Challenging fiscal problems
Five area legislators presented a pre-legislative briefing at the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Bear Mountain Grill on Jan. 15.
Sen. Fred Dyson started things off by commenting that he doesn’t plan on running next year.
“Those who want to cheer, go ahead,” he said with a laugh.
His tone became serious, however, when he discussed the budget.
“The state’s got very significant fiscal problems,” he said. “There is a continual parade of folks who want money to do what they consider good things.”
Yet, if we don’t cut spending and increase revenue, we could use up our savings in six to seven years.
And it’s not going to get better, he warned.
Ninety percent of our revenue comes from petroleum and we can’t control world oil prices, he said.
After slicing out large chunks of the budget for welfare, Medicare, Medicaid and education, there’s little money left for road maintenance, drainage problems and areas such as veterans concerns.
“And I’m frustrated,” Dyson said. “I run out of words to describe my frustration on some of that stuff.”
Rep. Bill Stoltze dittoed this view.
“It’s a dire circumstance,” he said. “Our fiscal situation right now is much like a retirement account — i.e., not much coming in and a lot going out.”
By 2021, he predicted, Medicaid, social services and education will take 100 percent of the budget.
“That’s pretty sobering,” Stoltze said. “And that’s not a made up number. It might even be too conservative.”
Commercial fishing doesn’t pay its way, he added.
“Cigarettes pay more than commercial fishing,” he said.
Stoltze foresees a multitude of challenges in Juneau.
“We have to be willing to make some tough decisions,” he said.
Rep. Dan Saddler talked about the Heads of Agreement (HOA) for the Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas Project, which was signed Jan. 14. The HOA is the first step in developing an 800-mile natural gas pipeline from the North Slope.
“It’s a significant step forward in the gas line process,” he said. “It’s kind of like being engaged and meeting the parents first.”
The HOA was signed by ExxonMobil, TransCanada Corp., ConocoPhillips, BP Exploration and Alaska Gasline Development Corp.
Saddler also mentioned the educational budget controversy, which he termed as a tough issue.
“There are lots of opportunities and lots of challenges,” he said.
Rep. Lora Reinbold remarked that the Affordable Health Care Act has been “devastating” on small businesses.
“And it’s not over yet,” she said.
Reinbold also voiced concern that Alaska has the highest per capita of veterans in the nation.
“We’re trying to make sure they get jobs and transition successfully when they retire,” she said.
Sen. Anna Fairclough closed with a very brief summary.
“Alaska is at a crossroads,” she said. “We have a limited amount of resources and people are fighting over them.”
What we need, she continued, is to have a reasonable conversation about education. Advocates need to hear that Alaska has limited resources this year.
“It is not nice to say no,” she said. “It doesn’t feel good.”
Yet, she added, “We really do carefully consider and balance all of the issues.”
The next legislative update will be Feb. 15 at the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center.
Got an opinion? Contact area representatives and let them know what’s on your mind.
Rep. Bill Stoltze, District 11, 907-465-4958 (session), 907-376-4958 (interim); Rep.Bill.Stoltze@akleg.gov
Rep. Dan Sadler, District 12, 907-465-3783, 907-622-3783; Rep.Dan.Sdaler@akleg.gov
Rep. Lora Reinbold, District 26, 907-465-3822, 907-622-8950; Rep.Lora.Reinbold@akleg.gov
Sen. Fred Dyson, District F, 907-465-2199, 907-694-6683; Sen.Fred.Dyson@akleg.gov
Sen. Anna Fairclough, District M, 907-465-3777, 907-694-8944; anna@ annafairclough.com.