Last week Governor Bill Walker took to the airwaves not once, but twice to impress upon Alaskans the dire situation the state’s finances are in. On Wednesday, his State of the State address was akin to a pep talk before the big game, while on Thursday, his State of the Budget address was a wake-up call that declining oil revenue will require belt-tightening across the board.
We checked in with Kodiak Senator Gary Stevens on his reaction to the two speeches.
“I think he’s really done a remarkable job to really look at the situation we’re in, to honestly face it and figure out how we’re going to get through this.”
Walker called for spending cuts in all state departments, and said he was cutting the governor’s office budget by 11 percent this year. The cuts for education would be less, but is still something Stevens wants to keep an eye on.
“I’m really concerned about education of course. The governor has made some reductions to education. I’m hoping we can find a way to make sure that doesn’t damage the education opportunities our kids have. So we’ll see how that works out.”
The governor, as he did during his campaign, vowed to expand Medicaid coverage, which he said would not only bring health care to thousand more Alaskans, but also create jobs. Conservatives in the Alaska Legislature, just like those nationwide, are largely against an expansion because it is a part of the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare. Stevens says it’s worth a look.
“Any time we can cover 40,000 Alaskans at not much additional cost, I think we should be doing that. The question is, is there going to be a cost to it, are we going to have to hire folks, will there be administrative duties. I’m sure there will. We’ll be looking at that very very carefully, but I think all in all it sounds like a good idea to me to make sure people who are not covered by insurance have some Medicaid coverage.”
After the State of the Budget address on Thursday night, Walker released his endorsed budget, and in it, one local item stood out the Alaska Aerospace Corporation funding was eliminated completely. Stevens says he was not surprised.
“There’s going to be a meeting the next few days to find out specifically what they planning on doing. So we’ll see how that works out. But, you’re right. They were reduced from the budget, but they were on a schedule to go from I think 6-Million to 4-million to 2-million to zero. So, it’s just a little earlier than the board had anticipated, I believe.”
Though much smaller than the State Operating Budget, the Capital Budget which funds projects in communities, such as building libraries or repairing infrastructure will get reduced as well, but Stevens says the effects won’t be felt right away.
“We’ve got a lot of projects that are in operation, in development now. A lot of money out there. Kodiak has the Pier 3 project, so money will still be spent locally and hiring folks and jobs and that sort of thing. So it’s certainly not the end of the world, but we just have to be very very careful how much of our savings we spend right now.”
Tomorrow we’ll have Stevens’ reaction to the call by colleagues in the State House for the Kodiak Launch Complex to be sold.