decisions 

On Friday, in Grants Pass v. Johnson, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decisions holding that enforcing anti-camping ordinances on city property constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. Constitution. In doing so, the Court noted that the Ninth Circuit had improperly taken a tool away from local governments that had caused the proliferation of homeless encampments on the West Coast. This is a major decision that will finally allow the Anchorage Assembly and incoming mayor to deal with many of the problems associated with the people who have overtaken so many of our public spaces. The question is will they?

The full opinion can be read here. The Alaska Landmine will publish a deeper legal analysis by Anchorage attorney Lee Baxter tomorrow.

The Alaska Supreme Court reversed Judge Zeman’s ruling that the correspondence program is unconstitutional, but did not go so far as to say the program is constitutional. The high court sent it back to the superior court and gave the plaintiffs other means to challenge the constitutionality of how different districts are administering the program. Regardless, the ruling was a win for Governor Dunleavy and conservatives. This AP article provides more detail about the ruling.

Other Happenings 

After lengthy public testimony and debate, the Anchorage Assembly narrowly passed a zoning ordinance on Tuesday that allows duplexes to be more easily built in most of Anchorage. The NIMBYs had come out hard against the ordinance, which was a watered down version of a previous proposed ordinance that went further to make zoning changes that would allow for more housing to be built in Anchorage.

The deadline to withdraw from the primary was yesterday. There is also a withdrawal deadline for the general, which is September 2. Earlier in the week independent Greg Magee withdrew from the House District 10 race and endorsed former Republican Representative Chuck Kopp. Magee’s withdrawal leaves Kopp in a heads up match against Representative Craig Johnson (R – Anchorage). Michael Welch, last week’s Loose Unit for being removed as North Pole mayor, withdrew from the House District 33 race. This leaves Representative Mike Prax (R – North Pole) again unopposed. Now, eight House incumbents, or 20% of the 40 seats, are unopposed. The other seven are:

  • Representative Andi Story (D – Juneau)
  • Representative Rebecca Himschoot (I – Sitka)
  • Representative Sara Hannan (D – Juneau)
  • Representative Zack Fields (D – Anchorage)
  • Representative Dan Saddler (R – Eagle River)
  • Representative DeLena Johnson (R- Palmer)
  • Speaker Cathy Tilton (R – Wasilla)

After reviewing the interim legislative staff list for the Alaska Political Report, I found a few interesting new hires:

  • Kay Schuster, who recently ran for the Anchorage School Board, is now working for Representative Jamie Allard (R – Eagle River).
  • Yarrow Silvers, who co-founded the Alaska Current, is now working for Representative Alyse Galvin (I – Anchorage).

Ethan Schutt’s seat on the Permanent Fund Board of Trustees is up tomorrow. There’s not been a peep from Governor Dunleavy on whether or not he will be reappointed or replaced. Schutt is the current chair but the board is in disarray due to numerous scandals. Don’t forget the April Landmine story that published internal Permanent Fund emails where a senior Permanent Fund executive claimed Trustee Ellie Rubenstein told him that Dunleavy would not reappoint Schutt. It will be interesting to see what happens.

This Week’s Loose Unit

After the absolute disaster of a debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, Biden was the obvious choice for this week’s Loose Unit. But a development on Friday made an Alaskan this week’s clear designee. This week’s Loose Unit is Brett Huber. If you don’t know who Brett Huber is, he’s been around Alaska politics for a long time. He ran Dunleavy’s 2018 campaign and worked for him and other legislators before that. He also held various jobs for Dunleavy after he was first elected in 2018. He’s one of those conservatives who has never seen a high paying government job he didn’t like. He’s also an extremely toxic and arrogant individual that leaves a blight anywhere he works.

In January 2023, Dunleavy appointed Huber chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC). That job comes with a cool $150,000 salary. Huber had no business being appointed to the AOGCC, let alone being chair. But Dunleavy loves giving patronage jobs to his sycophants. Huber announced his resignation on Friday in an email to AOGCC staff. The reason he gave was so he could “focus on his family.” We all know what that means. Classic Loose Unit behavior.

There’s no way Huber would voluntarily leave that cushy $150,000 job. The Landmine has learned of an HR investigation into Huber that was allegedly about his toxic behavior in the workplace. I am working on getting more details into the investigation. But if you know Huber you would not be at all surprised to hear about his toxic behavior. This dude is the personification of a Loose Unit. I am shocked he lasted as long as he did in that role. Stay tuned for more reporting on this, including a records request I received that showed Huber took more than a dozen trips in the last year on the AOGCC dime, including to Kuala Lumpur. Classic Loose Unit.

If you have a nomination for this week’s Loose Unit, or if you have any political news, stories or gossip (or any old pics of politicians or public officials) please email me at jeff@alaskalandmine.com.

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Dan
17 days ago

The correspondence case is just absolutely bizarre. Using state funds for full-time enrollment in private schools is clearly unconstitutional. Everyone agrees that it’s being done. The state argues it’s not allowed but still cuts a check to the school districts to explicitly pay for this illegal activity. The litigants, for some reason, don’t join a school district to their lawsuit (probably because the school districts aren’t really acting in bad faith, they are just following the suggestions of the administration. The Superior Court issues an overly broad ruling so that we now kick the can down the road another year.… Read more »

Liddy Gator
16 days ago
Reply to  Dan

The way parties litigate matters. Here’s the summary order the Supreme Court issued with the caveat that “A formal opinion more fully explaining our reasoning will follow at a later date.”

North to Alaska
15 days ago
Reply to  Dan

“Using state funds for full-time enrollment in private schools is clearly unconstitutional.” Um…there has been NO EVIDENCE that this happened. There are people who’s children are enrolled in private school and enrolled in correspondences school. They are paying for the private school out of their own pocket. They use the correspondence money to pay for tutors etc that are not part of that school. To be clear, what they pay for out of their pocket is none of your freaking business so don’t tell me they can’t be in a correspondence at the same time. That would be akin to… Read more »