Representative Bill Thomas wants to slow the growing cost of state government. And he has the influence to try to do it.
He co-chairs the House Finance Committee, where he oversees drafting the Legislature’s operating budget.
The Haines Republican says it’s increasing about 7 percent a year, more than the state can afford. It can’t stay level because of program guarantees and commitments already made.
He says he’ll work with the governor and other lawmakers to reduce that growth.
“Everybody has a need and a want. And we’re sitting here (wondering) at what point do they finally realize that we can’t continue to allow the budget to grow at this rate,” she says.
Thomas says he supports the governor’s plan to reduce spending by eliminating 284 funded, but unfilled, state jobs.
The Haines Republican doesn’t write the capital budget, which funds public-works projects around the state. But he has influence as a finance committee member.
Thomas plans to push for a powerline that could lower the price of electricity in one Southeast village.
“It’s been a project that we’ve been pushing for years. And for two years now it’s been vetoed. It’s for the intertie service for Kake. I think we’re going to try one more time and see. Maybe we’ll have to go for less money and build it over a two-year period, or something,” he says.
Other preferred projects include Angoon erosion repairs, statewide harbor improvements and village energy projects.
Thomas would consider additional funding for the first Alaska Class Ferry, if what’s budgeted now is not enough. But he questions the need for a whole new design.
“We’ve got now some of the finest boats running around and they’re 50 years old. Seems to me if it’s not broke, why fix it. These are working fine. I just don’t get it, I guess,” he says.
Thomas has authored or backed several veterans’ assistance bills. He’s also sponsoring a bill to help veterans to apply military experience to some occupational licensing requirements.
“Let’s say that you’re a captain in the Coast Guard and you come out and want to be a marine pilot or maybe a marine highway captain, this will allow you to use some of your sea hours, if you have six years or so of duty, you come in and we can help you waive some of that,” he says.
This is Thomas’ final session representing more than two dozen small communities from Metlakatla to Skagway to Cordova. Reapportionment will drop some of those towns, while adding Sitka to the district.
He says that will mean an extra push for his current constituents’ projects.
“The way we look at it now we’re going to be losing one representative and one senator. So we have to work together and anything anybody puts in hopefully we’ll be able to protect and work with each other. And we’re going to have to work with each other harder than we ever have before,” he says.
In addition to finance, Thomas serves on the Legislative Budget & Audit Committee.
- Heli-skiing has long been a controversial topic in Haines. The interests of the industry often clash with people who live near heliports and don’t want the noise disturbing their peace and quiet. But there’s another group that’s impacted by helicopter noise: mountain goats.
- In the Northwest Arctic, caribou hunting has been contentious for years. Alaska’s largest herd continues to decline while tensions have emerged between rural subsistence users and outside hunters.
- From the Aleutian island of Akutan to the arctic village of Kiana, 13 communities have been crowned champions of a rural energy competition. The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced that it will help these communities cut their energy use by 15 percent by training local utility providers.
- It’s costing 14 percent more to take the ferry to and from the Lower 48. The higher fare is part of another round of tariff increases aimed at boosting income and equalizing rates across all routes.