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'Not A Promising Picture:' Unalaska's Lobbyist Predicts FY21 Budget Battle

Berett Wilber

Unalaska needs to be ready to fight for state funding in fiscal year 2021.

City lobbyist Dianne Blumer delivered that message Tuesday to the City Council.

She said she expects Gov. Mike Dunleavy to continue pushing for steep budget cuts to education, health care, and other state services that are critical to the community.

"It's not a promising picture," said Blumer. "I hate to be the gloom and doom here, but I anticipate the cuts that didn't happen this year are going to be taken up again for next session."

In this fiscal year 2020, local organizations lost more than $500,000 due to funding cuts spearheaded by the Dunleavy administration, which wants to close the state's budget gap without generating new revenues or reducing Permanent Fund dividends.

Blumer said the island could take an even bigger hit in the next budget cycle, especially if the governor revisits a proposal that would allow the state to keep all revenue from commercial fisheries taxes instead of splitting it with coastal communities.

The City of Unalaska stands to lose more than $8 million — about a quarter of its revenue — if that happens.

"So I think it's really important for the community to develop a strategy to deliver strong messaging for the anticipated cuts and possible impacts — starting with coming up with your priorities," said Blumer. 

In response, councilors are planning to add shared fisheries taxes to their list of state lobbying priorities, along with continued ferry service. It's still unclear just how much this year's $40 million cut to the Alaska Marine Highway System will affect the M/V Tustumena's summer route along the Aleutian chain.

If approved, those items would join existing priorities including renovations at the Robert Storrs Small Boat Harbor, restoration of salmon habitat, and environmental remediation at former World War II sites.

While councilors are slated to vote on the state lobbying list later this month, they finalized their federal list on Tuesday. It includes high-speed internet support, an increased U.S. Coast Guard presence, and funding for a multimillion-dollar overhaul of Captains Bay Road.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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