Weighing in on the budget

  • Tuesday, March 10, 2015 10:35pm
  • Opinion

Time to weigh in on budget: Legislators need feedback to determine funding priorities

The state’s budget deficit, at $3.5 billion dollars, is huge. It’s so huge, in fact, that it’s hard to grasp how the state could possibly bridge the gap. To get a sense of the enormity of the situation facing Gov. Bill Walker and the Legislature, consider this: if every state employee in Alaska were laid off — including the Legislature themselves — it would only cover half of that deficit. Cuts are coming. They will be broad and they will be painful. And if there’s something you feel the state would be irreparably harmed without, it’s time to speak up.

There’s plenty of pain to go around among the state’s many services. Half of the funds for public radio in the state would be cut in the version of the budget currently under discussion in the House Finance Committee. The University of Alaska stands to lose $34 million. The state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics office in Fairbanks could close. Ferry service will take a substantial hit. Free legal help from the state’s Alaska Legal Services office is in line to take a big hit. The departments of Labor, Military and Veterans’ Affairs, and Commerce may see reductions of more than 20 percent from last year. And even with all of that, legislators have only been able to reduce the budget by about $240 million overall — less than a tenth of the current deficit.

The House Finance committee is wrapping up work on the state operating budget, after which it will be sent to the floor of the House for a vote, then passed to the Senate for discussion and final passage.

The legislative session is just more than half over, and as time draws closer to the end of the allotted 90 days, timetables will be tight and patience will be thin. If you have something vital to communicate to a legislator, the time to do it is as soon as possible. Contact information is available at the Legislature’s website, or comments can be submitted in person to the Legislative Information Office in the AlaskaUSA building near East Fred Meyer.

Gov. Walker and legislators have an unenviable job this year, and there’s no doubt that whatever budget arrangement they come to, they will face great criticism from those affected by reductions.

Without the public’s feedback on priorities, their choices will be even more difficult, as they won’t have as good of a sense of what Alaskans value.

If you have feedback to give them, now is the time.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

March 7

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