On Monday, Gov. Bill Walker paid a visit to the central Kenai Peninsula, discussing state finances and the status of the Alaska LNG project, among other topics.
Of note, the governor said his outlook had changed from optimistic to hopeful for the coming year. While still a positive take on addressing the challenges facing Alaska, the change in status would seem to indicate that he has a little less confidence in potential outcomes, and that he may be acknowledging that there are other people and forces that can derail his plans.
As an example, we’d offer his veto of a portion of the allocation to pay Alaska Permanent Fund dividends. Walker has said that lawmakers told him that their constituents wouldn’t allow them to vote for a plan that would limit the dividend payout. The veto, Walker said, was his effort to take the fall, allowing those legislators to vote for a plan that would restructure how permanent fund earnings are used while perhaps even increasing dividend payouts over the $1,000 proposed by the governor.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Meeting in a special session in July, the Alaska Senate refused to consider a veto override, and there was little support in the House for most of Walker’s proposed revenue measures, including a plan to use a portion of permanent fund earnings on government.
So much for taking one for the team.
When asked during an editorial board meeting at the Clarion what had been learned over the past several months, Walker replied that voters are paying more attention than they are sometimes given credit for, citing recent primary election results in which incumbents were defeated.
“Alaskans are paying attention. Alaskans want to get this fixed,” Walker said.
Walker also said his budget plan, particularly on the revenue side, might look a little bit different than last year.
Whether a Legislature with some new faces will be more receptive remains to be seen.
Looking ahead, the next Legislature will be largely in the same position as the past one — a projected deficit in the billions with no plan in place to address it — but with significantly less savings in the bank. There is very little road left to kick the can down.
So, will the Legislature act on a long-term fiscal plan for Alaska in 2017? After the past two years of inaction, like the governor, it’s hard to say we’re optimistic.
But with potential changes in the make-up of the Legislature and greater scrutiny from the constituents they claim to be representing, we remain hopeful, too.