Juneau’s legislative delegation looks to get ahead of potential cuts to state jobs

Rep. Sara Hannan, Sen. Jesse Kiehl and Rep. Andi Story (left to right), all Democrats and newly sworn in to represent Juneau, pose for photographers outside the Capitol, Jan. 16, 2019. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

With Gov. Michael Dunleavy’s budget set for release Wednesday, some in Juneau are concerned by what $1.6 billion in cuts to state government could mean for the capital city.

That includes Juneau’s new legislative delegation. According to the Juneau Economic Development Council, state government jobs make up more than 20 percent of local employment.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl said Juneau’s legislators decided to take a proactive approach this year.

“With the new administration and the new members of the legislative delegation, we found ourselves — with a lot of people — concerned about job moves,” Kiehl said.

Along with Kiehl, Reps. Andi Story and Sara Hannan sent letters to each state commissioner last month asking for detailed information about any Juneau-based jobs they plan to eliminate or move elsewhere.

According to Story, the delegation has met with several commissioners so far, including Kelly Tshibaka from the Department of Administration.

Tshibaka told them Juneau has lost about 12 exempt positions since Dunleavy took office, due to the kind of restructuring that happens whenever a new administration takes over.

But Story said they want to know what’s in store for classified positions, which make up the majority of Juneau’s state workforce.

“We really don’t have a true picture yet because we have not gotten that,” Story said.

According to a report by Rain Coast Data, Southeast Alaska lost 850 state jobs between 2012 and 2018. Two-thirds of those jobs were in Juneau.

Kiehl said job loss is always a concern from an economic standpoint. But he argued that keeping essential state jobs in one place helps keep government efficient too.

That’s why they want to make sure the Dunleavy administration has thought through every budget decision.

“How he proposes to do that with the kind of budget cuts he has hinted at, I’m not sure,” Kiehl said. “We should save a buck wherever we can save a buck, but harming Alaska’s future is not a road I’m ready to go down.”

The delegation said it will continue to work with commissioners after the budget is released and will do all it can to prevent the loss of more jobs.

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