Governor Walker Stands Firm on Passing a Fully Funded Budget Before Legislature Adjourns
April 30, 2015
“It is unacceptable to leave the capital city with a budget that has a $3 billion hole,” Governor Walker said. “It’s time to put aside our political differences and pull together for the good of Alaska.”
The legislature adjourned Monday, April 27, with an unfunded budget - eight days after the statutory 90-day legislative session. Governor Walker immediately issued a proclamation convening a special session.
According to the governor, without legislative approval to tap into the state’s savings account established for times of low revenue, the $3 billion hole could lead to a government shutdown in November - which means basic services like snow removal, ferry runs, law enforcement, and payments to school districts would stop.
“Passing an unfunded budget is akin to giving Alaskans a bad check,” Governor Walker said. “It creates uncertainty in business negotiations and hampers the state’s ability to attract new investment. I trust our legislators to do the right thing and work cooperatively to pass through a fully funded budget.”
Wednesday, the Alaska Senate Majority (Republicans) encouraged a handful of Democrats in the minority to be part of the budget solution, not the problem.
“There are two groups of people in this building, those who take this fiscal challenge seriously and those who want to spend more money,” said Senator Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks). “We passed a budget to address the state’s spending problem, but the minority refuses to cooperate unless we keep growing government.”
As a result of low oil prices and excessive government spending, Alaska is currently facing a budget shortfall of $8 billion over the next two years. The Alaska Senate Majority responded to the challenge by passing budgets reducing government spending by almost $1 billion, which passed the legislature with almost 70 percent of the vote.
Despite the huge reductions in spending, the legislature still needs a three-quarter vote in order to use savings to fully fund the budget. Democrats in the minority, however, refused to fund the budget and instead voted against funding education, public safety, health, and welfare of the people of the state. They threatened a government shutdown unless the legislature agreed to increase spending and continue growing government.
“It’s time to stop playing partisan politics and do what’s best for Alaska,” said Senate President Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage). “We can’t kick the can down the road and hope for high oil prices. We have to make the adult decisions today.”
According to the Alaska Senate Majority, Alaska's savings is expected to run dry in as little as three years, unless legislators choose to make the difficult choices before it’s too late.
The Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition concurs with Governor Walker in his call for lawmakers to continue working towards a fully funded budget before taking a break from the special session in Juneau. On Monday, without support from the 13 members of the Coalition, the House and Senate Majorities approved a FY 2016 budget that includes a five percent cut to public education and spending over $3 billion more than available revenue. This flawed budget could result in the elimination of vital state services as soon as August.
“The members of this Coalition are committed to working on the people’s business and putting solutions before politics,” said Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition Leader Representative Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage). “There is not a member in this Legislature that wants to go home more than me. I have only seen my new baby girl for a few hours because of the vital work we are doing here in Juneau. However, I agree with Governor Walker that going home and delaying the work of this Legislature at this time would be irresponsible.”
During the process to develop a responsible budget, the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition said they repeatedly offered proposals to defer the hundreds of millions in oil company tax credits that results in the state paying out over $600 million more than the state makes from oil production taxes. Rather than accept this common sense solution, members of the Majorities put forward proposals to implement income, gas, and education taxes. Majority members also put forward proposals to fund state government with money from the Permanent Fund.
“I can’t support treating oil corporations better than children and seniors. Our Coalition has prioritized education, seniors, and children while saving money through Medicaid expansion and smart cuts,” said House Finance Committee member Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage).
In his call for a special session, Governor Walker tasked the Legislature with considering Medicaid expansion and reform. According to the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition, Alaska is currently losing $400,000 a day in funding because the House and Senate Majorities refuse to give the Governor the authority to receive federal funds for Medicaid expansion. Alaska has lost over $190 million in funding since January of last year.
“The argument put forward by the House and Senate Majorities (Republicans) that they need more time to consider Medicaid expansion and reform does not hold water,” said Representative Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage), who prefiled a Medicaid expansion bill this session after offering the same bill in the 28th Alaska Legislature. “The issue has been discussed at length for over two years and we have successful examples of Medicaid expansion in several other states to use as a guide. The truth is that Alaska is currently spending extra money to deny people healthcare because some in leadership refuse to listen to the people and are putting ideology before the health of thousands of Alaskans.”
The Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition said they remain committed to the legislative process and they are hopeful negotiations will begin again, in earnest, on a full funded budget that meets the needs of the people of Alaska.
Senate Democrats said the Republican led majorities ignored the voter mandated 90 day session limit by nine days to pass a budget that drained $1.3 billion from the Public Education Fund, raided funds for the Alaska Gasline Project, and turned down $750 million of cost savings proposed by the Senate Democrats.
“They passed an empty budget that drains education, threatens the gasline, and fails to acknowledge the common sense benefits of Medicaid expansion. That’s not reason for a vacation, that’s a reason for detention. Let’s get our work done,” said Senator Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage).
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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