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NEW AGAIN – Amy Rowe-Danielson arranges a display at the Sitka Sound Science Center's newly opened Mill Building on Lincoln Street this afternoon. The reconstructed 1940 building houses Ludvig's Chowder Cart, which opened today for the first time this season to a steady line of socially distancing customers. It also houses the center's gift shop which, like many businesses in town, offers online ordering and free local delivery. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Governor’s First Year: Vetoes, Recall Drive

By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press
    JUNEAU (AP) — Last December, poor weather scrambled Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s inaugural plans, a bumpy start to a turbulent year marked by budget disputes and a recall threat.
    Dunleavy told The Associated Press recently he hopes to move past the rancor. Whether he can repair strained relationships with legislators and calm the public anger over cuts that fueled the recall push will be telling. Courts will decide whether the recall effort advances.
    The Republican, who marks a year in office Tuesday, defended the cuts as a tough decision in the face of budget deficits. Alaska, long reliant on oil, has been using savings and earnings from its oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund, to help fill the gap. New taxes weren’t debated during legislative sessions that lingered into summer, and Dunleavy said new taxes “are not going to solve” the deficit. The state tends to spend money when it comes into money, he said.

In this May 29 file photo, Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters in his office at the state Capitol in Juneau. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

   He said the question is what Alaskans are willing to accept to resolve the issue, such as further cuts, changes to the annual check they get from Permanent Fund earnings or other revenue measures. He said he plans town halls with Alaskans and regular meetings with lawmakers, some of whom had complained of poor communication by the administration and a singling out of members for positions at odds with Dunleavy’s.
    “I think there’s some tension only because there’s different priorities. But the tension gets worse when there’s no understanding on where someone’s coming from,” said Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson, who said getting information on administration positions had at times been difficult.
    Dunleavy said he plans to renew his push for constitutional measures related to a spending cap and giving Alaskans a say on taxes approved by lawmakers and lawmakers a say on taxes approved by citizen initiatives. He did not provide specifics on his new budget proposal, due by mid-December.
    “We’re going to continue to do the right thing for Alaska even though it may not be in some circles politically palatable,” he said.
    Some speculated former chief of staff Tuckerman Babcock and Donna Arduin, a former budget office director with a national reputation for slashing budgets, held considerable sway with Dunleavy. “This is my administration, and I take responsibility for the actions,” Dunleavy said.
    Dunleavy said having the right people to implement an agenda is important. He said Babcock and Arduin were the right people at the time.
    There have been other changes among his staff. Dunleavy’s press secretary, Matt Shuckerow, left in October. Communications director Mary Ann Pruitt left what was cast as a temporary role Oct. 31, but her PR firm has a contract for communications work through January, she said.
    Outgoing Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman said the person in his role should be fully aligned with Dunleavy. Tangeman said with changing political sands, he isn’t sure he would be.
    There was public outcry over deep cuts Dunleavy proposed. Amid questions about revenue, there’s a citizen effort underway to put before voters an initiative that would raise taxes on Alaska’s legacy oil fields. Many lawmakers are interested in somehow changing the formula for calculating Permanent Fund dividends.
    Dunleavy argued for following a decades-old formula many lawmakers say is at odds with a 2018 law seeking to limit withdrawals from fund earnings.
    Republican Senate President Cathy Giessel said she’s had productive conversations with Dunleavy’s new chief of staff, Ben Stevens, a former lawmaker. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent, said he saw as a good start a recent legislative leadership meeting with Dunleavy.
    Edgmon and Giessel stood against the administration on what they saw as separation of powers issues, including disputes over school funding and a special session location.
    State GOP chair Glenn Clary said the party, which plans a “unity gala” Dec. 6, wants to repair relationships between Republican lawmakers and Dunleavy’s office.
    He said there are “major personalities” at play. “People just need to understand that you can agree to disagree, but you don’t have to be disagreeable,” Clary said.
    Dunleavy expressed frustration that positive economic signs after three years of recession aren’t getting enough attention. Figures appear to show budget cuts didn’t “destroy the economy,” as he said some feared.
    Dunleavy moderated or relented on some vetoes, including the level of cut to the University of Alaska.
    Mouhcine Guettabi, an associate professor of economics at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said the economy is out of recession but the recovery has been uneven. Federal figures indicate the 6.2% preliminary unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been for Alaska over a span dating to 1976.
    Guettabi said the unemployment figure is driven in part by jobs gains but also by people leaving the labor force. The national unemployment rate for October was 3.6%.
    He said he doesn’t think the economy growing means that cuts have no consequences but it’s unclear what impact they may have on economic gains.
    Ongoing debate over fiscal issues, including what to do with the dividend, is expected to resume in January, during an election year for most legislators. If the recall advances, it would go to a second signature-gathering phase.
    Claire Pywell, manager of the recall campaign, said supporters want an opportunity to vote on whether to fire or retain the governor.
    Dunleavy said he wants people to understand the state’s fiscal situation. He said he has faith in the people of Alaska and the court system.
    “So, like I said, I’ve got to put my faith in the people of Alaska and the court system to do the right thing. I’m going to do the right thing, and we’ll see where it ends up,” he said.
   

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 5-29-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 10:20 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 5

Total statewide – 430

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 47, and the cumulative number of deaths is 10.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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