Alaska’s new slogan is “open for business,” but good luck trying to find out any budget details when it comes to the business of fishing.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy's administration has a full gag order in place at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. All budget questions, no matter how basic, are referred to press secretary Matt Shuckerow. Likewise, queries to the many deputies and assistants at the ADF&G commissioner’s office are deferred to Shuckerow, who did not acknowledge requests for information.
“It isn’t just the media or Alaskans. Legislators are faced with that same gag order,” said Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak). “I don’t know if the administration is just trying to settle in and thinks that the Legislature is their worst enemy and they want to keep people at bay or what. Hopefully, they will realize that we have to work together. And the sooner we do it, the better relationship we’re going to have.”
Stutes, who is the majority whip in the Alaska Legislature and also chairs both the House Fisheries and Transportation committees, said “the governor has made very few appearances, and nobody can get an appointment with him.”
She confirmed that anyone who meets with Dunleavy must relinquish cell phones, Apple watches and any recording devices.
Dunleavy’s proposed budget for the state’s commercial fisheries division is $69.45 million, a $1.64 million reduction, according to Stutes’ office.
Details are sketchy, but it aims to reorganize and consolidate the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission into the ADF&G Commercial Fisheries Division. Also, the directors of the Habitat and Subsistence divisions would be moved from ADF&G to the Office of Management and Budget.
The travel budget for all state departments would be cut by 50 percent, which will be difficult for the boards of Fisheries and Game to hold meetings in constituent regions.
A proposed 16.3 percent increase to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute was removed, and ASMI will receive zero from the state.
The executive committee of the Alaska Municipal League was able to meet briefly with the governor during its annual meeting last week in Juneau, said Pat Branson, a committee member and mayor of Kodiak. The league includes 165 cities, boroughs and municipalities that represent more than 97 percent of Alaska’s residents.
“We were grateful to meet with the governor because he did not come to any of the AML meetings,” Branson said. “All we heard was that he’s all ears. I told him that we are problem solvers, and it is something we do every day. We’re all aware that the state’s fiscal plan has not been in order for many years. How can we maintain our services and work through a plan that meets our community needs?”
Branson said the league is “shocked and upset” at the drastic cuts in the governor’s proposed budget and the way it came about.
“It was done without any communication with municipalities, school boards, or boroughs and, I believe, without any care or understanding of how things work in Alaska, or the importance of the marine highway system or fisheries to local communities or how it will affect Alaska’s overall economy,” Branson said. “Why would people want to come or stay here? We’ve never seen a budget come forth from an administration like this. It’s just not acceptable.”
League members plan to hold town hall meetings, Branson said, and return to Juneau with ideas to present to the Legislature and the governor.
“We, as elected officials, are just getting a grasp on this budget. I don’t know if Alaskans understand the degree that these cuts affect them individually,” Branson said. “We want to bring in a neutral party to explain the cuts and how it affects our communities. We’re hopeful the governor will listen to some alternative solutions from Alaskans.”