Walker administration projects deep cuts to government, schools if legislature doesn’t act

Gov. Bill Walker talks about the potential effects of the Legislature not passing his fiscal plan, in Juneau on July 14, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)
Gov. Bill Walker talks about the potential effects of the Legislature not passing his fiscal plan, in Juneau on July 14, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

In two years, the state would slash services, jobs, and the support it gives to local schools and communities if the legislature doesn’t take action on a plan to fund state government, according to Gov. Bill Walker’s administration.

Walker said that if legislators don’t pass his fiscal plan, which includes restructuring the Permanent Fund and adding new taxes, they’ll be choosing that scenario as the state’s future by default.

“I asked for other plans,” Walker said. “If there’s a better plan, please bring it to us. And no plan came forth. But actually, you know, the other day, on a flight to Fairbanks, it really struck me that there really is another plan. And that’s the no action plan.”

State budget director Pat Pitney said the no action plan would cut funding to state agencies from more than $4 billion to only $1.5 billion, creating a dire situation.

“These aren’t amounts of money the state could see a real future in,” Pitney said.

Pitney said it would be like running a 21st century Alaska with roads and infrastructure on a budget from the 1960s — It’s not possible.

But Pitney also said that only passing Senate Bill 128 wouldn’t be enough to provide the government services and school aid that Alaskans are used to. SB 128 restructures the Permanent Fund and use that money for operating costs. If the state only does that, many state agencies would see a 25 percent cut in funding.

“With just a modest amount of tax revenue we can maintain those services, we don’t have to push the costs onto communities,” Pitney said.

While Walker wants to spark the legislature to act, it hasn’t worked.

When he spelled out what could happen with future budgets, he said that as Alaskans become familiar with who supports the no action plan, they’ll be better informed about who should represent them in Juneau.

House Majority Leader Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, questioned this tactic.

“I think it’s unfortunate that that’s the way the governor chooses to work with the legislature,” Millett said. “When you’re trying to push a fiscal plan, I think the last thing you want to do is threaten folks with campaigns.”

And some legislators didn’t feel threatened by the possibilities, they embraced them. Wasilla Republican Rep. Lynn Gattis said she’d like to see the scenario with deep cuts.

“In my district, when I went back home, those folks are saying, ‘Cut the budget,’ and certainly that’s what this does,” she said. “So, I don’t think these are dire circumstances.”

Alaskans reacted with concern to an administration report on projected state government spending cuts.

At the Glenn Alps trailhead in Chugach State Park, Sara and Reed Supe looked through a list of potential cuts to state government if the legislature doesn’t find new revenue sources. They noted that if lawmakers do nothing, the budget for the Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Natural Resources — which includes many parks — would drop by 85 percent.

“You’d never get to go hunting. Or fishing. I think this is what people up in Alaska live here for,” Sara Supe said.

The Supes said they’d happily pay more for fishing licenses and park fees to help that problem, but they see the projected cuts to education as too damaging — schools would have thousands fewer teachers and some university campuses would close

Palmer resident Linda Lozanoff said it’s time for the legislature to pick a path.

“I really appreciate Gov. Walker’s efforts to take them to task, make them work hard and make decisions,” she said.

But she said everyone in the state, including schools, needs to do their part and accept some cuts. She gave an example — after her recent divorce, her income fell by two-thirds.

“If  I was able to do it, I think the state can do it,” she said.

Alaska Public Media’s Anne Hillman contributed to this report.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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