State House, Senate call for each other to give ground, Walker hopes for compromise

Rep. Paul Seaton, left, R-Homer, Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, take turns speaking during the first day of the special session. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

Talk on the first day of the legislative special session focused on whether the House and Senate can compromise on a plan to balance the state’s budget in the future.

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Senate leaders said the House must move in their direction. But House leaders said the Senate must do the same.

Independent Gov. Bill Walker said he’s hopeful the two sides can reach an agreement.

“People in this building including myself are doing things that – it’s not about what we want to do, what we like to do — it’s what we have to do,” Walker said. “That’s sort of the uncomfortable message throughout this building, but it’s happening. It’s, you know, very different than last year.”

The House majority supports an income tax or another tax that balances the impact of the budget plan across different income groups. They also want to raise oil and gas taxes.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said the Legislature must not count on higher oil prices or federal spending to balance the budget or help the economy.

“We need to take decisive action,” Walker said. “If we don’t do it, do you think we can get it done next year, during an election year? I think we all know the response to that. So that punts it down to 2019. Can we wait two more years to do all this, what we should be doing this year?”

The Senate majority has proposed deeper spending cuts. They also emphasize eliminating oil and gas tax credits that can be cashed in.

Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said he’s concerned about the effect on the private sector of tax increases. He said he’d like to avoid notices of government layoffs on June 1, but the Legislature must protect the private sector as well.

“We don’t want families to be frightened, they’re going to start having to make decisions and we don’t want families to go through that,” Kelly said of public workers. “Ultimately that just may be the collateral damage of getting these kinds of larger dealt with. Our hope is that they don’t get laid off.”

The Senate adjourned until Monday. The House will meet Friday.