Walker invites sharply divided legislative leaders to talk

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker speaks at a Juneau Chamber Business Roundtable Luncheon in February. Walker invited legislative leaders to his house on Wednesday to discuss a long-term budget plan. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Gov. Bill Walker wants to bring lawmakers together to resolve differences over a plan to balance the state government’s long-term budget.

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Walker invited leaders from both chambers to meet at the governor’s house Wednesday. And he said he’ll meet with them as frequently as needed while the Legislature remains in session.

“Me sitting back doing nothing is not an option,” Walker said. “Now that they have put pieces on the table – many of which were similar to what I proposed last year – I’m more than anxious to sit down and have that discussion.”

The Senate passed a bill that would draw money from Permanent Fund earnings and set Permanent Fund dividends at $1,000. The Senate also is seeking a new, lower limit on state spending.

The House also would draw money from Permanent Fund earnings and would reduce PFDs. But PFDs would be higher, at $1,250. The House also passed an income tax and changes to oil and gas taxes to close the long-term gap between what the state spends and what it raises.

Walker supports some form of broad-based tax and expressed doubt the state can close the gap with larger spending cuts.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about what government waste is,” Walker said. “And what wasteful spending is, but I believe that wasteful spending is not feeding hungry kids. Taking care of seniors is not waste. Funding state troopers is not waste.”

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck said the Senate must move toward the House’s position.

“The only compromise that I see right now is the Senate accepting a fair and balanced budget,” Tuck said.

House leaders said an income tax is needed to spread the impact of balancing the budget. House Rules Committee Chairwoman Gabrielle LeDoux said it’s not enough to just draw money from the Permanent Fund — known as a percent of market value or POMV draw.

“I want to make these perfectly clear – that if the Senate thinks that we are going to get out of here with just a POMV, they got another thing coming,” LeDoux said.

Senate President Pete Kelly said the senators will meet with the House and Walker, but Walker won’t serve as a mediator.

“The goal isn’t compromise,” Kelly said. “The goal is to do what’s in the best interest of the people this state. And to think that we’re going to do something that’s counter to the best interest of Alaska just to reach a compromise for the sake of compromise – that’s not on our list this year.”

Senators said House members who insist on an income tax jeopardize any long-term plan.