Why Anchorage Mayor Bronson vetoed funding for crisis teams he supports

Licensed clinician Jennifer Pierce and paramedic Michael Riley listen to a man regarding his needs from the mobile crisis team in Mountain View on Aug. 5, 2022. They’re first responders with the Anchorage Fire Department’s Mobile Crisis Team, which works emergency calls for people in mental health crises. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson announced line item budget vetoes this week attempting to reverse about half of the spending the Assembly added to the city’s 2024 operating budget.

The vetoes are unlikely to stick. Assembly leaders plan to vote to override them on Tuesday, and appear to have the necessary supermajority.

Competing budget priorities aside, the vetoes reveal a failure within the administration to align the mayor’s intent with his actions.

Two of the mayor’s vetoes target an accounting change Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel successfully pushed for.

The city has two first responder teams that specifically work emergency calls for people in mental health crises. They’re calls that regular police officers have historically responded to, sometimes with tragic results.

Bronson said he supports both the Mobile Crisis Team and Mobile Intervention Team.

A man with a white shirt, yellow tie and suspenders outside.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson outside Alaska Public Media on Aug. 1, 2023. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

“MCT and MIT are going to be fully funded,” Bronson said at a press conference Wednesday. “I mean, the Assembly and I are in agreement on that. It’s the funding source that’s at question.”

Both teams are paid for mostly with revenue from the city’s alcohol tax. For 2024, Zaletel had moved them into the budgets of the fire and police departments, which are primarily funded by property taxes. Bronson said he called the press conference to clear the air about what he called “factually inaccurate statements” from Assembly members about his vetoes around the two teams.

“Somehow, the narrative got out there that I’m defunding public safety and MIT and MCT. That is simply not the case,” he said. “If my vetoes hold, then the status quo will remain the status quo.”

But Zaletel said Bronson is wrong about the consequences his two vetoes would have. They would strike the teams’ funding, with nothing in place to revert to using alcohol taxes. Even if there were, Zaletel said the money freed up by moving the teams away from alcohol tax funding has now been committed to other budget items.

A white woman with blond hair speaks into a small microphone
Meg Zaletel speaks at a June 2021 committee meeting of the Anchorage Assembly. Zaletel is currently the vice chair of the Assembly and co-chair of its budget and finance committee. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

“It’s not just a matter of putting it back into the alcohol tax. There isn’t spending capacity left within that projected revenue stream,” she said. “I think it shows a fundamental lack of understanding, quite frankly, about how services are funded.”

The Bronson administration’s budget experts are in the Office of Management and Budget. OMB is supposed to have six employees, but according to a budget document from August, only half of the positions are filled.

“The institutional knowledge is gone,” Zaletel said. “So, to have a deep, sophisticated understanding of, kind of the ramifications of various choices, I think, you know, he doesn’t have that kind of depth of bench that we’ve seen, you know, in previous administrations where people have been around lots and lots of years.”

That vacancy issue is also a veto subject. The city’s been struggling to recruit and retain employees across almost all of its departments. Roughly one in five city jobs is open.

Bronson’s vetoes seek to bank a few million dollars in savings from positions expected to remain vacant.

“We need to get to accuracy in budgeting,” Bronson said. “And this is a way of doing that. We simply need to be accurate.”

Assembly leaders think those cuts will undermine city services and lead to hiring more private contractors. They’d rather rebuild the municipal workforce.

In total, Bronson’s vetoes would cut about half of the $15.6 million in additions the Assembly made to Bronson’s original proposed operating budget of $598 million.

Bronson said he wants to keep spending and property taxes in check and focus on public safety and other essential services. But he said he recognizes there’s a veto override process, and he knows his power isn’t absolute.

“We don’t need dictators in the mayor’s office and we don’t need dictators in the Assembly,” he said. “This is kind of a balance of power thing, and I support that mechanism.”

Bronson said the consequence of overriding his vetoes will be higher taxes.

a portrait of a man outside

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him atjhsieh@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremyhere.

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