Sen. Meyer: Savings can mitigate budget overhaul impacts

The Majority Caucus in the State Senate has one priority this year: restoring fiscal stability to Alaska. And Senate President Kevin Meyer, of Anchorage, says Permanent Fund earnings will have to be part of that mix.

Senate president Kevin Meyer. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN - Anchorage)
Senate president Kevin Meyer. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

But Meyer says the first order of business will be trimming the state budget. And he says there is room to make substantial reductions.

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MEYER: Getting to about $800 million — similar to the reduction we had last year is certainly doable… possible. But we don’t think we’ll get there if we go after revenue first. The tendency is not to make reductions because it’s painful, oftentimes. We don’t like to do it. So we want to go there first. Once we make the reductions in right-size government, squeeze out the duplication, then we’ll look for revenue that will give us the physical stability that we’re talking about in that first priority.

TOWNSEND: Do you have concerns that there’s sort of a sweet spot as far as how much you can cut without impacting the economy in the state. As you know, the state drives a lot of the economy with state spending. Is there a number that you feel like, if we go below when you’re making cuts, that the economy could implode even further?

MEYER: We do think we can make some further reductions in state government without being detrimental to the economy. What we do worry about and we do fear is that if we were to implement all the different taxes that the governor has proposed, that would be too much of a hit and it would be detrimental to the economy. For example, (with) an income tax now people would all of a sudden have less money in their paychecks. A fuel tax — all of a sudden people are paying more at the pump for gas. And if you’re a drinker or a smoker, all of a sudden you’re paying more for that. All of these things add up. And pretty soon you as an individual — and also the governor’s plan on dealing with the Permanent Fund dividend, cutting that essentially in half — all those things added up leaves the individual Alaskan with less money to spend in the economy. And that, combined with a reduction in state government, would be detrimental to our economy — yes.

TOWNSEND: Are all taxes anathema to what you want to do or are there some you can support? Otherwise, how will you solve the budget problem without any taxes?

MEYER: We don’t feel like we need to resolve all of it this year in the sense that, to do too much in one year would be devastating and have a negative impact to your economy. However if we can get that gap to about $500 million or $1 billion… that’s a good thing. And I would see this session as successful if we were able to do that. And the reason that I say that is because we still have $9 billion in savings, so if you’re only drawing, let’s say, $1 billion in savings, that leaves you another eight years to use your savings. And that buys you time to see if oil prices will go back up… or if the gas pipeline is viable. And then let people run for re-election, and during the election process you can have the discussions on, ‘Should it be an income tax?’ or ‘Should it be a sales tax?’ or some other tax. I think that would be a very good topic to have out there as you run for re-election, or election, to office.

TOWNSEND: It’s going to be a big, difficult task. Democrats and Republicans have said they will have to work together more this session than in the past. You’ve been talking about lobbyists trying to cause debate for a single issue. How do you plan to accomplish that — getting Democrats and Republicans to really work together?

MEYER: Well, I think Alaskans are going to insist on it. On this side again, the Senate — and frankly I can only speak on the Senate — Sen. Gardner and I work very well together. We have weekly meetings. We met today. We plan on meeting every week going forward. Certainly her team and my team know we have this challenge that has to be resolved, and we know it’s going to require a give and take on both sides in order to get there. I just hope that we’re able to — and again, in the Senate I think we will do this — to keep the rhetoric down. Certainly there are differences in opinion and philosophy on both sides, but in this case we need to set that aside and do what’s best for Alaska.

Senate President Kevin Meyer is a Republican from Anchorage. Tomorrow we’ll hear from Senate minority leader Berta Gardner.

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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