The Alaska Legislature abandoned its attempts on Friday to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy's vetoes of roughly $390 million to the state’s operating budget. Homer Mayor Ken Castner said the vetoes make him incredibly concerned about the future of the city as a whole.
Castner warned that severe cuts and defunding of programs would have a very harmful effect on Homer, from a potential closure of the Kachemak Bay Campus to the loss of crucial mental health care from South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services.
“It's ironic that the behavioral center here in Homer will be marking its 40th anniversary of good mental health and providing mental health services to the community and some of the health and social services agencies that are dependent on state support, they're going to suffer some cuts,” he said.
Castner penned two letters to Rep. Sarah Vance and Sen. Gary Stevens urging them to find compromise to avoid major loss of funding to state services. He argued that the governor’s cuts would have “unsustainable impacts on the residents of Alaska and the local governments that serve them.” He also reiterated the council’s position on the state budget that it took earlier this year.
Back in March, the Homer City Council penned a strongly worded letter to Gov. Dunleavy, urging him not to cut state services and to look instead at other revenue options to balance the state’s budget. The council wrote in support of a state income tax and reduced permanent fund dividends.
But Castner said the city itself would be fairly unimpaired by Gov. Dunleavy’s vetoes. He said the city does not depend on state funding.
“We have not figured revenue sharing as a means of income since 2015,” he said. “Its always been considered a surplus amount because we, the city prior to my being elected, recognize that revenue sharing was going to be something that will be continued to be cut over time.”
He added that it’s unreasonable to expect the city to try to fill in the gaps that may be left by the governor’s cuts. There’s no mandate for the council to step in to fund the services and programs that the governor vetoes could delete.
Besides, he said the council already struggles with its role in determining how much to support social services.
“Do we throw some money at it?” he asked. “I think that's the best, that's the highest expectation you can have is that there'll be a council whose heart opens up and throws some money at it, but that's not what the purpose was. That's not what the deal is.”
He hoped that state legislators can still find other ways to refund some items that the governor cut.
Castner also expressed concern about what’s known as the “reverse sweep.” It’s a vote that’s needed as part of the state capital budget to fund certain items such as college scholarships, power cost equalization and the Alaska Marine Highway system.