When Gov.-elect Bill Walker is sworn into office Dec. 1, he’s likely to land in the first no-win scenario of his administration.
Alaska’s independent governor is required to turn in his first budget two weeks after taking office. With the recent news that state budgeting guru Karen Rehfeld is retiring, there’s a chance Walker won’t have her help to accomplish such a daunting task. Rehfeld knows the ins and outs of Alaska’s $5.7 billion budget better than anyone. It’s been her job to understand the minutia since 2007.
We agree with Walker’s past comments that Alaska’s budget has grown beyond its means. That will prove even more true when the state’s revenue forecast is released in a few weeks. The price of oil has plunged in the last six months, from more than $130 per barrel last summer to less than $80 today.
Walker has said all along that his cost-cutting strategy involves cutting 16 percent across the board from the state’s budget.
When Gov. Sean Parnell met with us in September, he explained the numbers: Juneau has 3,572 state jobs, and a 16 percent cut would mean axing 572 positions. A cut that deep frightens us, and it should frighten everyone in Alaska’s capital city as well. The private sector can’t make up the difference. If even half of those 572 jobs go away, it will lead to a population decrease that would be calamitous for private businesses.
It’s not the state’s job to subsidize our economy or workforce, but cutting the budget should involve surgical precision by targeting inefficiency and waste over several years. This would allow the economy to adjust over time. A scalpel is needed, but Walker wants to use a battle axe. Herein lies Walker’s no-win scenario.
If he doesn’t cut the budget 16 percent this year and relies on Parnell’s proposed budget, he’ll be going back on his campaign platform to curb spending now. If he does cut 16 percent across the board, he’ll cripple overnight a community that helped him win office (Juneau favored Walker: 7,028 votes to 5,186 for Parnell).
Decimating Juneau’s workforce would be felt for years to come. When the 2018 election rolls around, Juneau will remember what happened that first month in office.
We hope Walker’s proposed cuts were tough campaign talk and that he will approach the state budget with a more polished strategy to curtail spending. Juneau may have the most to lose, but the sting will be felt across Alaska.
If Walker doesn’t step carefully, he’ll doom himself to being a one-term governor.
— Juneau Empire,