Governor Bill Walker speaks to members of the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly and Kodiak City Council at budget plan presentation. Kayla Desroches/KMXT
Governor Bill Walker dropped by KMXT on Monday between presenting his budget proposal to the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly and Kodiak City Council and attending a reception on Near Island. We took the opportunity to ask him about some topics he didn’t get to earlier in the day.
Walker has had many opportunities to talk with members of the public about the budget plan, and spoke about the mixed reaction he’s received so far.
“It’s been a combination of some have said finally somebody’s putting a plan forth and sort of the relief and there’s always the comments about the plan, which I don’t take as criticism, I take – I guess if anything, it’s constructive criticism of saying ‘have you thought about this? Have you thought about that?’ So, that part I enjoy. Because we’re all in this together. There are no sides of the table. It’s a big round table.”
He also touched on how his proposal would affect the fishing industry, which he said is the largest employer in the state. He said it’s possible not all the same programs will be available in the fiscal year 2017.
“Some of the grants may not be. Hopefully the loan programs will. It will change sort of our ability to provide fisheries infrastructure to the degree we have in the past. Ports and harbor development. We’re gonna to do some here in Kodiak. I’ve seen a – tour today. I’ve seen some of the projects. The one project – we’re gonna be able to fund a portion of that. Used to be we used to fund everything that would be done or nearly everything, and now we’re not going to be able to do that.”
The fishing industry is vital to many smaller communities, as is municipal revenue sharing, which has been a way for the state to share its oil wealth with municipal government.
Walker, who served as mayor of Valdez, said he and most of his cabinet members come from local government, and they want to hold onto revenue sharing. He says some communities rely on the amount of money they receive from that program.
“It would be disproportionate to Alaska to eliminate it, so there may be some way of modifying the formula with larger cities that have opportunities for other forms of revenue enhancement, but some of the villages just don’t, some of the smaller communities, so I certainly don’t want to have anything to do with completely eliminating the program at all.”
Public radio also serves a unique role in smaller communities. It provides a lifeline during emergencies and bad weather and can be a way of getting messages out to loved ones.
Walker said the new budget will decrease funding in almost all areas – including public radio.
“Hopefully there will be some private sector opportunities to pick up contributions –help some of that funding, maintain its level. We didn’t eliminate it, but we did reduce the funding and that’s – we need to get more creative on some of these funding opportunities.”
Cuts are inevitable, but Walker said it’s hard to predict which parts of his budget proposal will be successful with the legislature.
“You know we’ve been focusing on a balance. Trying to find a balance. If you take any piece of it out, it sort of tips the scales one way or another. So, that’s my concern – and that’s why we put it together as a complete package, because whatever we do, it’s going to impact somebody differently, but if there’s another balance over here that balances that out, then that helps a great deal.”
The upcoming legislative session will determine how that distribution works out.