FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — State services like the pioneers’ home, the aerospace corporation and the agriculture division are among Alaska’s least important, according to participants in a budget conference held by Gov. Bill Walker.
Those were the only three services identified as low priority Saturday during the three-day conference at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Participants in the “Building a Sustainable Future” event were asked to rank operations as critical, medium or low priority and review their current funding levels. Nearly every service was considered critical.
“That really tells you hard this is going to be,” said Department of Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck. “People value the services government delivers and they’ve been delivered at very little cost.”
He said the exercise generated $20 million worth of cuts.
Conversation turned instead to how the state can continue funding the operations after oil prices plummeted.
Just about every service of the Department of Health and Social Services was ranked as critical, aside from the Alaska Pioneers’ Homes, which participants said should serve more people.
“We’re one of the wealthiest states in the nation and what we might consider to be democratically desirable may not be politically possible,” said resident Bill Hall.
“But it’s only not politically possible if we aren’t willing to step up and say we’re willing to pay for something,” he continued. “We’ve been getting a free ride, all of us here in this table, for a long time. We’re capable of paying for a lot more.”
Hoffbeck presented about 30 different revenue options for people to consider, including income taxes, sales taxes, using the Permanent Fund as an endowment, reviewing oil and gas taxes and considering a state lottery.
Cuts and fiscal restraint will be critical but cutting down to a sustainable budget will be impossible, said Hoffbeck.
“We get life, health and safety and support for life, health and safety and little more than that,” he said. “That’s what we get for $2 billion. That’s a balanced budget.”
“To cut our way to a balanced budget, that is just not a reasonable expectation,” Hoffbeck said.