From Anchorage, Walker tells lawmakers to get back to Juneau

Reporters hear from Gov. Bill Walker on a variety of issues during a Monday press conference in Anchorage. (Photo by Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

Lawmakers have been meeting in Juneau for nearly half a year, but Gov. Bill Walker told reporters on Monday in Anchorage that he doesn’t think they’re done yet.

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He wants lawmakers to fix the state’s beleaguered budget this year rather than waiting until next session to find new sources of revenue.

They barely avoided a state government shutdown by passing an operating budget eight days before the deadline. But it pulls $2.5 billion from state savings — a move Walker said is unsustainable.

This is the third year lawmakers have relied on savings to cover multi-billion dollar budget gaps. And Walker said he wants the legislature to keep working.

“They have made great strides, they really have. And that’s why I said, since you’ve done the hard work to make those difficult votes, and potentially unpopular,” Walker said. “There’s no popular votes that are out there when you’re fixing a fiscal plan. They’ve done that. You might as well get the product from it, I guess is what I’m saying.”

Lawmakers have not agreed on a capital budget and that has delayed projects all over the state.

Currently, lawmakers are in a special session with just one issue on the agenda — oil and gas taxes. That session ends on Saturday. But, the Senate and the House have been at a standstill. And lawmakers said they don’t plan to get back to work on oil taxes in Juneau until Wednesday.

Walker is responsible for putting issues on the agenda of a special session. But, he wouldn’t said if he intended to call lawmakers back to Juneau for another session or.. What he would put on an agenda if he did.

“You know, we’re going to let this week play out,” he said. “I’m very encouraged, they’re working together. I like to see that momentum of working together, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.”

Meanwhile Walker has continued to push a state-led gasline project to a national and international audience. Last week, he met with Pres. Donald Trump and three other state governors to discuss national energy issues.

He also met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in while he was in Washington, D.C. The state corporation tasked with developing the gasline project signed a non-binding preliminary agreement with a large South Korean buyer.

Last week, a missile test in North Korea revealed that the country could potentially reach Alaska with an intercontinental weapon. Walker said it spotlights the importance of Alaska’s military bases.

“As a result of that, even before those coming out, I have had a number of briefings as far as the severity of the situation,” Walker said. “Here we are again talking about our strategic location and doing what we need to be on the trajectory of getting additional military presence in Alaska.”

The state is also grappling with a request for voter data from a voter fraud commission created by the Trump administration.

But that request has gotten push back from other states and the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the commission on Monday.

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott told reporters the state is responsible for protecting voter privacy. He said the administration is keeping an eye on the lawsuit and what information is should turn over and what it shouldn’t.