Juneau’s legislators talk fiscal crisis with Assembly

Juneau’s state legislative delegation told a half-dozen members of the Juneau Assembly on Thursday morning that the state’s budget outlook isn’t rosy.

Democratic Sen. Dennis Egan said there are real risks to middle-class public sector jobs under threat by budget cuts.

“If we do what we did last year we’re in deep trouble,” Egan said. “Especially this community because of all the public sector jobs that are here. And they’re not — and I don’t want to bad mouth anybody — but they’re not McDonald’s cashier jobs; they’re high paying jobs.”

Rep. Sam Kito III, also a Democrat, said that the House’s mostly Democrat majority coalition will be pushing back against the Republican-led Senate’s proposed $750 million in spending cuts over three years.

“Seven-hundred-fifty million dollars out of $3.2 billion of the deficit would have a devastating impact on Alaska’s economy because that money goes into jobs, into education, into health care,” Kito said. “If we cut the budget, try to balance our budget, we are are going to be taking money away from vital industries in the state.”

Newly elected Democratic Rep. Justin Parish said that coastal Alaska is well-represented in the House coalition. And he said the coalition will revisit the principle of the state paying out more to oil companies in tax credits than it receives in royalties. The state revenue department estimates that at least $650 million in tax credits will be owed to oil firms by mid-year.

We are of course also going to be looking at the huge subsidies which we’re currently giving to the oil industry,” Parish said. “It’s hundreds of millions of dollars that’s leaving Alaska and that deserves some attention.”

The Juneau Assembly inquired about the Juneau Access Project, which Gov. Bill Walker effectively killed in December. Assembly member Debbie White said that the unspent $40 million earmarked for Juneau’s stalled road extension project should remain committed to greater access.

“When the governor went with the no-build decision on Juneau Access there was some money that was set aside for that project,” White said, “I would just implore you guys that if you can’t protect that money completely to please do all you can to at least make sure it’s used in the northern Lynn Canal corridor.”

Kito told the Assembly that one possibility is improvements made at Skagway’s port that would accommodate the new Alaska-class ferries and also add crew cabins to allow multi-day voyages in the Gulf of Alaska.

Juneau Mayor Ken Koelsch and Assembly members Mary Becker and Beth Weldon were absent from the morning meeting.

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