Gov. Walker visits Valdez to talk turkey about budget
State's fiscal crisis poised to worsen due to lack of action by lawmakers
Valdez Star photo
Gov. Bill Walker met with friends old and new Monday during a coffee klatch at the Valdez Senior Center.
Gov. Bill Walker reiterated his message Monday that Alaska is heading straight towards a financial disaster due to inaction on part of the legislature.
"If we don't change our ways we're going to hit a cliff like we've never seen," he said to a group of constituents who gathered at the Valdez Senior Center for a coffee klatch.
Walker made time to meet with the public before addressing the Valdez City Council in a special work session that took place at noon.
Walker was in town talk turkey about the state's fiscal crisis that he says will only worsen after legislators failed to address budget-balancing bills his administration proposed during the last two regular session and five special sessions since 2015.
"We reduced spending by 44 percent," he told the audience, but the state is still living off of savings, which is not a balanced budget in his opinion. "We can't just cut our way out of this."
Walker said the cuts and vetos from his office were difficult - especially the cuts in education, and that his proposals to balance the budget, while maybe unpopular, are much needed.
Walker had proposed instituting a statewide income tax, restructuring how payments to Alaskans are made from the Permanent Fund Dividend, restructuring energy-based taxes and other controversial measures.
Walker reiterated that he was willing to take the political heat off of the shoulders of the Legislature in order to keep Alaska's budget healthy.
"I'll be darned if they couldn't do the light lifting," he said.
Later, when talking with the city council, Walker acknowledged that his hands-on approach with municipal governments is unusual in Alaska.
"It's kind of unprecedented," he said. "Governors going around talking to city councils."
He said his long background in city government has spurred his actions to meet personally or telephonically with municipal governments.
Walker grew up in Valdez and was elected to city council and then mayor's seat when in was in his 20s. After he left elected office in Valdez to attend law school, he returned to act as the city's attorney for over two decades.
With this kind of background, he is well aware of how the actions of the Legislature in Juneau affect municipalities.
Valdez Star photo
Gov. Bill Walker addressing the Valdez City Council during a special work session Monday.
"As you have found out, deficits roll down hill," he told council.
Walker was candid in answering questions from both the public and city counil - all except one.
Council member Lon Needles asked Walker who he was supporting for president, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
Walker, who was registered to vote as a Republican when he ran for governor as an independent candidate, said he is non-partisan and unwilling to state a preference.
"I will fight fiercely for Alaska no matter who it is," he said. "I'm staying out of all the races I can."