The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

Associated Press 

Lawmakers agree to work together this legislative session

Legislators have asked the public to weigh in as they vet budget proposals


The first week of the new legislative session ended with Gov. Bill Walker and legislative leaders agreeing on a need to work together to confront the state's multibillion-dollar budget deficit. Now, the work begins.

After receiving overviews of Walker's plan to help fill the deficit through use of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings, taxes and budget cuts, legislators plan to begin digging into pieces of the plan in greater detail.

House and Senate committees have scheduled hearings this week on a proposed increase in the state motor fuels tax, one of several tax proposals from Walker. And a Senate panel plans to start hearing Walker's plan to feed the permanent fund with oil tax revenue and a portion of resource royalties and use earnings generated from the fund to help finance state government on an annual basis. Subcommittees tasked with reviewing agency budgets also are meeting.

House Finance Committee co-chair Mark Neuman said he's asked his subcommittee leaders to look at whether programs could be kept or eliminated.

"You can't fund them halfway and expect them to be efficient," the Big Lake Republican told reporters.

Neuman's co-chair, Republican Steve Thompson of Fairbanks, said Walker's plan has a lot of moving parts.

"Most of them none of us like - taxes, permanent fund spending,'' he said. "But it's our job to figure out which one of those are going to be able to help us into the long-term future."

Legislators have asked the public to weigh in as they vet proposals and do their work. The budget is expected to be front and center all session.

The Senate Finance Committee plans to begin hearings Wednesday on bills aimed at containing and curbing costs in Alaska's Medicaid program. Medicaid reform is on the list of priorities for the Senate's Republican-led majority.

The Walker administration has acknowledged that Medicaid, as is, is not sustainable. The state health department released recommendations from its consultants for further changes Friday, including a management program in which primary care providers coordinate enrollee care.

Also, the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics met Monday to consider guidance for Lunch and Learns. The lunch-hour events provide an opportunity during the legislative day for those interested to hear about an array of topics, some related to legislation, others not. They're free, open to the public, often held at the Capitol and lunch is often provided by the presenter or a sponsor.

The events have become popular. One question that's been raised, though, is how to regulate what constitutes a legislative purpose so an event can be held in a Capitol room.


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