Governor pitches fiscal plan again to lawmakers, hopes to win support
Gov. Bill Walker and members of his administration hosted a meeting with legislators outside of the Capitol Wednesday evening to talk about his bill for utilizing the Permanent Fund’s earnings as an endowment for government.
The bill is now in both the House and Senate Finance committees and has been modified since it was originally introduced, to incorporate elements from similar plans brought forth by Sen. Lesil McGuire (Senate Bill 114) and Rep. Mike Hawker (House Bill 224). The governor’s measure is struggling for support, along with other parts of his fiscal plan, including oil tax credit reform and an income tax proposal.
The meeting — which was attended by about half of the 60 legislators — was reminiscent of a presentation Walker held back in October. He said Wednesday’s meeting went over better.
“More people attended, they were engaged. It was a good discussion afterwards, I was very, very pleased with it,” Walker said in an interview following the presentation.
The meeting came at the request of the House Finance Co-chair, Rep. Steve Thompson, whose committee helped shape the latest draft of the bill, House Bill 245. Thompson said the governor needs to do more to promote understanding and show support for it.
“We have the new version of the Permanent Fund bill but really the only ones that seem to know much about it is the eleven people on the Finance Committee, and this is his bill, he said that he likes the form that it’s in, but he’s got to tell the people about it,” Thompson said.
Even within the House Finance Committee, legislators are divided on the measure. In an interview Wednesday, Rep. Scott Kawasaki called it a “pathway to poverty” because of a provision that reduces the draw from the earnings reserve on a dollar-per-dollar basis once oil revenue reaches more than $1.2 billion.
“We saw when oil prices did rise that we did spend, but we also needed to spend some money on crucial things that hadn’t been done for many decades — improving schools, improving roads,” Kawasaki said.
Rep. Liz Vazquez said, like many legislators, she saw the new version of the governor’s measure for the first time Wednesday.
“I had some of the questions answered, but I have many others and I’ll be studying his proposal,” Vazquez said.
Right now, the plan guarantees dividends at $1,000 over the next three years. Vazquez said she would like to see modeling done to show what will happen to that dividend after that.
When asked whether he would veto the Permanent Fund bill if lawmakers failed to pass other parts of his plan, Governor Walker told lawmakers he would not. Though he said he will continue to push for all parts.
While the governor focused on the Permanent Fund bill Wednesday, lawmakers said they’ll have to work through a “log jam” on the governor’s bill on oil tax credits first. It was stalled for a vote on the house floor four times last week before being held in the House Rules Committee.
“To be honest with you, I don’t see how we’re going to be able to get the permanent fund bill through unless we address House Bill 247, which is oil tax credits,” Thompson said. “I don’t think we can do Permanent Fund without having an oil tax credit bill first, that one’s being negotiated I think right now, so we’ll see how that comes out first.”
After working through two committees, HB 247 now bares little resemblance to the governor’s original bill. When asked whether he could still support it, Governor Walker said that his administration is meeting with lawmakers Thursday on the issue.
“We’ll see what comes out of tomorrow,” he said.
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