Republican leaders prepare to tackle budget shortfall
With low oil prices looming and a budget shortfall, state lawmakers are setting the stage to take a critical look at various state-funded programs during the upcoming session.
Thursday, Senate President-elect Kevin Meyer and House Speaker Mike Chenault gave a preview from the Republican majority perspective to the Resource Development Council, a group favorable to development of natural resources in Alaska.
Fiscal responsibility was a common theme with both lawmakers. The state is facing a $3.5 billion budget gap for the current fiscal year. Another $3 billion shortfall is expected for the coming fiscal year.
“Nobody in this room, unless there is an economist in here, ever figured that oil would get down to 47 dollars a barrel, Chenault said to the crowd at the Dena’ina Center.
Meyer said during the upcoming session lawmakers would be taking a look at newer programs that started in 2007 and 2008 when oil prices started going up. He specifically named Community Revenue Sharing, the Renewable Energy Fund and the Home Energy Rebate Program.
“Everything is on the table, we are going to look at everything,” he said.
Former Gov. Sarah Palin restored funding to Revenue Sharing in 2008 after former Gov. Frank Murkowski zeroed it out. It is based on a small share of oil revenue that goes to all Alaska cities. By statute, $60 million can be drawn out and the money is distributed to all cities based on a formula. The fund initially had $180 million. Last year, the legislature short-funded it, depositing $52 million into the account, leaving a total of $172 million.
The Renewable Energy Grant Fund was created in 2008 by the state Legislature to provide funding for renewable energy projects. Roughly $50 million goes to that fund, Meyer said.
The Home Energy Rebate Program was also initiated by the Legislature in 2008 and has been funded $252.5 million, according to the 2014 annual report. The program offers rebates of up to $10,000 to homeowners who make energy improvements to their homes.
Gov. Bill Walker is also taking a critical look at new programs. In December, he put new spending for six megaprojects on hold. Walker said those projects are under review.
The session begins Tuesday, Jan. 20. On Thursday, Jan. 22, Walker will revive the tradition of giving a separate address on the budget to give an overview of the state’s fiscal crisis. The last State of the Budget speech was in 2006, delivered by Gov. Frank Murkowski.
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