Businesses weigh in on state budget woes

ANCHORAGE — Business leaders across Alaska are publicly making suggestions for how the Legislature could possibly handle the state’s fiscal crisis ahead of next year’s legislative session.

The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce in a draft letter addressed to Gov. Bill Walker and sent to the state’s 62 elected officials said cuts to programs and services should be prioritized over new revenue streams such as taxes, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.

Nineteen businesses and business groups had signed the letter as of Sept. 9.

“The goal here is to show broad alignment among the business community, that while there is a problem, there is also a solution,” said Rachael Petro, president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber.

In an August letter from the Alaska Bankers Association, the group suggested a similar approach. Unlike the chamber, the board of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation outlined a plan in a letter released Sept. 9 that considers cuts and new revenue all at once.

“Our board decided not to take a linear step-by-step approach,” said Bill Popp, president and CEO of AEDC. “When a business has a down situation like the state does and has the assets available to it like the state does, it comes up with a comprehensive plan to address its issues. That is the tone and direction of our letter.”

Despite the clear distinctions in plans, many businesses in the state belong to more than one business organization, which could make pleasing major players in the state economy a challenge. For example, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips belong to the statewide and Fairbanks chambers of commerce as well as to AEDC.

Katie Marquette, a spokeswoman for Walker, did not address how many companies are in multiple organizations or how much impact such letters will have on the state’s budget proposals, but said input is appreciated.

“Governor Walker values the input of all stakeholders,” she wrote in an email. “The administration will put out a fiscal stability plan later this fall that takes into account the public input that the Governor has received over the past few months. It will include the Governor’s proposed spending levels and possible revenue options for the 2017 fiscal budget.”