Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed $444 million from the state budget on Friday. Organizations across Bethel rely on that money and are asking how they can continue providing services with fewer resources. KYUK looks at some of these impacts.
Village Public Safety Officer Program
Gov. Dunleavy vetoed $3 million from the Village Public Safety Officer Program for the upcoming fiscal year. The cuts eliminate unfilled officer positions. Currently, only six VPSO’s serve the entire Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
Gov. Dunleavy also eliminated another $3 million from this year’s supplemental budget, which ended June 30.
A recent report says as many as one in three rural Alaska communities are without law enforcement. U.S. Attorney General William Barr recently visited Alaska for four days to see the rural public safety crisis firsthand.
UAF Kuskokwim University Campus
The governor vetoed $130 million dollars from the University of Alaska system. Linda Curda directs the Kuskokwim University Campus in Bethel and called the cuts “devastating.” How the cuts would affect the Kuskokwim Campus are still being worked out.
“I believe we will be here,” Curda said. “They’re not going to close the campus, but what we will have in terms of programs and staff will be of grave concern to everyone.”
These reductions follow four years of significant budget cuts to the university system. Faculty, staff, and programs have already been reduced or eliminated.
“So to think about cutting again, it really is a difficult concept to wrap our mind around,” Curda explained.
Already, most university employees are only paid for 10 months of work. Few hold year-round contracts. University leadership has frozen hiring and purchases and restricted travel. Curda says that the Kuskokwim Campus is critical to the region being able to educate a skilled workforce made up of teachers, nurses, and social workers. The future of who is able to hold these jobs could be at stake.
“We want the people who live in our community to have those professional jobs,” Curda said, “and that takes an education.”
UA President Jim Johnson has notified university staff that if the veto stands, then each employee would be required to take 10 days of unpaid leave. He also said that the veto could force the university into bankruptcy, which could lead to substantial employee and program terminations.
Lower Kuskokwim School District
Gov. Dunleavy vetoed $30 million for K-12 schools. This funding was a one-time funding boost that legislators voted on last year. This line item veto is expected to end up in court.
The governor removed advance funding for K -12 schools in the 2020 and 2021 school year. Gov. Dunleavy also wants to hold back forward funding for the upcoming school year, but LKSD Superintendent Dan Walker says that he expects the state to meet its “constitutional responsibility to fund public education.”
Gov. Dunleavy zeroed out funding for Head Start, which provides preschool education across the region. The loss of state funding will likely jeopardize matching federal grants, further reducing the program.
Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation is urging Alaska’s legislators to override the governor’s vetoes. Dunleavy vetoed $83 million in state Medicaid funding, which would eliminate adult dental coverage, and shrink behavioral health programs and other health services. This means Medicaid would no longer cover travel for adult dental care or certain behavioral health services, leaving people across the region without funding to travel to Bethel for healthcare. YKHC CEO Dan Winkelman expects to see more programs affected if the veto remains in place and the full scope of the cuts are revealed.
Alaska Legal Services
Gov. Dunleavy zeroed out funding for Alaska Legal Services, cutting $750,000. The nonprofit is the only organization in the state providing free civil legal help for low-income Alaskans.
Nikole Nelson is the organization's executive director, and says that the service is already turning away half the people who seek help from them because of insufficient funding.
“We really can’t stretch much thinner than that,” she said.
Nelson says that the group may have to shut down offices and reduce staff. Currently, the nonprofit has two attorneys and one paralegal in Bethel to serve the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
The Alaska Public Defenders Agency will see less travel funding. Gov. Dunleavy vetoed half of its travel budget ($180,000), in addition to taking away $400,000 from the agency’s budget overall.
The Governor has vetoed most of the funding for homeless services. The veto would cut two-thirds of the Bethel Winter House funding. Board President Jon Cochrane says that could lead to the organization closing its doors unless it’s able to raise about $40,000 to pay for staffing. The Winter House provides a place for people to sleep during the coldest months of the year and has helped reduce deaths from exposure.
Tundra Women’s Coalition
The reduction to homeless services would also impact the Tundra Women’s Coalition, a women and children's shelter and advocacy center. The organization would lose $63,000 from its budget. TWC Executive Director Eileen Arnold says that the cut could impact more than 200 children and adults this winter.
Bethel Council on the Arts
Gov. Dunleavy eliminated $2.8 million in funding for the Alaska State Council on the Arts. The Council awarded a $5,000 grant to the Bethel Council on the Arts. Under the veto, Bethel Board Member Julie McWilliams says that grant would disappear, and with it the Bethel Council’s ability to offer free or reduced entry fees to local art events.
KYUK has implemented a hiring freeze after Gov. Dunleavy removed all state funding for public broadcasting: $2.7 million. The cut wipes out 10 percent of KYUK’s budget, or roughly $180,000.
KYUK General Manager Shane Iverson says that the station is looking at where to tighten its already tight belt following decades of federal and state funding cuts to public broadcasting.
“It’s definitely the biggest hit that KYUK has taken in decades,” Iverson said.
Iverson says that he’s considering alternate revenue streams, but with the vetoes affecting a wide swath of Alaska, that could make it tougher for KYUK to raise money elsewhere.
The Alaska Legislature goes into a special session to consider the state budget and permanent fund dividend on Monday. It will have five days to override Gov. Dunleavy’s vetoes.
Greg Kim contributed reporting.