Governor renews demand for fiscal fix, unveils plan to combat opioid epidemic
Gov. Bill Walker’s State of the State address Wednesday was similar to his speech last year. It was serious, mainly focused on the budget, but did prompt a few laughs, like when he told lawmakers about an incident from his youth where he had to drive home to Valdez from Delta Junction in reverse.
For most of the nearly hour-long speech, the governor painted a grim picture of Alaska’s economy. He urged lawmakers to take action on his proposed fiscal plan to reduce spending by three percent and use permanent fund earnings as a long-term fix to help fill the state fiscal gap.
“State revenues are down more than 80 percent from four years ago,” he told members of the newly convened 30th Alaska State Legislature. “During that period, we’ve cut the budget 44 percent. But we still face a $3-billion fiscal gap.”
Walker vowed to lead by example, by cutting his own pay by a third and announcing plans to introduce legislation to freeze some state worker salaries.
“Better days will come, but until then, we must make difficult decisions,” he said.
The governor said that using his veto pen last year to cut dividend checks in half was one of the hardest decisions of his life and urged lawmakers to reduce Alaska’s dependence on the price of oil.
“It will take legislation to solve the problem; only you have the power to pass legislation,” Walker said. “You possess the power and the opportunity to solve our fiscal challenge.”
Last year, the Senate passed the governor’s Senate Bill 128, which capped dividends at $1,000 a year for three years and used permanent fund earnings to pay for state services. The bill later died in the House.
This year, the new Democrat-lead House majority plans to use this pot of money as part of a long-term solution, but wants first to evaluate an income tax and changes to oil tax credits.
Both bodies pledge to work with the governor this year. Beyond the budget, Walker vowed to collaborate with lawmakers on other issues such as the high rate of opioid abuse in Alaska.
“Tonight, I offer five steps to reduce the toll of this epidemic,” Walker said, outlining a five-point plan:
- Limit the amount of opioids a doctor can prescribe
- Strengthen the prescription drug-monitoring program
- Give regulatory authority to classify new, illicit opioids as controlled substances when they emerge
- Improve screening and enforcement measures to restrict the transport of illegal opioids and heroin into rural communities
- Require licensed health care providers to complete opioid addiction education
Some lawmakers said they were skeptical of the governor’s new plan.
“Increased enforcement in rural villages? That hasn’t worked so well with alcohol, so I’m not sure how much better that’s going work when it comes to opioid smuggling,” said Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, the House minority floor leader.
House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said he was encouraged by the governor’s proposal, adding that he had spoken with a group of students from Dillingham concerned about opioid abuse earlier in the day.
“It was nice to know that their concerns, because they’re having problems with these epidemics out there as well, that the governor’s going to be tackling that,” Tuck said. “Making sure that we aren’t over-prescribing, identifying those doctors that do it on a regular basis, and trying to keep it out of rural Alaska if it’s not necessary, the illegal trafficking if you will.”
The post Governor renews demand for fiscal fix, unveils plan to combat opioid epidemic appeared first on KTVA 11.