Gov. Bill Walker speaks during his State of the State address before a joint session of the Alaska Legislature at the Capitolon Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, left, and Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, watch from the Speakers desk in the background. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)

Gov. Bill Walker speaks during his State of the State address before a joint session of the Alaska Legislature at the Capitolon Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, left, and Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, watch from the Speakers desk in the background. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)

Walker says Alaska is in the ‘gravest fiscal crisis in state history’

Speaking to the Alaska Legislature Wednesday night, Gov. Bill Walker referenced the words of the director of the Legislative Finance Division and called the state’s current budget trouble the “gravest fiscal crisis in state history.”

“Mr. Teal was right” when he used those words, Walker said.

“Better days will come, but until then, we must make difficult adjustments,” he said.

Walker said the Legislature has already cut the state’s budget to levels last reached in 2007. He used his address, the annual speech to the Legislature, to call for new revenue to close the deficit.

“We can’t continue to cut the budget and expect to improve the situation,” he said.

Walker’s draft budget, now in the hands of the Legislature, calls for spending some of the investment earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund to reduce (but not entirely eliminate) the deficit.

He said Wednesday that he will reintroduce a plan that passed the Senate (but failed in the House) as Senate Bill 128 last year.

In 2016, Walker’s “pulling together” State of the State speech referenced a picture given to him by Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott. The picture was of a group of Metlakatla residents in the 1900s pulling stumps. They all stood around a single rope, pulling the stumps with pure muscle power.

“We have been pulling together. And I know we can get through anything if we all pull together as Alaskans,” he said.

Walker asked the Legislature at that time to fill the deficit with a comprehensive fiscal plan he drafted. Despite an extended regular session and multiple special sessions, they did not.

On Wednesday night, Walker urged lawmakers to propose alternatives if they don’t like what he’s offering.

“If you don’t support the plan I have proposed, then put another plan on the table,” he said. “If you believe we need to cut more, identify your cuts, and put them on the table. If you think the solution is a different kind of tax than I have proposed, put your tax proposal on the table.”

In his first State of the State address, delivered in 2015, Walker refused to call the state’s fiscal situation a crisis.

“Some might call this a crisis. I call this a challenge and an opportunity,” he said at the time.

He returned to the topic again in 2016 and again refused to call it a crisis. This time was different.

“Last year I said it is only a crisis if we don’t act,” Walker said Wednesday night. “We didn’t. Now we have a crisis on our hands.”

“We are at that point (of crisis),” agreed Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, following the speech.

Kito said Alaska is in the same position it was when Walker last delivered a State of the State address — except the state now has $3 billion less in savings.

“I appreciate the governor’s insistence upon a fiscal plan,” said Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, following the speech. “I’m glad that he’s calling upon both bodies to present something, and I think that the people of Alaska deserve no less.”

Parish said Alaskans have already sacrificed — through roads going unplowed, highways unpatrolled by police, and fewer beds available at Alaska Pioneer homes.

“People are sacrificing, and we need to act,” he said.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, was pessimistic following the speech.

“I’m worried about my community,” he said.

The Alaska Senate’s Republican-led majority is calling for $750 million in cuts to the state budget over the next three years.

“There’s a lot of issues we have to discuss about public employees. A big percentage of my constituents are some way or another public employees, and it’s up to me to protect them,” Egan said.

By the numbers

Walker’s 6,600-word address, delivered by teleprompter, was 400 words longer than his 2016 speech and more than 1,600 longer than his 2015 address.

It took Walker 46 minutes to finish the oration, which was longer by word count than every presidential inauguration speech but one. It was near the average speaking length of presidential State of the Union speeches since 1966.

Walker says Alaska is in the ‘gravest fiscal crisis in state history’

More in News

Nate Rochon cleans fish after dipnetting in the Kasilof River, on June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
King closures continue; Kasilof dipnet opens Saturday

The early-run Kenai River king sport fishery remains closed, and fishing for kings of any size is prohibited

An "Al Gross for Congress" sign sits near the driveway to Gross’ home in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after he announced plans to withdraw from the U.S. House race. Gross has given little explanation in two statements for why he is ending his campaign, and a woman who answered the door at the Gross home asked a reporter to leave the property. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska judge rules Sweeney won’t advance to special election

JUNEAU — A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen listens to a presentation from Alaska Communications during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska.
ACS pilots fiber program in certain peninsula neighborhoods

The fiber to the home service will make available the fastest internet home speeds on the peninsula

Nurse Tracy Silta draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the walk-in clinic at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. COVID-19 vaccines for kids younger than 5 years old are now approved by both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
COVID shots for kids under 5 available at public health

Roughly 18 million kids nationwide will now be eligible to get their COVID vaccines.

Megan Mitchell, left, and Nick McCoy protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning of Roe v. Wade at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Friday, June 24, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Heartbroken’, ‘Betrayed’: Alaskans react to Roe decision

Supreme Court decision ends nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)
Alaskans react to Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion.

Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/ Mark Thiessen)
Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in Alaska US House race

The lawsuit says the fifth-place finisher in the special primary, Republican Tara Sweeney, should be put on the August special election ballot

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker stands in the Peninsula Clarion office on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska AFL-CIO endorses Walker, Murkowski, Peltola

The AFL-CIO is Alaska’s largest labor organization and has historically been one of its most powerful political groups

A portion of a draft letter from Jeffrey Clark is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Federal agents search Trump-era official’s home, subpoena GOP leaders

Authorities on Wednesday searched the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark

Most Read