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Gov.’s Fairbanks conference continues dialogue about Alaska’s fiscal future

By Alexis Fernandez 11:43 AM June 7, 2015

A group of leaders from across the state are meeting in Fairbanks to continue the conversation about Alaska’s fiscal future.

Nearly 200 Alaskan leaders are taking part in Gov. Bill Walker’s “Building a Sustainable Future” conference this weekend at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

On Saturday, participants were split into groups to conduct exercises and discussions about government spending. Each group was asked to evaluate and put a value on government agencies, including the state’s Department of Education & Early Development.

The results will be presented on Sunday.

Some say too much is being spent, while others disagree.

“I think it’s critical when we look at the economic downturn that we’re facing as a state to not look to cut in the realm of education,” said Evon Peter, Vice Chancellor for Rural, Community and Native Education at UAF. “Because that’s our key to our economy is having a workforce that is trained, skilled, knowledgeable to diversify our economy in Alaska.”

The more important question will be how Alaska pays for government services in the near future.

State of Alaska Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck says the state is facing a billion-dollar budget deficit in the coming years and cannot cut its way out of it — meaning the state must find ways to raise revenue amid lower oil prices that are not expected to rebound anytime soon.

Hoffbeck says there are a number of ways the state can generate revenue, including cutting the budget, creating individual taxes, changing oil and gas taxes or using PFD earnings. Another possibility is having a lottery.

“It’s only going to become a crisis if we don’t act,” said Hoffbeck. “We have the benefit of large savings, and we have the benefit of working through the process in a systematic fashion to get to an answer. And we do have to act; if we fail to act, we take a challenge and turn it into a crisis.”

Walker says the conference will help provide a framework for decisions makers.

He also wants the group to bring the conversation to their own communities to start a dialogue about Alaska’s fiscal future.

The conference wrapped up on Sunday and the governor says “this is just the start of many conversations that will continue throughout the state.”

“We’re going to take that message, and we’re changing our message as a result of what we heard,” Walker said. “And we’re going to go out and reach out to more Alaskans in any way we possibly can.”

Contact Alexis Fernandez at afernandez@ktva.com and @alexisreporter

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