Alaska does not levy taxes on sales, income, or personal property. In 1968, the largest oil field in North America was discovered on state land in Prudhoe Bay, a windfall that began Alaska’s transformation into a petrostate. For decades, oil revenues supplied not only the majority of its budget but helped establish the Permanent Fund Dividend, or P.F.D., a yearly check given to each Alaskan, based on returns from a sovereign-wealth fund. But four years ago, after a precipitous decline in oil prices, the previous governor, an independent named Bill Walker, reduced the P.F.D. as part of an effort to close the growing budget deficit. It was an unprecedented—and deeply unpopular—move, which doomed his chances for a second term. “I don’t want to say it’s a political death sentence,” Larry Persily, a former deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue, told me. “But you could have taken their firstborn and had more of a chance of reëlection.”
The current Republican governor, Mike Dunleavy, campaigned, in 2018, on a promise not only to restore the full dividend but to make it retroactive, which would amount to giving nearly seven thousand dollars to every Alaskan. “Alaska suffers from a crisis of confidence with our politicians and our government,” he wrote, in an editorial for the Anchorage Daily News, a few days before the election. “The first step in bridging that divide is to protect and restore the PFD.” He added, “Alaskans must be paid back what the governor arbitrarily took from them.”
Dunleavy vowed to do this without any painful spending cuts. Once in office, he launched a dramatic assault on the state’s public sector. A year ago, his administration announced a budget proposal that included the restored dividend—about three thousand dollars—but not the retroactive amount, which was paid for by more than a billion dollars in cuts. It reduced funding by more than forty per cent for the University of Alaska system and by three hundred million dollars for the state’s Department of Education. Safety-net cuts included a ninety-per-cent reduction for homeless services, a decrease for Medicaid of more than a third, and the elimination of programs such as adult Medicaid dental benefits, cash assistance to the elderly poor, and public assistance to Alaskans who are blind or have disabilities. A number of essential services were also gutted, including the Alaska Marine Highway System, a network of ferries that provides a transportation lifeline to dozens of coastal communities unconnected to the state’s road system.
The day after Dunleavy’s budget was announced, eight House Republicans and two Independents joined the Democrats to create a broad coalition that opposed it. Republicans in the Senate also pushed back against Dunleavy’s cuts. Natasha von Imhof, the Republican co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told me, “You can’t just take huge chunks off the programs and services and expect things to run.”
2020欧洲杯体育投注网Dunleavy defended his budget in a series of public hearings that were sponsored and paid for by the Alaska chapter of Americans for Prosperity (A.F.P.), a political-advocacy organization founded by Charles and David Koch. To attend the hearings, citizens were required to register with the A.F.P. and abide by its rules, which prohibited holding signs or recording the sessions. At a hearing in Anchorage in March, where three hundred protesters had gathered outside, two women holding up an anti-Dunleavy banner were thrown out. Later that spring, Dunleavy began using state funds to pay for a Facebook campaign that criticized several Republican lawmakers, including von Imhof, over their opposition to the full dividend and urged constituents to contact them. Von Imhof’s Facebook page was soon bombarded with violent messages. “You look like a fucking vampire,” one read. “Seriously I hope you get hit driving to work so you can’t lie and steal anymore,” read another.
In June, the legislature released its own budget proposal. It did not specify a dividend amount but left room for one of about nine hundred dollars. Like Dunleavy’s budget, it had no tax increases, relying instead on the same formula he had used: the larger the dividend, the deeper the cuts. Dunleavy responded by issuing more than a hundred and eighty line-item vetoes, which totalled four hundred and forty-four million dollars in funding. Alaska’s constitution requires a three-fourths vote in the legislature to override a budget veto—the highest such threshold in the country. In early July, Dunleavy hosted a separate legislative session in a middle school in the city of Wasilla, a base of his support, with twenty-one legislators who supported the full dividend. The move made it impossible for lawmakers in the state capitol, in Juneau, to override his vetoes. “It was warfare,” a Republican legislative aide told me.
2020欧洲杯体育投注网Dunleavy had overturned other political norms in the state, too. A week after his election, his chief of staff, Tuckerman Babcock, sent a letter to nearly a thousand nonunionized state employees ordering their resignations. Previous governors had demanded the resignations of high-level political appointees, but Babcock’s letter was sent to hundreds of nonpolitical state workers, including geologists, accountants, pharmacists, and I.T. workers. Babcock explained to the press that the purpose of the resignations was to have state employees “affirmatively say, ‘Yes, I want to work for the Dunleavy administration.’ ” Employees who refused to resign were later fired.
Many of the state’s most vulnerable residents, meanwhile, seemed to be in crisis. Advocates for homeless services feared that five of Anchorage’s seven shelters, which serve a population of more than a thousand people, would need to close or drastically reduce their capacity if the cuts were implemented. The city’s mayor, Ethan Berkowitz, declared a civil emergency. “We were looking at our unsheltered homeless population increasing by a factor of eight to ten,” he told me.