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By Dan Rudy 

Without budget, state could experience shutdown

 


As of Tuesday, the Alaska Legislature meeting in a special session in Anchorage had still not passed a budget for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. On Sunday, the Senate Finance Committee rejected a compromise budget passed by the House the previous day, which included some small concessions to the minority such as reversing cuts to the ferry system and per-student funding.

A conference committee between the two chambers was being organized to negotiate an amended budget as legislators posture around various funding priorities. However, any deal reached in committee still needs to receive a three-quarter majority of the votes in the House and Senate to tap into Congressional Budget Reserve savings. It would also need to meet the approval of Governor Bill Walker.

Should a budget not be adopted by the start of the fiscal year, state governmental functions would move into partial shutdown. With only a month to go, layoff notices were distributed to some 10,000 public employees across the state on Monday.

A shutdown would be sorely felt in Southeast. An economic survey conducted for the Southeast Conference last fall estimated that government jobs accounted for 35 percent of all wage earnings in the region, with more than one-third of those coming through State agencies.

Layoffs in Wrangell could be proportionally less severe than in other, larger communities. Though 325 of local jobs were government-related in 2013, only around 10 percent of them were through the state. However, the loss of its primary transportation network would be felt by all.

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOTPF) announced on Monday it was preparing to reduce services statewide at the start of the new fiscal year. Without a fully-funded operating budget by June 30, all 11 vessels of the Alaska Marine Highway System would enter layup status, and passenger service would be suspended. This could have drastic effects on travel within the region.

“It really depends on how long the ferry is out of service,” explained Jeremy Woodrow, ADOTPF spokesman.

Tens of thousands of passengers could be affected. In July 2014, ferry passenger totals came to around 53,500, with another 53,000 in August. In each month around 16,000 vehicles were also transported using the state ferry system.

Air service could also be affected. Some airports—designated as Part 139 by the FAA—serving larger passenger and jet aircraft would operate with reduced hours, though because of its size and flight schedule Woodrow explained Wrangell's airport may not see much of a change. Operating hours could be reduced and smaller-scale passenger service affected, the extent to which will be determined over the course of this month.

A flurry of similar announcements from state agencies across the board were distributed Monday, projecting closures, reductions and other ill tidings should Alaska enter a partial shutdown.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced its commercial fishery division would be hardest hit by a shutdown. A core staff involved in active management would be retained to handle the commercial salmon fisheries occurring through September.

Field staff deployed to remote areas would be returned to their primary duty station and laid off using a phased approach during the months of July and August. The division's five research vessels would also be returned to port and moored. Other support services would be curtailed or halted in the event of a shutdown.

Starting July 2, Title 16 permits issued by the Division of Habitat, subsistence harvest surveys, and support to the boards of Fisheries and Game and their advisory committees would likewise be significantly curtailed or halted. However, functions of the divisions of Sport Fish and Wildlife Conservation and its Commercial Fisheries Limited Entry Commission could continue without the use of general funds.

The Department of Public Safety (DPS), which includes managing corrections, and Health and Social Services, would be unaffected due to the critical nature of the services they provide. In Wrangell this would include funding for the jail and emergency dispatchers and the Public Health Office.

Planned cuts not related to any potential shutdown would continue as planned. DPS anticipates the closure of its Talkeetna Post and Girdwood Post, as well as the loss of its Cold Case Unit and 27 trooper positions around the state.

The Department of Law would see a reduction of staff in both its civil and criminal divisions, resulting in a reduction in services. It announced a “skeleton crew” would be maintained, and priority would be given to public safety and child protection services. A shutdown would impact which laws would be prosecuted and which litigation can continue with minimal staff.

Even without a shutdown, an impact on state courts is anticipated. In a notice distributed to First Judicial District offices, attorneys and courts, Judge Trevor Stephens announced the Alaska Court System (ACS) would attempt to deal with what it expects will be significant cuts by closing courts on the two days after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. Those days would instead be treated as weekends for the purposes of e-filing, fax filing and bail scheduling.

Offices may be closed other days as well, but the move would allow ACS to avoid staff layoffs or terminations, though when employees leave or retire, their positions may not be refilled.

The Department of Education and Early Development has developed a contingency plan for a partial shutdown, using available funds to cover three of 12 monthly payments to school districts, and the first quarter of funding for juvenile detention centers, the School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and boarding schools.

The Alaska State Library and Archives would not operate, though staffing of the Alaska State Museum will be sufficient to support the ongoing State Libraries, Archives and Museums project in Juneau. State Head Start programs could be closed if reductions in general funds of $5.7 million are approved, due to failure to meet a federal requirement for state contribution.

Veterans services would also be affected in a shutdown, with Office of Veterans Affairs staff completely laid off and grants for 17 Veterans Service Officers allowed to expire June 30. The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs estimates this would leave the state's 75,000 veterans without assistance to claim earned benefits.

While National Guard duties would continue as normal, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management would reduce its monitoring staff to three and cease processing grants for disaster-related response and preparation activities.

Press releases from all affected departments have been posted at the Wrangell Legislative Information Office upstairs in the Kadin Building. For more information, the office can also be reached at 874‐3013.

 

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