Gov. Walker hits on same budget themes with new Legislature

Gov. Bill Walker delivers his State of the State Address to the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday. Behind him, left to right, are Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham. (Photo: Skip Gray/360 North)

Same concepts, new Legislature.

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In his annual State of the State Address on Wednesday, Gov. Bill Walker pushed a lot of the same ideas and proposals for solving the state’s budget crisis as last year.

Walker said the state government risks spending all of its savings if it denies there’s a problem and hopes for oil prices to rise.

“Here’s the hard truth: Denial doesn’t make the problem go away. Hope doesn’t pay the bills,” Walker said. “We need to pass a plan to stabilize our fiscal future and we need to do it now.”

The gap between state spending and the money it brings in from oil, as well as other taxes and fees, is roughly $3 billion.

Walker renewed his call for a series of measures he proposed last year. They include drawing money for the budget from Permanent Fund earnings. Walker also wants to introduce an income tax. Walker said relying heavily on spending cuts would hurt the state’s economy.

“Whatever your plan may be, put it out there,” Walker said. “And let’s get to work to find a solution. But if your plan does not close the fiscal gap, be sure to also identify the amount from our dwindling savings it’ll take each year to cover the gap under your plan.”

Walker said the state Board of Education is taking a series of steps to improve schools.

And he called for more efforts to reduce deaths from heroin and prescription opioids, by limiting the number of opioids in prescriptions, and strengthening a database used to track opioids.

Walker said the state government will seek to involve every sector of the state to address climate change.

“It is one of the greatest challenges of our era,” Walker said. “We look forward to working with you to create a legacy of timely response.”

Walker’s speech touched on other topics. He called for oil drilling in the part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And he said he’ll continue efforts to build a natural gas pipeline.

Lawmakers from both houses say they’ll offer more details on their budget plans in the coming weeks.