Alaskan leaders respond to budget proposal with mixed reactions

 Capitol Building in Juneau, Alaska
Capitol Building in Juneau, Alaska (KTUU)
Published: Dec. 15, 2017 at 8:39 PM AKST
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Another year, another budget, this time totaling $4.7 billion and focused on public safety and "putting Alaskans to work."

"There's no question that the process is broken," said Gov. Bill Walker in a press conference Friday. "This is about fixing Alaska.

"To stand by and watch our economy continue to spiral downward," he said, "to watch unemployment continue to rise, is not acceptable."

Big ticket items outlined within the proposed budget include Permanent Fund Dividend checks coming in at $1,215, totaling some $818 million; $691 million would go toward Medicaid programs; $245 million is designated for unfunded retirement liabilities; $1.26 billion is allotted for education; and $150 million would go to the capital budget.

The proposal also specifically sets aside $34 million for the Public Safety Action Plan, which includes 20 additional positions, and $4.8 million for more troopers and prosecutors.

"There's crime," said Walt Monegan, Alaska Dept. of Public Safety Commissioner. "In one case, one of the communities called it 'lawlessness' out there."

An additional $18 million is assigned to aid in substance abuse treatment statewide.

"I'm really feeling, actually, really hopeful," said Valerie Davidson, Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services Commissioner. "I'm excited Alaskans who need treatment and recovery services are going to get them in the next several years."

Also included in the proposal are a proposed income tax for anyone working in Alaska, and a clause expediting tax credits that could force the state to take out loans.

As for what House and Senate members think, it's a mixed bag.

In a statement released by the House Majority Coalition, House Finance Committee Co-Chair Rep. Paul Seaton (R, Homer), said, "We face some difficult decisions in the coming months ... I am especially pleased to see that the Governor is proposing to fully fund public education."

Fellow Co-Chair Rep. Neal Foster (D, Nome) said, "The bare bones capital budget put out by the governor is what I had anticipated. The details of the capital budget and his economic stimulus plan will require due consideration."

The latter is something most seem to agree upon.

"We appreciate the governor's efforts," said Senate Majority Leader Peter A. Micciche in a phone interview with Channel 2 Friday. "Sounds like he's listening, particularly with the budget being down over FY18, but the rest is going to take some time to evaluate."

Keep in mind, the proposed budget isn't the budget just yet. In case you're unfamiliar, here's a basic rundown of how the process works:

- After it's prepared and reviewed by the Div. of Budget Review, the Governor submits the budget proposal to the legislature, no later than Dec. 15.

- Separate House and Senate introductions and referrals happen, and Rules Committees for each group introduce companion bills, which are then sent to respective finance committees.

- House and then Senate floor votes happen, followed by a Conference Committee, which looks to work out a compromised version of the budget.

- Once approved, the budget goes to the governor, who has 20 working days to review the bill. This is also when the governor's line item veto power, which allows him to kill certain parts of the bill without nixing the whole thing, comes into play.