Anchorage Chamber of Commerce hosts state budget, fiscal outlook forum

“It’s a lot easier to govern when you have money,” said Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who was first elected in 2006.
Published: Jul. 11, 2022 at 7:32 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Four Alaska state legislators spoke during an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce forum on Monday about the state’s budget and fiscal outlook, with the possibility of a recession on the horizon.

The consensus from the two Republicans and two Democrats participating in the forum was that the latest legislative session was more productive and collaborative than others in recent years, partly because of Alaska’s ongoing windfall of revenue from high oil prices.

“It’s a lot easier to govern when you have money,” said Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who was first elected in 2006.

The unexpected revenue allowed for the Legislature to address old and new priorities. Billions of dollars are set to replenish state savings accounts and there is significant spending for new infrastructure, and some money set aside to address Alaska’s deferred maintenance backlog.

Republican Rep. Kelly Merrick, who is running for Eagle River’s Senate seat, was a key supporter of getting $200 million set aside to help rebuild the crumbling Port of Alaska. She spoke about her happiness in getting more state funds invested in Alaska’s infrastructure.

”I’m thrilled as capital budget co-chair that we were able to deliver the largest capital budget in over a decade,” she said.

Fellow Republican Rep. Sara Rasmussen, who is not running for reelection, highlighted that the state of Alaska is now poised to pay off the remaining balance of a now-defunct oil and gas tax credit scheme.

“I’m really excited that we’re finally caught up on that, and I hope that will get us on a better path moving forward,” she said.

But challenges remain, the state of Alaska may be in a positive fiscal situation currently, but nobody expects that to last forever. And there could be downsides to the influx of oil revenue.

Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, said the improved fiscal position meant there has been no real movement to implementing a long-term fiscal plan. All four legislators say the future of the Permanent Fund dividend remains the biggest obstacle to enacting one.

The possibility of an economic downturn is a potential challenge, too. Josephson remained optimistic, noting that healthier savings accounts, significant investment in infrastructure, and using the Permanent Fund to pay for state services made it more likely that Alaska could withstand the worst effects of a recession.

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