Donna Arduin out as Dunleavy budget director

Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin answers questions from the press about the governor’s 10-year budget plan on March 21, 2019. She spoke at a press briefing held in the governor’s cabinet room at the State Capitol in Juneau.
Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin answers questions from the press, March 21, 2019. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Donna Arduin is no longer in charge of the state budget for Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration, effective Monday.

Arduin was a polarizing figure as budget director. Supporters saw her as an independent mind who wasn’t influenced by special interests. Critics described her as a callous administrator who never made an effort to understand Alaska.

Ben Stevens, Dunleavy’s chief of staff, announced the change in leadership in the state Office of Management and Budget in a call with reporters.

“It was a decision that was made unanimously within the leadership of the governor’s office,” Stevens said.

Arduin came into the position with a national reputation for slashing state budgets. She helped shape a budget proposal that aimed to close a $1.6 billion gap between what the state spends and what it raises. Arduin also supported centralizing the staff who work on state departments’ budgets in her office. And state commissioners played a less public role in budget discussions than in the past.

Stevens said Arduin had a significant impact.

“Arduin has been very instrumental in contributing a lot of tactics and a lot of … ways to analyze this budget, and a way for us to look at budget reductions and to find efficiencies within the government,” he said.

Arduin became a lightning rod for criticism over the budget. Critics frequently mentioned that she recently moved to the state.

And the budget cuts helped galvanize a recall effort against the governor. Stevens said he doesn’t think Arduin’s departure has anything to do with the recall.

Stevens said commissioners will take a more prominent role in the future. He also said Dunleavy hasn’t changed his agenda.

“He’s listened to Alaskans,” Stevens said. “He’s listened to the Legislature. He’s listened to his advisers. And he makes the decisions that he thinks are the right ones to move his agenda forward. And I think that’s what he’s done here.”

House State Affairs Committee co-chair Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, questions Dunleavy administration representatives at a joint meeting with the Health and Social Services Committee in Juneau on April 2, 2019. The purpose of the meeting was to examine procurement procedures that led to a controversial contract to manage the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.
Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Rep. Zack Fields, an Anchorage Democrat, said Arduin’s departure is a victory for Alaskans. He served on five finance subcommittees in the Alaska House of Representatives.

“Under Donna Arduin, the OMB took what I believe is an unprecedented role in seizing control of budgeting decisions that historically had been left to, first of all, Alaskans, (and) second of all, people who actually understood their departments and knew what they were doing,” Fields said.

Stevens said Arduin was given two weeks’ notice in transitioning to being an adviser to the budget office. He said she’ll be offered a contract to continue beyond two weeks as an adviser, but she would no longer be a state employee, and she would earn less than her current salary.

The governor’s office plans to announce an acting director later this week. OMB Deputy Director Laura Cramer will manage the office in the meantime.

It’s the second major change in Dunleavy’s inner circle this summer. The governor announced that Stevens replaced former chief of staff Tuckerman Babcock in July. Babcock left the administration a month later.

Arduin was traveling out of state Monday on personal business. When reached by a reporter, she referred questions to the governor’s office.

Alaska Public Media’s Nat Herz contributed to this report.

This story has been updated.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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