Mayor Bronson vetoes budget items passed by the Anchorage Assembly

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 5:41 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has announced several vetoes aimed at amendments made to the city’s 2022 budget by the Anchorage Assembly before its members passed that budget last week.

The assembly passed a more than $500 million operating budget on Nov. 23, as well as a capital improvements budget and city utilities budget. Before these budgets were approved, assembly members spent time making numerous amendments, most of them aimed at restoring funding to various programs and projects that the mayor’s proposed budget had removed.

Now, Bronson has announced vetoes to several aspects of the budget, claiming in a Tuesday press release that expected revenue cited by the assembly for its changes is “not certifiable” and that the announcement of the omicron variant of COVID-19 will negatively impact projected revenue for things like the city’s room tax.

“The Finance Department was not asked to review or comment on the revenue amounts assumed by the Assembly prior to passing budget amendments,” the press release states.

In one of the veto memos sent to the assembly, Bronson said his administration can’t validate or certify the funding source increases that the assembly cited for several of its amendments that added back certain city positions that the mayor’s proposed budget had eliminated, including building inspectors.

Some of the budget items Bronson has vetoed include:

  • An amendment that would have had the city pay for the School Resource Officer program for the next five months. His proposed budget suggested shifting 75% of the program’s cost to the Anchorage School District. “This veto does not reduce or eliminate the SRO program, it simply reflects that the program can be fully funded with reimbursement from Anchorage School District,” the release states.
  • An amendment that added back $1 million for early education grants from the city’s alcohol tax program. Bronson’s veto would reduce that by $750,000, leaving the total amount at $1.25 million, compared to $2 million last year.
  • An amendment that kept the city’s Mobile Crisis Team within the Anchorage Fire Department and restored its funding to $1.5 million. Bronson’s proposed budget had reduced that program’s budget to $750,000. “The Anchorage Police Department can provide these services at a lower cost with no service impact to the community,” one of Bronson’s memos claims.
  • An amendment that would have moved the funding source for a number of Anchorage Health Department staff positions from the alcohol tax program back into the operating budget. Bronson’s proposed budget had the alcohol tax paying for those positions, and the assembly amended the budget so that those positions would be paid for out of the regular operating budget.

When introducing their amendments to the budget last week, members of the assembly had said the city could pay for those changes with additional revenue from alcohol tax, which is expected to bring in more funds than anticipated.

“The $500,000 of increased 2022 tax revenue, I think, is a very conservative estimate,” assembly member Forrest Dunbar said at the time. He said he expected it could be closer to $1-$1.5 million.

Another way the amendment package proposed to fund the assembly’s changes was to put several health department positions totaling over $1 million back into the general operating budget as their source of funding.

In the Tuesday press release, Bronson’s administration said that the most recent projected Municipality of Anchorage Trust dividend for 2022 was $19.1 million. After news broke of the omicron variant, the release states the projected 2022 dividend declined by $200,000.

“The Assembly’s omnibus budget amendment assumed a 2022 Trust Fund dividend of $19.3M which is $400K short of the updated projection done post Omicron announcement,” the release states.

Bronson’s administration also claims the omicron variant will negatively affect the city’s room tax revenue.

“I believe that government should begin right-sizing unsustainable spending to reflect the decreases in population that have occurred in the MOA over the past several years,” Bronson is quoted as saying in the release. “We can’t continue to spend more than we have. Now is the time to act, to eliminate the level of uncertainty Anchorage residents and taxpayers have felt for years. I will continue to seek a decrease in government spending and seek to take the burden off the tax cap for all people of Anchorage.”

The mayor has the power to veto items passed by the legislative branch. In order to override a mayoral veto, the assembly needs a supermajority of eight votes.

On Wednesday, Dunbar and assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson responded to the vetoes in a press release. The two assembly members are the Budget and Finance Committee co-chairs. In the release, Dunbar said the 2022 budget was formed through “thoughtful debate and compromise” on the parts of both the assembly and the city administration.

“The Assembly’s modest budget amendments affect about half of one percent of the $550 million dollar budget submitted by the Mayor and yet maintain critical investments in public safety that our community expects,” Dunbar is quoted as saying in the release. “At the same time that he rejected these public safety investments and made claims about overspending, Mayor Bronson preserved every single new middle-management and political appointee position he had created.”

Quinn-Davidson said in the release that they are confident in the financial projections the assembly based their changes on, “and in fact crafted them with data from the Mayor’s team.”

“We are very concerned by the Mayor’s representation of the Municipality’s bond ratings, which are actually a testament to Anchorage’s financial resiliency,” Quinn-Davidson wrote. “Despite weathering a massive earthquake and a once-in-a-century pandemic, both agencies have put the Municipality at the AA+ level, which is the second highest rating available and is classified as ‘very strong’ by Standard & Poor.”

The assembly is set to discuss that bond rating at a work session this Friday. The assembly will take up Bronson’s budget vetoes during a meeting next week, according to the release.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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