Alaska Funders Rallied Together Around Major State Budget Cuts Proposed in 2019

Green graphic of state of AK with white overlay of scissors cutting a dollar bill
January 21, 2020

Throughout 2019, the state budget was a top concern for Alaskan communities and organizations. To balance the budget, Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed $1.6 billion in spending cuts that would have a devastating impact across the state, including for housing and homeless programs, arts programs, Medicaid, the University of Alaska system, civil legal services, early childhood and more. With a steep battle to minimize the magnitude of the cuts, Alaskans worked to take a united stand for their communities.

Trevor Storrs, president and CEO of Alaska Children’s Trust, said, “There was truly one singular voice throughout the fight – no one organization, funder or sector fought just for themselves. We all stood together to ensure the state we all loved prospered.”

For several months, Alaskans used every tool possible to amplify their concerns about the devastating impacts of the proposed cuts. Rallies took place across the state, and a rally in Anchorage in July was one of the largest public efforts in the state. Civic leaders, alongside regular Alaskans, from every corner of the state issued a continual stream of op-eds (some are highlighted below), took to social media and shared their stories and concerns.

The scale of the budget crisis necessitated new ways of leading together, especially among funders. Through the Alaska Funders Group, Alaska philanthropies coordinated an unprecedented open letter, published in state newspapers June 16 and 20, to express their solidarity with Alaskans voicing concerns and their commitment to partnership with the state to fill gaps that philanthropy alone cannot fill.

The collective efforts worked, especially because “the nonprofit sector and funders stuck together,” as Elizabeth Ripley, chief executive officer of Mat-Su Health Foundation, shared. State legislators rejected many aspects of the governor’s proposal and restored funding for some vetoed programs during a special session.
 
“The prospect of such severe cuts was not a one-time threat,” said Diane Kaplan, Rasmuson Foundation president and CEO. “We are taking a close look at the governor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, which starts from a more reasonable place. For the long term, the Alaska Legislature still needs to answer this challenging question: How do we ensure a sustainable fiscal future for Alaska?”

The tumultuous process that unfolded in 2019 required quick action and left little time to process. Philanthropy Northwest convened the Alaska Funders Group in October 2019 ­and the funders began to reflect on their work together on this issue. They agreed there were important lessons learned and stronger partnerships to build from and continue to share as a philanthropic community in Alaska and with funders across the Philanthropy Northwest network. This example of funders collaborating together may be a useful model for grantmakers in other states facing similar budget challenges. Philanthropy Northwest’s policy team is available to consult with members in other states around policy and advocacy strategies as they arise. Contact us for more assistance.

Highlighted public responses

Many of our member organizations have publicly responded to the impact of the budget cuts on the communities they serve. Here are a few examples: