Governor Mike Dunleavy wants to deal with the state’s $1.6 billion dollar spending deficit with deep cuts to education, Medicaid, and other social services.
As the full extent of the proposed cuts become known, many are beginning to assess their effect on all Alaska institutions, even those that don’t rely on state funding.
Last week, the Sitka campus of the University of Alaska Southeast invited local organizations from the health, education, and nonprofit sectors to talk about those impacts. In part two of a three-part series revisiting that forum, KCAW’s Enrique Pérez de la Rosa reports on how the nonprofit sector will be affected by the governor’s lean budget.
Note: In part 3 of this series, KCAW’s Katherine Rose recaps the health panel from last week’s University of Alaska Southeast forum on proposed state budget cuts.
Institutions that rely heavily on state funding have been busy in the two months since Governor Mike Dunleavy released his budget proposal, preparing for worst case scenarios.
For some, the impact of proposed cuts is clearly evident. Take the Sheldon Jackson Museum, a building and collection owned by the Department of Education and Early Development. The museum is at risk of being sold after Dunleavy directed state agencies to sell underutilized property.
Rosemary Carlton is president of the Friends of the Sheldon Jackson Museum, a nonprofit support organization for the 122-year-old museum. She says the museum makes enough from entry fees to cover most basic costs, but relies on the state to cover staff salaries and major capital projects.
“Few if any museums make money but that is not their purpose,” Carlton said. “The state of Alaska holds the collection in the public trust in perpetuity. The Sheldon Jackson Museum is not an unused facility to be under investigation for possible sale, but is a vibrant living institution essential to a strong, diverse city and state.”
Many nonprofits have revenue from several sources, and are not solely dependent on state funding. Nevertheless, funding streams are connected, and the ability to win grants often depends on a demonstration of government support.
Charlie Woodcock is the executive director of Youth Advocates of Sitka, a non-profit that provides services to adolescents and their families. YAS relies on state grants and MedicAid reimbursement rates for funding, alongside federal grants.
That diversity in funding sources makes the impact of state budget cuts hard to predict with precision. But Woodcock knows it will be big.
“We are not real clear about how it’s going to affect us, but it is going to affect us in a real serious way,” Woodcock said. “And it’s not only going to affect us, it’s going to affect all providers in the state.”
The outlook is even less clear for nonprofits that rely primarily on the community to support their missions. Panelists voiced concern that if the governor’s budget passes, Sitkans won’t have as much disposable time or money to support causes they care about.
Heather Bauscher is the Tongass Community Organizer for the Sitka Conservation Society, which runs a 4-H youth program with funding from the state. While 4-H would be difficult to replace, Bauscher said that everything else in the organization’s mission also would be jeopardized by a weakened economy.
“This budget touches a lot of space in this community and cuts to state agencies impact the ability of this community to be a thriving community,” Bauscher said. “From business to education, resource management, the whole ecology of this place, the environment, the community. For us to be impactful and have this be long-lasting, we need the infrastructure to be in place.”
Another panelist, Raven Radio general manager Becky Meiers, echoed that sentiment.
“Our success and our ability to thrive is solely based on our community’s ability to thrive,” Meiers said. “We’re interconnected with so many other entities and people as a connecting device for people to share information.”
Meiers said it costs KCAW about $73 dollars per hour to broadcast news, information, and music every hour of the day. The elimination of state funding would result in a 12 percent hit to the station’s operating budget, which puts the satellite system that broadcasts to seven other outlying communities like Angoon, Kake, and Tenakee Springs at risk.
Nonprofits often pride themselves on their connection to the communities they serve. But as the state considers unprecedented budget cuts, Sitka’s nonprofits fear the economic setback that is likely to ripple through the communities they rely on.
Missed the panel discussion? Watch KCAW’s Facebook livestream here.