Challenges Yes, But Also Opportunity
By DAN ORTIZ
February 17, 2015
(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - It is no secret that the State of Alaska is facing some very tough fiscal challenges. With the price of oil dropping to approximately $50 a barrel, down from around $110 dollars a barrel in September of 2013, state revenue has significantly declined. When the Alaska Legislature adjourned in the spring of 2014, they had approved 13.75 billion dollars in combined operating and capital budget expenditures that requires a drain on the 1.3 billion dollars our state has in savings. With the recent drop in oil prices, the state is now projected to draw on savings in the amount of 3.5 billion. At that rate, it would certainly take no more than 3-5 years for our savings reserves to disappear.
This is a time for unity. Every Alaskan, and every member of the legislature, is in this tough time together. We all have to address this 3.5 billion dollar shortfall with the necessary bipartisan approach that will help us arrive at a workable solution and develop a comprehensive fiscal policy with input from every region. It’s more than past time for the State of Alaska to get its fiscal house in order. The Alaska State Legislature’s number one priority should be establishing a sustainable budget. It’s in the best long term interests of all Alaskans that we do so.
To ensure our state manages this budget decline gracefully, it is imperative that members of the Senate and House work with the governor. Members of the legislature should not oppose his initiatives simply because he is an independent, and not from whichever political party they prefer. I applaud Governor Walker for providing the state with fiscal leadership. His released budget calls for tough cuts across all of the departments of state government, with the biggest percentage cut coming from his own office.
The decisions that need to be made regarding the budget will not be politically popular. No one wants to see cuts that will impact their own particular town or region. No community wants to hear that capital budget expenditures won’t be going to some of the local prioritized projects of their choice. That’s is why now more than ever the residents of Alaska will best be served by a spirit of non-partisanship and cooperation existing throughout Alaskan government.
If the Alaskans are going to succeed in this tough time, we must put aside our party divisions and work across the aisles, putting Alaskans first. I am a member of the Alaska House Bush Caucus. This non-partisan caucus has a strong interest in protecting our public schools and the smaller University of Alaska campuses, such as our campus in Ketchikan.
My decision to become a member of the House Independent Democratic Coalition was based on the opportunities the coalition was able to offer our district. The Coalition Leader assured me that in this non-binding caucus, I will be able to vote my conscience, to serve the best interests of the people in our district and the interests of all Alaskans. Seats on the Transportation Committee, the Economic Development, Tourism and Arctic Policy Committee, Community and Regional Affairs and the Fisheries committee were given to me, which all directly relate to the interests of the families and communities in our district. The Alaska Marine Highway is crucial to our way of life and I will do my best to educate members from the rail belt about its importance to our region.
Governor Walker and many other Alaskans that I have spoken to, recognize that this is a challenging time for our state, but they and I see it as a time of opportunity to look at a new model of doing business, that will lead to sustainable budgets and eventually greater opportunity for all who call this great state home.
Dan Ortiz writes A View From the House column weekly.
Ortiz is an independent member of the Alaska House of Representatives, who has since 2015 represented the 36th District. He is the only independent in the Alaska State Legislature.