Unfinished business remains for Legislature
Gov. Bill Walker thanked legislators for repealing the state’s remaining oil and gas tax credits, discussed the highlights of a recent governors conference and outlined his view for getting the state to a long-term fiscal plan in a ranging press conference Monday.
While Walker was in Rhode Island over the weekend attending the National Governors Association summer meeting, he said he stayed awake until about 4:30 a.m. Sunday to watch legislators do the clock limbo to pass House Bill 111 before the special session ended Sunday at midnight.
The governor said he is pleased legislators were able to compromise finer points of the tax credit issue to get the big thing on which Republicans, Democrats and he agreed: ending the oil tax credit program.
“I didn’t see anybody celebrating necessarily, and I think that was a true sign of what transpired; not everybody got what they wanted,” Walker said to Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel and Democrat Rep. Andy Josephson, who attended the briefing in Anchorage.
As leaders of the Resource committees in their respective bodies, the two were at the center of conference committee negotiations on the tax credit bill.
Passing a compromise version of HB 111 indicates the Legislature has some momentum and Walker said he’d like to see that translate to other issues like restructuring the Permanent Fund to fix the state’s $2.5 billion budget deficit, Walker said.
“As much as I’d like to say ‘it’s over, everything’s fixed (with the state budget),’ we’ve got more work to do,” he said. “I say that with renewed optimism because of what I saw the other night.”
Next on the list is for the House and Senate to pass the capital budget, which will allow the state to capture more than $1.2 billion in federal construction funds for a $120 million state matching contribution.
However, the governor said he wouldn’t call more special sessions until it appears deals have been struck.
“There’s no reason to call 60 people back when a committee is working on something,” he said, noting the expense checks legislators have collected in what has ostensibly been a continuous session since late January.
“We’ve gone through a half a million dollars in per diem; we need to be careful about that,” Walker added.
In the interim, the governor said he and his administration officials will continue working behind the scenes with legislators to hopefully facilitate agreements on the major outstanding fiscal issues, in particular new sources of state revenue.
“It won’t be I’ll put more time on the clock and see what happens,” Walker said of the special session situation going forward.
To that end, the Democrat-led House Majority and Republican Senate Majority caucuses both issued press statements emphasizing the need to get the generally nonpartisan capital budget done soon and that legislators might call themselves back to do it. Walker indicated he would like to see that happen by the end of the month.
Walker also said he met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while at the governors meeting. Trudeau spoke to the gathering of 33 U.S. governors, but had a 20-minute conversation with Walker, in which the two discussed infrastructure issues and the concerns Alaskans have with prospective mines in British Columbia that could impact salmon in transboundary rivers.
Southeast Alaska fishing, Alaska Native and conservation groups have pushed for federal intervention from the State Department on the matter with little success.
“We have an opportunity on transboundary now at the prime minister level,” Walker said.
Previously, Walker’s administration has met mostly with British Columbia provincial officials on the matter.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.