Dozens turned out to hear the message of Gov. Bill Walker who visited Homer on Tuesday to talk with residents about the state’s looming budget crisis.
As he described the enormity of the $4 billion state deficit, Walker didn’t mince words. He began by quoting David Teal, Alaska’s Legislative Fiscal Analyst.
“He said, ‘Alaska is in the midst of the greatest fiscal crisis in state history’. And he was right,” Walker said.
Walker emphasized that the deficit is an issue for every Alaskan.
“I tend not to broadbrush the legislature,” he said. “Really it comes down to individual legislators. There were those that came to the table with suggestions and ideas and those that said as though it was just my problem. I’m not sure the deficit became just my problem.”
Until the state balances its checkbook, so to speak, state leaders can’t address projects that would build a more sustainable economy, the governor said.
“It’s a matter of looking at Alaska differently than we’ve had to for the last 30 years,” Walker said. “We’ve been riding the coattails of resource development and that’s not working anymore.”
In order to create new industries in Alaska, people have to start thinking differently, he said. For the governor, reducing the cost of energy is critical.
“I just think there’s so much more that we could do on renewable energy,” Walker said. “We should be on the cutting edge of renewable resources in Alaska because we have the most options and the biggest need. If we reduce the cost of energy, the economy looks very very different.”
But as he explained to Rotary Club members later in the day at Land’s End Resort, he understands the discipline required to balance the state budget may cost him.
“It takes somebody who’s not looking at a political career to make these decisions and make the decisions for the vision and the future of Alaska,” he said. “Not necessarily for my political career, which I don’t think I’m gonna have one.”
Those who turned out to hear him speak seem to support his plans to get the state back on track.
Maynard Gross says the fixes the governor is proposing makes sense.
“I think an income tax is clearly the best way to go because that least affects the folks at the lower end of the economic spectrum,” Gross said.
Will Files praised the governor’s unifying message.
“We have come to think of ourselves as Democrats or Republicans and we take that to the finest point possible. If we would listen to the governor and suggest we all become Alaskans, working together for a common goal, I’m willing to be on that team,” said Files.
Daisy Lee Bitters was impressed with the governor’s outreach efforts.
“I’m so pleased to see that the governor when he comes to a community he covers so many groups. Like with being at the senior center and then the city council and then the Rotary Club,” said Bitters.
The governor is traveling around the state to talk with Alaskans about the budget crisis. He plans to continue visiting with residents and local leaders in the coming months.