January 14, 2016
Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed
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Governor Bill Walker
Lt. Governor Byron Mallot
Best Budget Bits From Town Hall Meeting
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Last Saturday, Representatives Harriet Drummond, Andy Josephson, and I hosted a town hall meeting at the West Romig Library. We welcomed special guest Cliff Groh who skillfully explained Alaska's current budget structure, including what he dubs the 'Groh Flow,' which describes the plumbing of our fiscal configuration. I was happy to see so many faces and to get a chance to discuss your questions and concerns before I head down to Juneau.
Attendees very much enjoyed his one-sheet of information on the budget, and the diagram of the 'Groh Flow,' so I am including them here. I encourage you to share these with friends and family if you find them interesting or useful:
In case you missed the meeting, here are some more highlights:
"We are in deep Kimchi"
Our budget deficit amounts to approximately $4,900 per Alaskan. Marijuana taxes and a state lottery won't fix it. They could contribute roughly $20 million each, but we need $3.9 billion to get our fiscal house in order.
Cliff Groh said that if you ask most Alaskans what they think the state government spends money on, they will say: legislative salaries, legislative staff salaries, the Legislative Information Office in Anchorage, and the fancy lawyer for legislative council.
In actuality, more than 55% of the budget goes toward three things:
-Health and Social services, and
-Oil tax credits.
Government efficiency is important and I will continue to search for ways to achieve that. But to substantively reduce the budget those are the three areas we need to look at, and the first two have grown in size as population and need has grown. My colleagues and I will continue to push for a fairer oil tax structure that makes sense in today's market. As we continue to look for places to cut, and as programs are evaluated and placed on the chopping block, we must not forget to ask who wins, who loses, and if it's right. What are the long-term effects of potential cuts? Does it make for a better or worse Alaska overall?
We must also remember how these decisions impact all Alaskans, both urban and rural. Effects in each of those communities are felt in the other. We are all connected and must make sure all communities are healthy.
Some members of the Republican majority have expressed the desire to slash the budget by another billion dollars. The Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) says this will cost 9,000 Alaskans their jobs – and not just state positions, but contractors and other labor positions. The negative impacts of that kind of job loss will affect individuals, families, and their ability to support local businesses and communities. The Republicans' idea may sound like tough talk in an election year, but it doesn't make good economic sense, and it hurts communities.
During this session I will work hard to find an integrated and comprehensive solution that makes good sense and that is fair to all Alaskans. As we make some very tough decisions going forward, my priorities are to maintain a functioning school system that meets the needs of every Alaskan child, to continue to protect the interest of working people, and to maintain the health of all communities.
If my colleagues and I succeed in coming up with a fiscal plan, no one will be happy. That is the unfortunate reality of our current situation. But we need to make sure that our children and grandchildren have an opportunity for a future here. And that's worth a little sacrifice on our parts.
I know Juneau can feel out of reach, but please stay connected and tuned in to the process. Your feedback and input is important. I will continue to send out these newsletters and put up short videos on my Facebook page and the Alaska Senate Democrats page. You can download the Alaska Legislature app (just search for "akleg" in your app store). This will let you know about daily meetings, let you stream meetings on your phone, provide floor schedules, give you easy access to bill information and tracking, and contact information for legislators.
I know it seems dire, but I'm hopeful that the extreme urgency of the situation will encourage bipartisan support in tackling these issues now. As I've said before, it cannot wait, it won't be easy, but I will do my best to make sure it gets done, and done right.
I’m Berta and I’m still listening,
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office.