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New Alaska budget spends smartly on public safety, capital projects

  • Author: Bill Walker
    | Opinion
  • Updated: December 22, 2017
  • Published December 22, 2017

I believe in Alaska. Our state and our people have set the course for a good, secure future.

Gov. Bill Walker holds a press conference on the release of the administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget in the Atwood Building in downtown Anchorage on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

Last week, I unveiled my administration's budget proposal for fiscal year 2019. At $4.7 billion, it encapsulates our vision for a safer, stronger and smarter state, and puts us on the path toward a stable and bright future. We focused on three key areas:

• Public safety: We sacrificed in other areas of this budget to prioritize public safety, and increased the funding that supports our Public Safety Action Plan. The estimated $1,215 PFD continues to increase, and allows us to continue preserving the dividend for future generations without overly optimistic projections and analysis that could risk the well-being of the Permanent Fund. We'll spend an additional $34 million to support new troopers, prosecutors, and health grants that go directly to Alaska communities. New criminal investigators will support our law enforcement and attorneys who work tirelessly to keep criminals off our streets, while a statewide drug prosecutor will allow us to further our efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. The public safety spending increases our budget about 1 percent higher than last year's — but we firmly believe this is justified: Alaskans deserve to be safe in their homes and communities.

• Economic development: Our economy is in recession, and Alaska has the highest unemployment in the nation. At the same time, lean capital budgets over the last few years have meant our schools, roads and infrastructure are overdue for improvements, and those bills have piled up. Our plan proposes using a capped and limited three-year 1.5 percent payroll deduction tax to generate $800 million designated solely for funding deferred maintenance and some construction projects statewide. When combined with federal and local dollars, $1.4 billion will be injected into the state's economy, creating more than 1,000 Alaska jobs in local communities while paying down future liabilities. Additional proposed mechanisms include paying off all cashable oil exploration credits in fiscal year 2019 at no additional cost to the state, and allowing the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. to accept funds from sources other than state government to bring that project to completion. All together, these efforts present a multibillion-dollar package that will jumpstart the economy and give our friends and neighbors the jobs they want and need.

• Reform and transparency: Finally, this package seeks to rebuild trust and ensure accountability to Alaskans. In January, we'll introduce legislation to move the state to a biennial — or two-year — budgeting process, and create incentives to prevent a potential government shutdown from happening again as it has over the past several years. The legislation will stop pay and revoke per diem for legislators if they fail to pass a budget within the first 90 days of session. The same penalty is enacted for the governor if he or she fails to present a budget proposal before Dec. 15. Put simply: We should pink-slip ourselves before we pink-slip teachers and troopers. It's absolutely unacceptable that police officers, fish and game managers and educators have been threatened with the loss of their jobs, and Alaska businesses that rely on government services being available have been faced with uncertainty the last several years because of delays on the legislative budget approval process. We'll also be working with the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee to make sure that budgets are presented in a transparent manner, and that spending isn't hidden through budgetary tricks.

This budget is a balanced approach that puts Alaskans back to work. We'll continue to seek out efficiencies while investing in key priorities. While we won't completely close our fiscal gap this year, this plan makes meaningful strides in that direction, and creates a much more stable situation both in the short term, and for future generations of Alaskans.

We can build a safer Alaska, one where our homes and communities are places in which our families and children thrive. We can build a stronger Alaska, one where our economy and businesses are stable and growing. We can build a smarter Alaska, one where state government is efficient and accountable to the people whom we represent.

I believe in Alaska. It is that belief which has been the genesis for every decision I have made. We may face some challenges in the short term, but in the long run, there are great opportunities we must take full advantage of to ensure our children and grandchildren have great opportunities, and remain in Alaska for generations to come.

Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, is the 11th governor of Alaska. He was elected in 2014.

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