While Dunleavy’s budget proposal adds up to the same amount as this year’s budget, the details differ

Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveils his budget on Wednesday, December11, 2019, at the Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposal for next year’s budget would spend a similar amount to the budget he signed this year. But there are some significant differences — both reductions and increases.

Dunleavy explained why the state made changes in his budget announcement this week.

“The budget this year absorbs about $160 million in increases from formula-driven programs,” Dunleavy said of programs like Medicaid and public education, where spending is supposed to be set by formulas written in state law. Dunleavy said the state moved money around to allow that to happen.

“We absorbed that internally through efficiencies,” he said. “And we offset those costs by reductions in other areas.”

The biggest increases were in the Department of Corrections budget, including $19 million more for prisoners’ health care, driven by an increase in the number of inmates. And there’s $10.9 million more for public education, driven by projected growth in the number of students.

Another increase is $8.3 million more in state Medicaid funding for adult preventive dental services.

The program originally was slated to be eliminated in the current budget. But the administration has maintained the services, through a temporary extension from July through September; services that will be retroactively funded from October through December; and the continuation of the program on Dec. 31, according to a Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson.

The proposal to restore the dental services funding received praise from an advocate for health care providers.

“We think it’s a really smart investment of health care dollars,” said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. “Adult dental is one of those services that is invested in preventative care. And when you don’t make those investments, you end up driving health care to unnecessarily expensive settings, like hospital emergency rooms.”

One of the biggest reductions in the budget was a $25 million cut to the University of Alaska budget. This cut had been announced in August as part of an agreement between Dunleavy and the university’s Board of Regents.

The budget projects spending $95 million dollars less next year on fire suppression than the state expects to spend this year.

But the state Office of Management and Budget said this change shouldn’t be considered a “real” decrease. That’s because the state traditionally budgets only for spending to respond to a typical wildfire season. And the state then supplements this money with more spending in extreme fire seasons like this year. So whether the spending actually goes down won’t be known for another year.

The Legislature’s work on the budget will begin when the session starts on Jan. 21.

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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