Everything is on the table for consideration in determining how the state of Alaska will close its three billion-plus budget gap, according to the members of the Alaska Senate Majority holding a press conference on Tues., Jan. 17 in Juneau just shortly before noon on the first working day of the 30th Alaska Legislature.
That includes tapping earnings reserve from the Permanent Fund – but only after a new Constitutional spending limit is established and significant budget reductions are enacted.
“In general, the spending limit, the budget reduction, those things are first and then we will evaluate the use of the earning reserve,” Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said. “We are not going to act on the earnings reserve until a spending limit is in place and proven reductions are made. This is something we as the majority leadership in the Senate are pretty committed to.”
Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, agrees.
She noted that while the State of Alaska currently does a spending limit in its Constitution, that limit has never been enacted. She doesn’t question the intent of its creators but believes the time has come to set a lower spending limit to protect the state’s future finances.
Before leaving for Juneau, MacKinnon participated in a town hall in Eagle River with her counterparts in the state’s House of Representatives. During that town hall, MacKinnon repeatedly told those gathered that the state simply, “cannot make its payroll,” under the current budget.
She also called upon constituents to up their engagement with legislators.
“This (legislative session) should be the people’s session,” MacKinnon said. “If ever there was a time for the citizens of the state of Alaska to express their wants, their ideas for the future of Alaska, this is it. We, as legislators, need to hear from the people of Alaska as to what they want us to do within the budgetary parameters we have.”
The Senate Majority has proposed $750 million in cuts over a three-year period that would extend past most of their elected terms. The first year of savings – $300 million for Fiscal Year 2018 that begins on July 31, 2017, represents only ten percent of the $3 billion-plus deficit state budget forecasters indicate.
Called the 5-4-3 plan by those in the Senate, the plan calls for identification of cuts that MacKinnon said will help Senate members realize their goal of applying continued downward pressure on the state budget.
She called upon members of the State House of Representatives – now controlled by a coalition led by members of the Democratic Party with Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anch.; Paul Seaton, R-Homer; and Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak as official members of the somewhat bipartisan group – to begin budget talks in earnest.
In the meantime, the House Coalition announced a new process for handling its budget subcommittee work. Rather than having specialized budget committees evaluating the budgets of each state agency, House Coalition leadership announced in late Dec. 2016 that the current standing and special committees for each state agency will handle budgetary review for legislative proposal regarding related budget items with each subcommittee chaired by a member from the House Finance Committee.
Live streaming of various Alaska Legislature committee meetings is available online at //akl.tv. Check the URL for scheduling.