Alaska governor marks 1st year in office amid turmoil

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FILE - In this May 29, 2019 file photo, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters in his office at the state Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. Dunleavy said he hopes to move past the rancor of his first year in office, amid an unsettled dispute with lawmakers over state spending and threat of a recall effort looming large. The Republican will mark a full year in office Tuesday, Dec. 3. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

JUNEAU, AK – Last December, poor weather scrambled Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s inaugural plans, a bumpy start to a turbulent year marked by budget disputes and a recall threat.

Dunleavy told The Associated Press recently he hopes to move past the rancor. Whether he can repair strained relationships with legislators and calm the public anger over cuts that fueled the recall push will be telling. Courts will decide whether the recall effort advances.

The Republican, who marks a year in office Tuesday, defended the cuts as a tough decision in the face of budget deficits. Alaska, long reliant on oil, has been using savings and earnings from its oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund, to help fill the gap. New taxes weren’t debated during legislative sessions that lingered into summer, and Dunleavy said new taxes “are not going to solve” the deficit. The state tends to spend money when it comes into money, he said.

He said the question is what Alaskans are willing to accept to resolve the issue, such as further cuts, changes to the annual check they get from Permanent Fund earnings or other revenue measures. He said he plans town halls with Alaskans and regular meetings with lawmakers, some of whom had complained of poor communication by the administration and a singling out of members for positions at odds with Dunleavy’s.

“I think there’s some tension only because there’s different priorities. But the tension gets worse when there’s no understanding on where someone’s coming from,” said Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson, who said getting information on administration positions had at times been difficult.

Dunleavy said he plans to renew his push for constitutional measures related to a spending cap and giving Alaskans a say on taxes approved by lawmakers and lawmakers a say on taxes approved by citizen initiatives. He did not provide specifics on his new budget proposal, due by mid-December.

“We’re going to continue to do the right thing for Alaska even though it may not be in some circles politically palatable,” he said.

Some speculated former chief of staff Tuckerman Babcock and Donna Arduin, a former budget office director with a national reputation for slashing budgets, held considerable sway with Dunleavy. “This is my administration, and I take responsibility for the actions,” Dunleavy said.