Gov. Walker prepares for government shutdown
Governor Bill Walker is responding to a looming government shutdown just as he would a natural disaster.
On Thursday afternoon, Walker told reporters he’s set up an incident command structure, the type of organization used to respond to disasters — with periodic meetings between departments. Walker said he doesn’t believe the threat of a shutdown has reached the level of a disaster yet, but, would rather be proactive than reactive.
“This is unprecedented,” Walker told reporters. “This has never happened before in the history of Alaska.”
Lawmakers came close to a government shutdown in 2015, but, this year’s preparations are different. In 2015, lawmakers passed a partially funded budget that could keep state services running after July 1. This year, the legislature has not appropriated money for any government services.
“We’re not trying to overreact,” Walker said of his action Thursday. “On the other hand, the worst thing we could do is sit back and assume something’s going to happen if it does not happen “
The incident command structure, lead by Attorney General, Jahna Lindemuth, includes the heads of each state department. The group will work to figure out what happens if lawmakers don’t pass a budget by July 1.
In a series of press releases Thursday afternoon, each department outlined what a government shutdown might look like. Alaskans could expect delays to child support payments, PFD applications and fishing licenses.
“Shutting down the government could mean delayed certificates for Alaskans who are getting married this summer,” said Dept. of Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson in a release. “We could also see delayed processing of birth certificates, which is often a minimum requirement for applying for other state and federal services.”
According to the Department of Revenue, work would also likely halt on:
- dividend application processing
- child support casework
- audits of oil and gas taxes, corporate income, alcohol, fisheries, charitable gaming, tobacco and others.
While the state is required to keep services running to preserve the life, health, and safety of Alaskans, Department of Corrections Commissioner Dean Williams said in a statement Thursday that “Any interruption in routine operations of the department will add risk and uncertainty. While high-security functions remain intact, ancillary operations of a correctional system are still important to safety and security.”
Senate President Pete Kelly says his caucus is willing to budge in order to get a budget.
“We meet at the table every chance we get, to make sure that there isn’t a shutdown,” Kelly said in an interview Thursday. “If it happens, it isn’t because we weren’t there to negotiate, we’re there, we’re willing to give up stuff to get a budget negotiated.”
House leadership declined to comment for this story, but, earlier in the week, the caucus indicated it will stand firm on its call for new taxes to increase state revenue.
Now, Walker says the state has no choice but to prepare for the worst.
“We can’t have the luxury of sitting back and not doing anything in hopes that things work out by July 1,” Walker said.
Lawmakers haven’t made any visible progress on a budget this week. Kelly says the only way lawmakers will be able to pass a budget is if Walker removes all other items from the special session agenda. Walker said he cannot legally do that, once the special session has started.