With the Alaska legislative session beginning Jan. 19, many residents are holding their breath to see how legislators will address the budget concerns.
About a third of Alaskans wants the governor and Legislature to address the economy, and another third are looking for discussion on the budget and taxes, according to a July Rasmuson Foundation poll. As the price of oil hovers around $35 per barrel, the Legislature is planning to examine additional revenue sources as well as more cuts.
Alaska’s credit rating also took a hit Tuesday, dropping from AAA to AA+, a move that Sen. Peter Micciche called “a shot across the bow” at his speech to the joint Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce Tuesday. The downgrade will cost Alaska more on any loans it takes in the future, further damaging the state’s fragile budget.
Micciche, who is vice chairman of the Alaska Senate Finance Committee, said he will focus on working with fellow legislators in the upcoming session.
“We have to work together on other solutions that will still continue to bring down the cost of government responsibly, yet look for methods that are going to fund our way of life,” Micciche said.
The low oil prices have left Alaska with an approximately $3.5 billion budget gap, and cutting any more will lead to a loss of core services, he said. As it is, capital projects will likely be put on hold, and either an income tax, a sales tax or a cap on the Permanent Fund Dividend may be coming, he said.
There are some government agencies that could be more efficient, but others — including the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities and the Department of Public Safety — need to be restored because they have been cut too far, Micciche said.
Micciche urged the public to watch the committee meetings and legislative proceedings online at 360 North and Alaska Basis to stay informed.
“I don’t expect you to watch all of them, but when there’s a key thing you’re concerned about, watch a committee meeting,” Micciche said. “It gives you a much better idea of what’s going on, who some of the obstacles are, why there are obstacles to moving forward with some solutions.”
Elizabeth Earl is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.