Governor softens stance on income tax, prepares for special session
Wednesday was day 100 of the legislative session. Gov. Bill Walker told reporters at a press conference he’s already preparing for a special session in Juneau.
But Wednesday, he softened to other options.
“We’re not absolutely, ‘We have to have an income tax,’” he said. “That’s a piece that we have in our plan, so if there’s another way of fulfilling that piece, we’re fine.”
Senate President Kevin Meyer has said he hopes the governor wouldn’t insist on an income tax if the Senate could cut $200 million out of the budget that the proposal would generate in revenues.
The governor’s income tax proposal has struggled for footing in both bodies since early in the session. In an email Thursday, Gov. Walker’s communications director Grace Jang clarified his stance.
“He has always said that he is open to a sales tax if the legislature would prefer that over an income tax,” Jang wrote.
The House has been stuck on the latter for more than two weeks.
House Majority Leader Rep. Charisse Millett said she’s optimistic the Legislature can get through those two bills by the end of May.
“I think we’re getting closer on each one of those measures every day that we’re here. Progress is made,” she said.
In the meantime, everything in the Senate is on hold.
Senate Finance Committee co-chair Anna MacKinnon said without knowing how much can be saved by making changes to the oil tax credit system, senators aren’t comfortable voting on restructuring the permanent fund.
The governor said he can go along with that, but with reservations.
“If everybody’s sort of waiting for the breakthrough on [House Bill] 247, then, okay, I can live with that,” he told reporters. “I mean, it’s just going to extend it that much longer. The longer we don’t look at some of these issues, the longer it will extend the process.”
The governor said one reason he’d like to hold a special session in Juneau is the statewide television service, Gavel Alaska, which allows Alaskans to tune into legislative hearings live or at any time online.
“These are such historic modifications we’re making for Alaskans,” the governor said. “If you’re in White Mountain or you’re in Anchorage or you’re in Ketchikan or Dutch Harbor, you should be able to tune in and watch what goes on.”
Even if legislators pass oil tax credit reform and vote to use permanent fund earnings, they still have to pass a budget. They’ll need to work with the House minority for a three-quarter, supermajority vote to draw from savings to fund it.
The group already has expressed dissatisfaction with many of the cuts now in the budget, including large hits to the University of Alaska and senior benefits.
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