Gov. Bill Walker made two difficult announcements early Thursday afternoon.
First, Walker released his administration’s proposed 2017-18 budget for the State of Alaska. Given the state’s severe fiscal problems, the proposed budget is guaranteed to make few people happy and sets the stage for a difficult legislative session ahead.
A few minutes after the budget announcement was sent, another went out announcing that Walker had decided against building the proposed Juneau Access road.
Both announcements recognized that much of what they contained would be painful for many people to hear.
In the budget announcement, Walker noted that he will be taking a one-third salary reduction.
“While my pay cut will certainly not balance the state’s budget, I believe it is important to lead by example,” Walker said in the announcement. “These are tough times for many Alaskans and fixing the state’s deficit requires that we all make sacrifices and pull together.”
The Juneau Access announcement will either delight or anger, depending on which side of the road/no-road divide a person stands.
Walker reached out to those who would be angered by the decision.
“I am a builder by background and understand the importance of construction projects, but I am very concerned with our current multi-billion dollar fiscal crisis and must prioritize the need for fiscal resolution,” Walker said in the Juneau Empire. “I’m grateful to the many great Alaskans who shared their knowledge and perspectives with me about this issue. I listened and learned from all of you. I flew the route and spoke with lots of folks equally divided on this project. I made this difficult decision after reviewing all litigation and all federal regulatory decisions on this project to date. Above all, I was reminded that Southeast Alaska communities are deeply interconnected, with or without roads, and I pledge to do what I can to support and strengthen those critical economic and social ties.”
Based on the information available to him, Walker made an extraordinarily difficult choice regarding the Juneau Access road. He did the same during the past two budget years, and now has made difficult choices regarding the 2017-18 budget.
His proposed budget will be dissected thoroughly, viewed through the lenses of every partisan and political philosophy known in the state.
It certainly didn’t take long for that process to start.
“I am disappointed the administration did not take their job more seriously and identify areas that should be cut, trimmed or eliminated,” Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, said in a Senate Finance Committee news release Thursday afternoon. “We will identify additional reforms and restructuring to make our state government run more efficiently and effectively for the people of Alaska.”
So it begins.
Walker signed up for the job of governor, saying during the campaign that he understood difficult decisions would have to be made and that a one term in office was a distinct possibility. Agree or disagree with Walker, few people can say he’s been afraid to do what he believes is best for Alaska, and without the personal attacks and other negative tactics that have become all-too-common in our public discourse.
It would be encouraging if other state leaders follow the example.
When MacKinnon says that “this is going to be a challenging process, but the Senate Finance Committee is ready to rise to the occasion and do our jobs, working with our colleagues in the House and members of the administration to right size our budget,” we hope she means it.
—Ketchikan Daily News, Dec. 16, 2016