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Dunleavy budget faces criticism at Alaska Native forum

The Dunleavy administration’s second-in-command faced skepticism over the governor’s proposed deep cuts to state services and agencies at an Alaska Native Issues forum in Juneau on Wednesday.

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, a Republican, said the proposed cuts stem from Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s campaign pledge to balance the budget and pay Alaskans a full permanent fund dividend check.

“He feels like that’s your money, that’s your share of the oil wealth, and that belongs to you,” Meyer told the 200-person audience, “and he also doesn’t want any new taxes.”

The former state senator said everything in the administration’s proposed budget is negotiable. That was the theme of his speech at a forum hosted by Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

“Don’t get too upset with the budget,” Meyer said amid some chuckles from the audience, “but get involved. That would be my advice right now.”

Tlingit & Haida President Richard Peterson criticized the Dunleavy administration’s proposed deep cuts to education and rural programs, March 6, 2019. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/CoastAlaska)

The forum only allowed questions in writing. But Tlingit & Haida President Richard Peterson stood up and broke format to register his displeasure.

“We keep hearing about wanting to have conversations, yet these conversations aren’t happening,” Peterson said from the back of the room.

Meyer had earlier likened state services as ornaments on a Christmas tree. Peterson seized on that metaphor to criticize the Dunleavy administration’s proposed slashing to core services.

“It’s really hard for me to settle for Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree when we own the Christmas tree farm,” Peterson said.

The lieutenant governor also responded to questions about raising taxes on oil companies or instituting an income tax, saying that step would reduce investment.

Resource development, he argued, is the state’s best revenue source.

“Oil companies now are investing big dollars up on the North Slope, and that money is going to trickle down to the state revenue,” Meyer said, “and to more jobs and more revenue to the state, which then gets passed on to you and education and other funding.”

That assessment has faced skepticism from many quarters including the previous administration of Gov. Bill Walker.

Meyer worked for ConocoPhillips during his time in the Senate. He parted ways with the oil company after the November election, according to his financial disclosure.

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