Gov. Walker criticizes Legislature for budget, voices concern for future
Gov. Bill Walker is waiting to sign off on a budget passed by lawmakers Tuesday evening — a budget that is funded mostly by savings. Walker says his action on the legislation will depend on the Legislature adopting a long-term fiscal plan.
“If things don’t change, if they kick the can down the road, there’ll be budgetary consequences; there has to be, there’s no question about it,” a visibly emotional Walker told reporters at a press conference Wednesday morning. “If they bring in, take action on a path that sets us on the path to bring in additional revenue, then we’ll have a different look at the budget.”
Walker wouldn’t say yet which parts of the budget would be vetoed if lawmakers didn’t adopt new revenue measures.
Once the proposal is transmitted to his desk, he’ll have 15 days — not including Sundays — to take action before the bill automatically becomes law.
Legislators have yet to adopt the biggest piece of the governor’s fiscal plan, which creates a continuous stream of money for government from the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings. Pat Pitney, the governor’s budget director, says the measure still can be implemented at any time and would help reduce the amount of money being pulled from savings for the budget.
Part of the problem in passing Walker’s permanent fund plan, lawmakers say, is that it is contingent upon passage of other measures, like taxes.
“The last thing I want to do is just reach into the permanent fund. That’s always been the easiest thing, politicians are always wanting to get their hands on that, but that’s the last thing that we want to do,” said House Minority Leader Chis Tuck, D-Anchorage, citing the need to reduce oil tax credits and increase revenue from fishing and mining industries first. “How can we be talking about that if we aren’t talking about the mining industry and everybody else playing their role?”
If lawmakers don’t adopt a plan to utilize the permanent fund moving forward, Pitney warns balancing a budget with Constitutional Budget Reserve savings again next year won’t be an option.
“This is the last year that we have with that particular tool. It’s been a great tool, but it’s on its last legs,” she said.
Pitney pointed to a lack of sustainable budget items made in the Legislature’s version of the budget that will likely be backfilled with money from the previous fiscal year and one-time funding.
“When you put those together, our deficit is back up to $3.8 billion, so we haven’t substantially moved the dial,” Pitney explained.
Leadership in the House and Senate have criticized Walker for a lack of involvement in building support for his plans to use the permanent fund.
“He keeps saying he wants a fiscal plan, and we’re going forward with that, we’re looking at his bills and going through the process, but, he has to engage, he has to help,” House Majority Leader Charisse Millet, R-Anchorage, told reporters at a press conference Tuesday evening. “He has to talk to our constituents.”
Walker shot back the following morning.
“I do want to address something,” he told reporters. “There was some comments made that we have not engaged, we have not engaged enough with Alaskans, we have not engaged enough with the Legislature, and I’m offended by that.”
Walker pointed to a chart tallying more than 400 meetings his administration has held with the Legislature and cited more than 65 town hall meetings with the public.
There are 20 days left in the special session.
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