Alaska’s budget crisis just keeps rolling along.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said on July 14 that he doesn’t expect a legislative impasse over his budget vetoes to be solved until after the November elections. He spoke on the eve of what he expects will be an attempt by both houses of the Legislature to override his vetoes. The impasse has now lasted into a fifth special legislative session.
Alaska is such an oil-dependent state that the 80% plunge in oil prices from a decade earlier has caused a $4.1 billion deficit, equal to 70% of the budget, although government spending has been slashed 44% since fiscal 2013, bringing it back to its 2007 level.
“This is the greatest fiscal crisis in our state’s history,” Walker said during his news conference in Juneau, quoting David Teall, the Legislature’s veteran fiscal analyst. “These are not theoretical reductions. This is very real. We can’t resolve this issue solely on reductions in spending.”
Not only has Walker made cuts such as a 50% reduction in the Permanent Fund dividend that each Alaskan receives (to $1,000), he proposed doubling the state’s base fuel taxes to 16 cents per gallon from 8 cents per gallon, not counting the 0.95-cent environmental fee in both. Walker affirmed to Transport Topics that those increases are still on the table.
“I’ve done the most I can do without having new revenue brought in,” Walker said. “We can’t fix the problem with vetoes alone. … Sixty legislators hold the Alaska’s future in their hands. We’re now at a new time in Alaska.”
Walker said he had asked legislators for a better plan than his to resolve the crisis but didn’t receive a response before unveiling the “No Action Plan,” which he used to mock their lack of input.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Peter Micciche didn’t return repeated interview requests.
After calling himself an optimist by nature, Walker, an Independent who took office on Dec. 1, 2014, said that with the Aug. 16 primary barely a month away and the general election following less than three months later, any tough decisions by House and Senate Republicans and Democrats figure to be postponed.
Citing his predecessors' having to deal with such disasters as earthquakes, floods and oil spills, Walker said, “This one we can stop. Everyday Alaskans know we have to make a change. They realize what we’re headed for. Since December 2014, we’ve lost 80% of our income. … Do we have to go broke before we do something?”