Juneau begins to feel budget veto impacts

Juneau resident Liz Lucas laughs with a friend during a rally against Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes from the state’s budget on Monday, July 8, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

For months, city officials in Juneau and other communities across the state have warned that proposed cuts to the state budget would push the financial burden onto local taxpayers.

As the Alaska Legislature continues to grapple with the state’s budget, Juneau will be dealing with the direct and indirect impacts of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes.

During a meeting last week, Juneau Assembly member Rob Edwardson echoed a point that was a common refrain during city budget meetings throughout the spring.

“This isn’t a cost cut, this is a cost shift,” Edwardson said. “These things, our citizens are going to end up paying for, where it was the state rightfully paying for it to begin with.”

Juneau Assembly member Rob Edwardson. (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

According to a city memo, immediate impacts for this fiscal year are estimated to be $5.2 million. The majority of that comes from the loss of $3.7 million in school bond debt reimbursement.

The Juneau Assembly will determine how to make up the difference at upcoming meetings. They may use savings to cover debt payments for now and increase property taxes later.

Bartlett Regional Hospital also expects to raise service fees in order to make up for a $1.5 million loss in Medicaid funding.

Those are things it’s easy to put an immediate price tag on.

As Assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale pointed out, it’s harder to know how residents will feel the impact on an individual level.

“I’m very concerned by immediate impacts on people’s lives, like people losing their senior benefits with no warning,” Hale said.

Juneau Assembly candidates Michelle Bonnet Hale, left, and Carole Triem watch election returns on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018, at City Hall. (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)
Juneau Assembly members Michelle Bonnet Hale, left, and Carole Triem watch election returns on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018, at City Hall. (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)

Patrick Kearney is one of more than 300 seniors in Juneau who qualify for the state’s Senior Benefits Program. He had heard cuts were coming, but he thought he might be exempt — until his check didn’t arrive earlier this week.

While he didn’t rely on the income, he said he did budget for it.

“I had, like, $175 extra to spend. So now I’m going to have to be even more cautious,” Kearney said.

He said he mainly used the money for groceries and extra things, like occasional trips to the movies.

Now he’s waiting to see what happens.

“Part of me wants to (say), ‘OK, do I get ready to move out of Alaska?’ But where do I go?” Kearney said.

Other impacts that are hard to quantify just yet include the University of Alaska, which lost $134 million in state funding. That could endanger programs and research at the University of Alaska Southeast campus

Homeless and housing service providers and early childhood education also saw significant cuts, raising questions about how those programs will be affected locally.

On Monday, the Juneau Assembly will consider a resolution calling on the Alaska Legislature to restore vetoed funding to the state operating budget.

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