Legislators Urge Governor Walker To Rein In Budget

Alaska lawmakers sent a letter to Governor Bill Walker this week urging measures to rein in budget items.

Incoming Senate President Kevin Meyer, a Republican from Anchorage and House Speaker Republican Mike Chenault of Nikiski signed the letter, along with the chairs of the finance committees for both chambers. The letter lays out suggestions such as a hiring freeze for all state departments, limiting agency travel and requesting department budgets for the first six months of 2015.

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Senator Meyer says lawmakers only have 90 days to do their work and they’ve not seen the Governor’s plans.

“We’ve heard all kinds of things during the campaign that he wants to add to education and add to the Medicaid expansion but yet he wants to make 15, 16% across the board reductions, and I don’t know that those are accurate in today’s environment so we just want to see what his expectations are. It’s more of a courtesy thing, just that the sooner we can get this information, the better,” he said.

Meyer says ideas like a hiring freeze may not be possible in all departments, such as public safety or corrections but the desire is to get clarity from the Walker administration about what could be coming.

“A statement to that effect would help us send the message out to the general pubic that we have a major budget deficit that we’re serious about addressing and we want to incorporate everyone’s thoughts and ideas on it and especially the governor’s,” Meyer said.

Other ideas are to look at capital appropriations that are more than five years old to see if that money could be re-appropriated to other, more pressing needs. Meyer says Office of Management and Budget figures show between three and four billion dollars in capital projects that are encumbered but not yet spent.

As others have acknowledged, Meyer says Alaska has seen large fluctuations in oil prices in the past and as recently as the late 90s and early 2000s, there were deficits to be dealt with.

“In the past the problem, in recent years was production, the price was high, but now we have a problem with both price and production,” Meyer said.

He says lawmakers hope the gas pipeline project will stay on track so production can add to state revenue in a decade.

“Our gas looks good because it can replace coal in China and nuclear in Japan, but oil is always going to be around and countries like the Middle East and Russia will make sure that they’re around and as economies rebound in Europe and China, the demand is going to grow so I do see the prices will go back up but when is anybody’s guess,” Meyer said.

Governor Walker sent a letter today asking all commissioners to identify potential cuts to their departments by January 10th.

A statement from Walker’s office says in part that Walker shares the concern about a need for action, and that he and his team have been in nearly daily budget meetings for several weeks.




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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori