As Work Continues On Spending Plan, Walker To Revive State Of The Budget Address

It’s been almost a decade since a governor has delivered a State of the Budget address. With Alaska now in deficit-spending mode, Gov. Bill Walker plans to bring the speech back. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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The last State of the Budget address was delivered by Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2006. That year, Alaska was looking at a billion-dollar surplus, and lawmakers needed to decide what to do with the extra revenue. There was a chance to buy a stake in Trans-Alaska oil Pipeline, and put money toward a natural gas project.

Jim Clark was the governor’s chief of staff then, and he says their office was in an exceptional situation.

“We wanted to talk about that because we were closing in on a deal with the producers,” says Clark.

Now, the State of the Budget speech is being revived under a different sort of exceptional situation. Oil is less than half the value it was a year ago, and the state is looking at a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall as a result.

“This kind of year is far worse than our administration had it,” says Clark.

The State of the Budget address can be delivered separately from the State of the State, but it is not done very often. It’s logistically more challenging, because it means getting the Legislature in one room on two nights, back to back. It also means hoping the public turns on the radio or television to hear speeches two nights in a row. In the past 15 years, it’s only been done once.

Grace Jang, a spokesperson for Gov. Walker, says the current budget realities make two speeches — one this coming Wednesday and one on Thursday — necessary.

“The state is facing an unprecedented fiscal challenge, and the governor wants to make sure that there’s enough time to address what’s coming and to communicate to Alaskans just how dire the situation is,” says Jang.

Jang won’t use the term “crisis” — the administration is trying to avoid panic language — but she says the State of the Budget address isn’t making a comeback just because the administration thought it was a nice tradition.

“Is it going to happen again? Is there going to be another State of the Budget speech in coming years? Hard to say,” says Jang.

Right now, Walker has currently offered the Legislature a placeholder budget. He submitted a version drafted by his predecessor, without changes and without endorsement, in December to meet a deadline. But he’s advised the Legislature that he will offer a seriously revised budget sometime before the drop-dead date of February 18. Walker has also asked his commissioners to look at how their agencies would manage cuts of up to 8 percent.

House Speaker Mike Chenault says legislative leadership is still waiting for that information.

“We have no idea right now. The administration hasn’t told us that they’re going to provide us with anything dealing with the budget yet,” says the Nikiski Republican.

His office had questions about Walker’s request to give a State of the Budget address without actually having provided the Legislature a budget with which to work. The Speaker also requested that the Legislature’s research staff produce a timeline of when the governor has provided separate speeches to find out how unusual the request was.

Chenault says the Legislature plans to start work on the budget shortly after they gavel in, adding that he would like direction on the governor’s budget sooner rather than later.

“We’ll wait to hear both the speeches and hopefully hear from the governor on which direction he would like to go,” says Chenault.

According to budget director Pat Pitney, the administration is not planning to have a finalized document ready by the State of the Budget address, but will have established target spending levels for each state agency.