Alaska has more federal land than most states and depends more on federal spending, so Alaska’s governors always have a substantial list of priorities they want Congress or the Administration to accomplish. Like governors before him, Bill Walker says the item at the top of his federal wish-list is opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development. Alaska’s congressional delegation has been trying for decades, but Walker believes opening ANWR is politically possible.
“I think it is,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m not a stranger to that issue, and I’ve been in D.C. many times over the years on that issue. We’ve come close in the past, so that is certainly going to be a priority for me, absolutely.”
He also wants the Obama Administration to expedite all necessary permits and reviews for the Alaska Natural Gas pipeline. The project is a joint effort of the state and the private sector, but Walker says the feds can help by streamlining the regulatory timetable.
“Not bypassing the public involvement or process at all but, rather than moving one permit and then the next permit, maybe moving some permits at the same time,” Walker said.
Clearly, money matters. Walker this week submitted a bare-bones capital budget that relies mostly on federal funds. Walker says he’s a big fan of infrastructure, and projects that have federal funding are good candidates for the capital budget. But when it comes to the Knik Arm bridge, which isn’t in his first budget, federal construction funds aren’t the only consideration. Walker says he’s concerned about the cost of operation and maintenance.
“And we have to sort of figure out this incredible deficit, one of the largest in our state’s history, so it’s hard to ignore that,” he said.
Alaska, like most states, has an office in Washington D.C. It’s has five state employees, led for the past three years by Kip Knudson, the director of state and federal relations. Walker hasn’t yet announced who he’ll appoint to the job.