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Alaska legislators call for better communication between state and local governments

Sen. Cathy Geissel, R-Alaska, Sen. Tom Begich, D-Alaska, and Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Alaska,...
Sen. Cathy Geissel, R-Alaska, Sen. Tom Begich, D-Alaska, and Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Alaska, answer questions at an Anchorage conference Thursday Nov. 21. (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Nov. 21, 2019 at 10:40 PM AKST
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After all the turmoil this year, how can next year's state budget process run smoother? A question driving discussion at the Alaska Municipal League’s Annual Local Government Conference Thursday evening.

The discussion centered around the relationship between state and local governments in a political landscape where localities will rely less on state funding than in previous administrations.

"This last year was terrible,” House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R – Anchorage, said about the 2018-2019 legislative process. “I saw Alaskans just going after Alaskans."

Pruitt said he’s counting on change in the upcoming session, but the Legislature can’t do it without the help of local governments.

"What I would like to see is us putting our swords down and recognizing that we're all Alaskans, and we have different ideas, and different ways of going about it, but together we can get through this challenge," Pruitt said.

Members of AML asked the Alaska State Senate and House leaders how local governments can best deal with a shrinking state budget. Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D – Anchorage, cited a $2 billion statewide backlog in deferred maintenance to buildings and infrastructure.

"That burden will eventually fall on the local communities if we don't address it at a state level,” Begich said. “I guess what I want is to see an aggressive leadership coming out of communities, out of municipalities, demanding that we look at solutions that will address our deferred maintenance."

Senate President Cathy Geissel, R – Anchorage, emphasized the importance of investments in transportation. She cited issues that have recently been in the spotlight that she says

have

to be addressed, but cannot be fixed overnight.

“Let’s talk about Turnagain Pass, and making sure that it's cleared of snow 24 hours a day all winter,” Geissel said. “And let's talk about the Marine Highway. Senator Begich was referring to deferred maintenance related to buildings ... I'm referring to deferred maintenance related to those marine vessels."

Geissel’s comments on the Marine Highway drew cheers from a room of over a hundred people.

In a closing statement, Pruitt prompted local leaders to be open to a changing relationship between state and local governments.

"I sat in a meeting where there was an issue where the state had limited impact on it, and there was a local individual who said 'It's your fault!'” Pruitt said, starting to get animated. “It's not our fault! You have a role in this. Don't point at us and say this is our fault if we're going to partner together, here."

Other important topics at Thursday’s meetings included what to do about school bond debt reimbursement as the state reduces its contribution; investing in education; freeing up local funds through creative reductions in energy costs, and more.

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