Alaska legislative session: The 1st week in review
From day one of the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said, this year, they’ll focus on working together to bridge the state’s more than $3.5 billion budget gap.
“How do we work together both as Republicans, Democrats and Independents to come up with solutions that are good for Alaska?” asked Sen. Anna Mackinnon, co-chair of the House Finance Committee at a press conference Tuesday.
On the House floor that same afternoon, House Minority Leader, Rep. Chris Tuck (D), urged his colleagues to move swiftly on the budget this year — avoiding the special sessions (143 days total) it took to get it passed last year.
“Last year was difficult, but it was something that was necessary,” said Tuck. “I think we finally came to an agreement in the end there. But let’s not wait ‘tl the last moment to make that happen.”
A new poll by the Rasmuson Foundation presented to lawmakers Wednesday confirmed that Alaskans expect their legislators to act on Alaska’s fiscal crisis this session.
“We asked people, if your legislator doesn’t do anything this year, are you going to vote for them or not?” said Diane Kaplan, president of the Rasmuson Foundation. “They said I’m not voting for my legislator again by a margin of 83 to 17.”
Governor Bill Walker’s state of the state address Thursday was optimistic, urging lawmakers to think beyond the next election.
“There are so many things the governor said that we agree with,” said Senate Majority Leader Sen. John Coghill (R) at a press conference after the governor’s speech. “We’re just going to have knuckle down and work together.”
Walker has asked lawmakers to adopt measures like changing the Permanent Fund Dividend program and adopting a broad-based income tax this year.
“I look forward to working with all of you this year to pass the Permanent Fund protection act,” said Walker Thursday. “If we do not take this critical step this year, our ability to close our budget gap becomes much more challenging. ”
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate Majority showed skepticism at being able to pass all of the governor’s proposals in one session.
“I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we said that we’re going to address every revenue stream that the governor has put out there and pass every one of those,” said House Speaker Mike Chenault (R) at a press conference Friday morning. “I don’t see that happening.”
Walker told reporters Friday morning he believes legislators can pass his entire plan this year.
“I’m going to stay optimistic about that, I’m not going to put out any edicts that, if you don’t do this, we won’t do that. It’s just way too early for that,” the governor said. “We’d like to have the entire package wrapped up this year. I hope it’s possible, I think it’s possible.”
The governor did highlight his changes to the Permanent Fund Dividend program as a key component of solving the state budget problem. That part of the plan hasn’t been addressed in legislative committees yet, but many have already shown opennness to it.
“Obviously the Permanent Fund Dividend, the discussion on that’s going to be the biggest topic of the day,” Rep. Mark Neuman said Monday, before the start of the session. “That’s the only pot of money the state has that’s actually going to make a difference in this $3.5 billion deficit. You know, income tax is only a couple hundred million dollars.”
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