Dunleavy’s midyear budget bill would cut VPSO funds

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about his proposals to revise the state's criminal justice laws, Jan. 23, 2019. Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about his proposals to revise the state’s criminal justice laws, Jan. 23, 2019. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

Gov. Michael Dunleavy has proposed pulling back $3 million in unspent money for the Village Public Safety Officer program. The cuts would help pay for larger Alaska Permanent Fund dividends, among other items. The proposal is in Senate Bill 39.

Dunleavy wants to implement the midyear budget change right away. Some Alaska lawmakers, like Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks, expressed their dismay that the money would be cut.

“This governor campaigned on public safety and crime prevention,” Kawasaki said. “Why are they taking money out of rural Alaska? Isn’t the life of a rural Alaskan, and isn’t public safety in rural Alaska, just as important as public safety in downtown Anchorage or downtown Mat-Su?”

The VPSO program has had difficulty recruiting in recent years, leaving some smaller towns with a diminished law enforcement presence. There are numerous vacancies for Village Public Safety Officers in Interior Alaska villages.

Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Funding for the VPSO program is determined by the Legislature and managed by the Alaska State Troopers. The funds are awarded to participating regional Native nonprofit corporations through grant requests. Those Native nonprofits are the employers for the VPSOs in their region.

In contrast to the VPSO program cuts, the midyear budget revisions would give Alaska State Troopers about $3.6 million more for salary adjustments intended to help retain and recruit officers.

At a presentation of the supplemental budget requests to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said he was surprised that the VPSO program didn’t get the same recommendation as the Troopers did.

“The two items, to me, are directly related,” Hoffman said.

Donna Arduin, the governor’s budget director, told the committee that because many VPSO positions have not been filled, there was $2.8 million of unspent money in the VPSO program that could go to other areas.

Democratic Sen. Jesse Kiehl of Juneau believes that money should stay with village contractors trying to recruit officers.

“If in fact these positions are unfillable, there’s no difference to the treasury in leaving the money in or taking it out. But deleting it (from the budget) says, ‘Stop trying.’ Deleting it says, ‘Don’t work on public safety with VPSOs anymore.’”

The governor will submit a formal operating budget proposal for next fiscal year on Feb. 13.

Watch the latest legislative coverage from Gavel Alaska:

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