Forget about the ferries. Reschedule your wedding. Don’t think about pull tabs.
Alaska’s impending government shutdown will have a tsunami of effects across the state, government leaders said on Thursday, with implications for every man, woman and child in the state.
“This is unprecedented. This has never happened in the history of Alaska that we’ve had to face this kind of shutdown,” said Gov. Bill Walker in a brief press conference with reporters.
If the Alaska Legislature fails to pass a state budget by July 1 and come up with the money to pay for that budget, state services will all but end and Alaska will be plunged into a constitutional crisis.
Walker and the state’s 18 department leaders released their preliminary tally of shutdown effects Thursday, and the governor has convened an extraordinary incident command panel ─ one normally used in natural disasters ─ to cope with the shutdown.
Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth will head the panel, befitting for a moment that may be a political disaster.
Alaska’s Constitution gives the Alaska Legislature all authority on appropriations, but if the Legislature fails to appropriate any money in the fiscal year that begins July 1, it will be violating other portions of the constitution that require the Legislature to “provide for the promotion and protection of public health” and “the public welfare.”
In his talk with reporters, Walker said that if a shutdown happens, “we will follow the constitution, which only allows us to make expenditures on life, health safety issues.”
The Department of Law, Walker said, is defining exactly what that means on a department-by-department basis.
According to a memo dated June 8, the department is dividing state programs into three tiers, with Tier I representing programs like “correctional facilities, state-operated nursing homes and medical facilities, law enforcement and emergency and disaster response” that should not be shut down “for even the shortest amount of time.”
Tier II programs, such as “federal public assistance programs, unemployment benefits, and timely payments of bonded indebtedness,” “may only be delayed a short amount of time, if at all,” according to the memo.
Tier III programs may be constitutionally or federally mandated. They “may not require 24-hour or even weekly operations to fulfill, but could become urgent if a shutdown were to continue for too long.”
The state’s principal departments offered preliminary notices Thursday about what a shutdown will mean:
- According to Minta Montalbo, spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Administration, the state will immediately incur about $152 million in costs because employment contracts require state employees to be compensated for their accrued leave. Exempt employees have another $30 million in leave accrued, but paying those costs is at the will of the employee.
- The Department of Administration also operates the state’s motor vehicle offices. In the event of a shutdown, DMV offices may close, which means that drivers may be unable to register vehicles or get new driver’s licenses.
- Businesses that contract with the state may go unpaid or see their payments delayed.
- Crime victims receiving aid from the Violent Crimes Compensation Board may see payments delayed.
- Alaska’s public radio and television stations may not receive grants on time.
Commerce, Community and Economic Development
- If the Department of Commerce shuts down, new businesses may not be able to get their state licenses, preventing them from operating legally.
- The state’s banking regulators would be laid off, and so would liquor and marijuana inspectors. Marijuana licenses, due for renewal July 1, could go unrenewed, shutting down that nascent industry.
- State-backed loans to commercial fishermen may stop, and state support for fish marketing may end.
- Small rural communities could suffer if the state’s bulk fuel purchase program ends, and those communities would also stop getting help for sewer and water issues.
- The state’s prison system would continue to operate, but specialized services including chaplains, drug treatment, vocational training and education might not be available.
Education and Early Development
- Early learning and Head Start programs could shut down.
- Teacher certification may stop.
- The Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Professional Teaching Practices Commission, the Alaska State Library, the Alaska State Archives, the Alaska State Museum, and the Sheldon Jackson Museum would close.
- Summer food programs for children “likely” would continue, as would federally mandated school reporting standards.
- Spill prevention and response will stay on alert.
- Air quality advisories, drinking water inspections and “disease prevention duties” would continue.
- There likely would be no new licenses for food service businesses, including restaurants. There probably also would be no new air quality or wastewater permits for businesses, even if those businesses are required to have such permits.
- Restaurant inspections would stop.
- Cruise ship inspections would stop.
- The processing of loans for sewer and water projects would stop.
Fish and Game
- The shutdown of Fish and Game during the summer salmon season would lead to the curtailment or even closure of many of the state’s commercial and sport fisheries.
- Hunting and fishing permits could not be issued, and regulated hunts may close down.
- State shooting ranges would close.
- Habitat permits will go unissued.
Health and Social Services
- According to the department, many critical public health services will continue, albeit in limited form.
- With the division of vital statistics shut down, there would be no one to issue birth, marriage or death certificates.
- The licensing of health care facilities could stop.
- Inspections of nursing homes and hospitals, except in rare cases, would stop.
Labor and Workforce Development
- According to the department, “The failure to pass a budget would have significant impacts on the department’s ability to perform important responsibilities, including resolution of labor disputes and elections, workers’ compensation adjudications and appeals, and resolution of wage and hour violations.”
- Required mechanical inspections may not take place.
- The vocational training center in Seward would shut down.
- The state would stop collecting data on unemployment, population and other recordkeeping critical to government operations.
- All nonessential attorneys and Department of Law staff will be laid off.
- Attorney General Lindemuth said in a statement, “There will be many contracts that are not paid or are otherwise breached, which may result in penalties and interest. There will be statutes that are not being fulfilled that will create additional legal liability. It will require additional efforts by the Department of Law after a shutdown is over to unwind all of legal matters that had to be halted or delayed while a shutdown was occurring.”
Military and Veterans Affairs
- According to information from the DMVA, the National Guard will stay on duty, but civilian support staff will be laid off in the event of a shutdown.
- Veterans Affairs staff will be laid off.
- According to the department, “During the course of a shutdown, DHS&EM will likely have to cease disaster mitigation and preparation activities and would no longer process recovery grants for individuals and communities.”
- Firefighters would likely continue to fight wildfires, and the Alaska Volcano Observatory would stay on duty, the department said by email.
- State parks would remain open, but anything requiring a ranger or on-site staff would close down. There would be no park maintenance, including emptying of public restrooms.
- The state recorder’s office, which is required to register real estate transactions, would close. Alaskans may not be able to buy or sell real estate legally.
- Anything requiring a DNR permit likely would be unavailable, including land purchases and timber sales.
- According to an email from the department, “the Alaska State Troopers and Alaska Wildlife Troopers would continue to fully enforce Alaska’s laws and respond to emergency calls. However, it is not fully known how a reduction in support services would affect some services provided by DPS.”
- The state crime lab may be unable to process cases as quickly, slowing prosecution and investigation.
- Processing of concealed handgun permits, security guard licensing and the state’s sex offender registry could be slowed.
- The Department of Revenue oversees pull tabs and tobacco, and according to an email sent by the department, “In the event of a prolonged shutdown, the division will be unable to issue cigarette tax stamps or pull tabs and those items could not legally be sold.”
- Permanent Fund dividend application processing will stop.
- All new and active child support casework likely will cease, the department says.
- New tax licenses for mining, fishing, alcohol, tobacco and gaming will not be issued.
- “Current investigations into suspected PFD and Tax fraud would be suspended,” the department said.
Transportation / Public Facilities
- In a shutdown, the Alaska Marine Highway System would either completely stop operating or be critically short-staffed, officials said.
- Construction projects will stop statewide, and contractors will not be paid.
- The Whittier Tunnel will close.
- The Department of Weights and Measures, which regulates gas station pumps and grocery scales, will stop operating.
- The state’s airports will see their hours cut back, and the office that handles airport leasing will close. If a lease expires, no one will be able to renew it.
University of Alaska
- The University of Alaska has not explained the effects of a shutdown on its operations.
- The state court system will continue to operate, but functions may be limited.
- The Alaska Legislature and its staff will be largely unaffected by a shutdown.
Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 419-7732.