Walker talks economy, gas line, public safety in State of the State
Gov. Bill Walker on Thursday delivered to the Legislature his fourth State of the State message, one mixed with heavy optimism and a legislative mandate to approve taxes and meet a budget-passing deadline or face a pay cut.
While lawmakers applauded several dozen times throughout the evening, afterward they greeted his speech with a blend of support, biting comments and pursed lips deciding to withhold comment.
As with previous speeches, Walker covered a lot of ground in the 52-minute, 23-page speech.
He discussed the economy, provided a status update on advancing a natural gas pipeline project for export delivery to Asia, and shared his plans to combat the state’s rising crime and opioid use-– all while weaving in his signature stories about everyday Alaskans and his own formative years.
Just as his newly appointed Commerce Commissioner Mike Navarre did earlier before a Senate panel, Walker cautioned against letting partisan differences get in the way of progress toward a long-term fiscal plan.
He called for “courage” to pay a “modest temporary tax,” while accepting a fixed Permanent Fund dividend of $1,200.
“There's still one thing standing in the way of truly controlling our destiny, and that is our inability to get our own fiscal house in order,” he said.
“Let me be clear. The longer we hold on to partisanship, the longer we hold on to the deficit,” he continued several minutes later. “Our fiscal problems will not be solved through inaction.”
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham) concurred.
In the Speaker's chambers after the speech, he said, “You know what? I’m ready to go there, whatever it takes to get our job done on short order in a responsible matter and prove to Alaskans that we’re serious about taking on the tough choices.”
House Rep. Chris Birch (R-Anchorage) said that he didn’t quite view this as a State of the State speech.
“It sounded like a campaign speech,” Birch said. “There wasn’t anything shockingly new there. I would have been happy to hear a focus on cost-cutting and cost savings. That’s got to be part of the picture.”
Senate Republicans have long opposed any new income or sales tax, or an increased motor fuel tax -- a proposal that sits in the Senate and House Finance Committees.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) shared Walker’s optimism for resource development progress such as advancements toward developing federal land and offshore fields. But commonalities stop there. He took offense to any proposal of the executive branch penalizing the Legislature for not passing a budget without 90 days.
“I personally believe there should be negative impacts to the Legislature for not being able to come together and pass the budget in a reasonable amount of time, but I think it should come from this branch,” he said.
In a prepared statement, Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage) backed Walker for “insisting that timely action is taken.”
"The Governor's call for action on the opioid and related crime epidemics, with harsher penalties for traffickers and more funding for law enforcement and treatment, will be welcome news to Alaskans who feel they have been living in a state of siege,” she said.
Walker closed with a sports metaphor.
“I’m taking the field this season and will stay on the field until the session is done," Walker said. "Let’s end the session on the field with sweat and mud on our uniforms that come with working hard every day for Alaskans.”
Afterward, House Minority Leader Charisse Millett countered by saying, “I hope there is no extra innings.”
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