Gov. Bill Walker has hired a mediator to help lawmakers reach a deal on the budget. Walker made the announcement at an Anchorage news conference this afternoon. He also said state agencies began sending layoff notices to 10,000 workers who could lose their jobs if the legislature doesn’t pass a budget by July 1st, when the new fiscal year begins.
Walker says lawmakers are arguing over a relatively small piece of the budget:
“The amount of difference being argued in the legislature is really approximately 1 percent of the problem. We have $3.5 or $4 billion deficit this year and next year as well. We want to focus on the 99 percent opportunity we have to solve this going forward, and we are.”
The Senate Finance Committee yesterday rejected a compromise between the House majority and minority.
The Governor says he can’t force the various parties to try mediation to resolve their differences, but he thinks it could help. He retained the services of Anchorage lawyer and mediator Matt Peterson.
Peterson says he got a call from Walker early this morning. He says he usually mediates complex litigation involving business disputes, and he thinks the situation in the legislature isn’t so different:
“And in my experience if you can get everyone talking, identify the areas that are agreed upon, and then focus on fair negotiations for the remaining part, as I sit here right now, I’m optimistic this can be mediated.”
Peterson says he’s cleared his schedule for the rest of the week.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Democratic-led House minority says negotiations were occurring between the House minority leader and Senate president this afternoon.
Christopher Clark is a former reporter and legislative aid who has been watching the action unfold. He identifies one of the biggest sticking points.