I know Alaskans are frustrated to yet again see special sessions and gridlock in Juneau. I too am frustrated; however, this may be the most critical junction in Alaska’s history, and getting the right solution is paramount. Although both the House and Senate have not been holding a lot of floor sessions, I can assure you that we are working hard negotiating and seeking middle ground to reach a compromise.
With less than a week left to the first special session and a potential July 1 government shutdown looming three weeks out, I would like to take this opportunity to update you on our recent progress. First, let’s address the operating budget, as getting that passed and avoiding a shutdown is the most time-sensitive issue.
There has been solid headway made recently in the conference committee on the operating budget. The committee met on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of last week and reached a complete compromise on the budgets for the departments of Administration, Commerce, Community and Economic Development; Corrections; Environmental Conservation; Fish and Game; Labor; Law; Military and Veterans Affairs; Public Safety; Revenue; as well as the Judiciary and Governor’s Office. Additionally, the committee was able to reach a compromise for the executive branch-wide appropriations, our debt service, labor agreements and mental health capital projects. The remaining departments that still need to be addressed are the departments of Education and Early Development, Health and Social Services, Natural Resources, Transportation and Public Facilities, the university, as well as the Legislature.
I believe that cooler heads will prevail and that the House and Senate can work together in the final days for the good of all Alaskans to avoid a shutdown. That being said, Alaska has faced three straight years of possible government shutdowns specifically because we don’t have a comprehensive, sustainable plan; moreover, without a complete plan in place this year, next year will be much of the same. The can has been kicked far enough down the road and the time for a solution is now.
Now, let’s discuss the overall fiscal plan.
The House passed its four-pillar plan to the Senate before day 90 of the regular session. One of the main reasons compromise has been so difficult is because the Senate rejected three of our main components: They did not pass a responsible budget, a strong oil subsidy reform bill or a broad-based tax. This leaves the state with an unbalanced approach that continues deficit spending, keeps our budget at the whims of oil prices and ignores the basic needs of Alaskans. To add insult to injury, the Senate is also supporting a $288 million payment to oil companies in their capital budget.
Last week, Governor Walker proposed a compromise of his own. Unfortunately, his plan leaves a $300 million deficit in place, increases payments to oil companies by approximately $835 million more than the House’s plan by 2027, and provides a 25 percent smaller dividend than our plan.
I’ve heard insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Over the past four years, we have been trying cut our way to a solution without new revenue measures, all the while paying companies to take our oil; the result will be the same until a new plan is in place. Our coalition is a new group of Republicans, Democrats and independents that formed this year with the expressed purpose of passing such a plan.
Obviously, compromise must be part of the solution, but neither the Senate’s plan nor the Governor’s compromise goes far enough to solve the problem. They pass the buck another year, ensuring that we relive this scenario year after year. The hardest part to stomach is that both plans also prioritize oil companies over the needs of everyday Alaskans.
In the coming days, House leadership will work as hard as it can to find a compromise with the Senate, avoid a government shutdown and pass a sustainable fiscal plan. But we must be responsible to our constituents, our children and the future of this great state.
If you would like to know more about differences between the House and Senate plans, please visit http://akhouse.org/houseplan/.
Please remain patient, engaged and informed. I will update you with changes as they develop.
Contact me and tell me how you feel. Whether your thoughts are on the budget, new revenue, fisheries or transportation issues, or something that is important to you and your family, I’m here for you and will always endeavor to work on your behalf.