Gov. Mike Dunleavy used his veto pen Friday to make drastic cuts to the state’s operating budget. On the Kenai Peninsula, everything from education to healthcare would see huge losses if his vetoes stand.
Governor Dunleavy cut $130 million of state funding to the University of Alaska system. The University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Cathy Sandeen said if the cut went through, the university system would need to lay off roughly 1,3000 faculty and staff, eliminate programs and severely cut back on support that the Anchorage campus can give to community campuses such as the ones on the Kenai Peninsula.
She adds that closing a campus isn’t out of the question.
“President Johnsen, the head of the UA system, has said in his communication that everything is on the table,” she said. “But I will say we haven't had any specific conversations about closing campuses at this point.
However, she says community campuses that have more support would be less likely to go.
“Communities also fund those campuses. So that's certainly true in the Kenai borough,” she said. “They're funding the Kenai Peninsula College, both campuses, to the tune of over $800,000 for one year. So I think that that is a huge consideration.”
The governor also cut $50 million from Medicaid, which comes in addition to the $70 million cut the Legislature made. He also slashed behavioral health treatment funding. Jay Bechtol is the head of South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services. He notes that while it’s difficult to know how these cuts could affect the health center’s bottom line, the outlook does not look good.
“This is probably a deeper cut than I was expecting,” he said.
Still he said that if the cuts stand, it will mean that the behavioral health center will have to triage its services.
“We will have to prioritize community needs so that the most acute client or patient gets the most services, which does a great disservice to the people that are trying to maintain themselves,” he said. “If all we're doing is putting out fires, we're not able to provide the support and the backbone that people need so that they can continue their life without having to have a fire to put out.”
South Peninsula Haven House will also be unable to sustain certain services if the vetoes stand. The organization’s executive director Ronnie Leach says the nonprofit provides assistance for residents who can’t afford housing. But Dunleavy eliminated funding for these types of programs.
“If we don’t have that money, we don’t have a program,” she said
She says in 2018, Haven House helped out over 100 families that were homeless or near homeless.
“So that will be that amount of families that we project that we won't be able to help this year if we don't have funding,” she said. “So basically we're going to increase homelessness in Homer”
But not everyone is in despair. Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce says his staff is still analyzing the impact of the cuts but he expects the borough to be in a solid financial situation. That’s despite the governor vetoing $30 million to the state’s community assistance fund and half of the funding required to pay back municipalities for school bond debt.
“We’ve already anticipated some of those things in our budget,” he said. “And so I think right now, as of this morning, we’re sitting in a favorable position.”
Still the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District worries that cuts to the borough may mean less money for education funding in the future.
Dunleavy also made slashed funding to the arts, public broadcasting and other programs.