Governor, education advocates ramp up pressure on Senate over cuts, broad-based tax
Governor Bill Walker and some citizen-led groups are turning up the heat in Juneau on the Senate’s calls for big budget cuts, on day 100 of the 90-day session.
Walker pointed to a new report by the state Office of Management and Budget Wednesday to show Alaska’s budget may be bigger than most other states, but services are already lean. He reiterated his support for a broad-based tax, something the Senate continues to oppose.
The Senate’s opposition to the measure is under pressure from all sides.
Great Alaska Schools, an education advocacy group founded by parents, spent the day reading hundreds of letters of public testimony on the Senate’s 5 percent proposed cut to education on the capitol steps Wednesday. In most cases, the group says those who wrote in were willing to pay to keep funding.
“They don’t just want to ‘stop the cuts’, they also want to say, ‘hey, listen to us. We’re willing to pay, we’re at that cross roads where we need to think about how to keep Alaska strong,” said Alyse Galvin, co-founder of the group.
From education to public safety, Walker says OMB’s report shows there’s a reason Alaska has one of the highest per capita budget in the nation, and it’s not the conventional explanation that once oil revenues began flowing, state spending increased rapidly– as many senators have said.
“While some programs were added in the early years of oil production, such as the Permanent Fund Dividend, the Power Cost Equalization program and construction of several state office buildings and schools, Alaska’s per capita spending has always been between two and three times the average of other states– even before oil revenues began,” according to the report.
“It was an exciting read because it helped put out, put aside some of the myths that we’d heard for a long time, that I had heard. I just thought it was really well done,” Walker told reporters Wednesday.
The governor says Alaska’s rare state-run pioneer’s homes, Permanent Fund Dividend program, and over 200 state operated airports, all make the budget bigger.
But the Senate Majority says the state should be working to shrink the budget before turning to an income tax.
“It doesn’t mean that it’s forever. It doesn’t mean that the Senate’s not willing to pay the bills someday if something changes,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) told reporters at a press conference earlier this month.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Senate President Pete Kelly reiterated the Senate’s opposition to the measure.
“The Senate is not going to allow the governor or the House Democrats to reach into the pockets of working Alaskans during a recession. The idea of an income tax is not supported by the people, the Legislature or just plain common sense. As I’ve said many times, the only thing standing between Alaskans and an income tax is the Senate,” Kelly said.
Senate Leadership is calling for $750 million in cuts over the next three years. With that, the Senate says an income tax is unnecessary. But the House, governor and some education advocates say they’d take a tax over a smaller budget.
“We don’t all agree, but it’s great to hear that folks are weighing in on this this tax, that tax or do this with oil,” Galvin said.
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