AP NEWS

Conservative group hosting Dunleavy fiscal policy events

March 20, 2019

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Most of the events on the fiscal policy tour announced this week by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office are being hosted by a conservative political organization, prompting blowback.

Dunleavy’s office on Monday announced five public events around Alaska next week, plus a planned appearance on a statewide radio program and a Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce event.

The five events listed as public are being hosted by Americans for Prosperity, which online describes the events as private and lays out terms by which attendees must abide. The release from Dunleavy’s office did not mention the affiliation.

Ryan McKee, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Alaska, said he understands why there might be confusion. He said the group is renting the space and has the right to remove anyone who is disruptive and make sure the venues aren’t over capacity.

But he said Tuesday that the event is open to all on a first come, first served basis. He recommends people register in advance. Details on registration weren’t mentioned by Dunleavy’s office until Tuesday, after questions about the event were raised.

“We would love opposing viewpoints. We’d love questions,” McKee said. “We really want this to be a discussion.”

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Begich said Dunleavy is obligated to promote “open and transparent public forums” and should cancel the Americans for Prosperity-hosted events.

McKee said there are advantages to the group hosting.

“I don’t think it would have been proper for the governor, in a recession, when he is cutting a lot of things, I don’t think him spending a bunch of money on a tour would have probably been the best move,” McKee said, adding later that the group is not paying for anyone outside its own staff to attend.

He said he hopes other groups host similar events to help further the policy discussion.

Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow said by email that Dunleavy is planning events or meetings working with various interested parties.

He said Dunleavy’s office worked with Americans for Prosperity-Alaska and the Alaska Policy Forum to help host and organize the public forums.

Panelists for the events, as described by Americans for Prosperity-Alaska, include Dunleavy and other state officials, a regional director of the group and the executive director of the Alaska Policy Forum, whose self-described mission is to promote policies “that grow freedom for all.”

McKee said the idea of having forums where people could ask questions of those involved in crafting Dunleavy’s budget was pitched to the governor’s office.

Jeremy Price, a former Americans for Prosperity-Alaska state director, is a deputy chief of staff to Dunleavy. McKee, who was announced as Price’s replacement earlier this month, said he worked with Dunleavy communications director Mary Ann Pruitt on the meetings idea. He said he hasn’t spoken with Price since becoming state director about these events.

The state faces a projected $1.6 billion budget, and Dunleavy has faced pushback for a budget proposal that includes sweeping cuts to education, the university system, health and social service programs and Alaska’s ferry system, and tax collection shifts that would benefit the state but cost some local governments. Legislators so far have shown little interest in his proposals to change the collection of certain taxes related to fisheries and petroleum property.

He also has proposed constitutional amendments on taxes, spending and the annual check Alaskans receive from the state’s oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Dunleavy wants to give voters a say on new or higher taxes and replace an existing spending limit some see as too lax. The dividend measure is aimed at ensuring the dividend program is not changed without a vote of the people.

McKee said his group supports the proposed constitutional amendments dealing with taxes and spending. It has not taken a position on the dividend piece, he said.