Legislative Finance Division director wonders if budget was designed 'to create chaos'

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — Almost two weeks after the governor released his budget proposal for FY2020, an overview by the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division is raising doubts about how much analysis and evaluation went into the proposed spending reductions before they were announced.

“It seems apparent that many of you share my disappointment at the lack of evaluation and analysis to support the governor’s proposals,” David Teal, the director the Legislative Finance Division, told the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed frustration at the lack of specificity in some sections of the governor’s proposed budget, most prominently in plans for the Alaska Marine Highway System and for Medicaid.

Teal told the committee he expected to see supporting documents accompanying the planned cuts.

“Looking at the lack of justification, I began to wonder whether the budget was designed in some way to create chaos,” he said.

The budget is expected to be accompanied by around 25 separate pieces of legislation, many of which have still not been introduced. Teal suggested that placed an “unrealistic workload” on the Legislature and questioned how lawmakers could make informed policy decisions before the end of session.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy defended his budget rollout Tuesday afternoon citing the fiscal cliff Alaska is approaching with a $1.6 billion deficit and the reduced balance of state reserve funds.

“Getting your fiscal house in order, getting a structural balance taken care of and having a predictable budget into the future — any economist, anyone involved in finance, would tell you that’s what you need to do,” Dunleavy said, arguing that a balanced budget would lead to more investment and private sector growth.

The governor was less clear on what economic analysis had gone on before the budget had been released, and whether private sector growth would mitigate job losses associated with a billion dollar reduction in state spending.

Dunleavy said the administration expected some “pretty vigorous discussions” across Alaska when his budget was released.

Later in his presentation to the Senate Finance Committee, Teal seemed to echo the governor's sentiment.

“Maybe creating chaos is a clever way to force a conversation that needs to happen.”