Gov. Bill Walker holds a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, to speak about the cuts made in services to Alaskans. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Gov. Bill Walker holds a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, to speak about the cuts made in services to Alaskans. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

21 days left to strike a deal

Pizza, Italian, or Mexican?

Anyone who has tried to get a group of people to pick a restaurant for dinner knows how hard it can be. There are as many choices as there are individuals.

Now, imagine a group of 60 people, and instead of picking just a restaurant, you have to pick a specific meal at that restaurant. One meal to accommodate the wants, dietary restrictions and needs of all 60 people.

That’s what the Alaska Legislature is going through right now.

The 60 members of the Legislature — 40 in the House and 20 in the Senate — all see the same obstacle, the state’s $2.8 billion deficit.

When it comes to feeding that deficit, almost everyone has a different idea of the best meal. It takes a lot of effort to get people to agree.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Gov. Bill Walker said he sees two different philosophies at work when it comes to the deficit.

“Are we going to fix it, or are we going to try to get through it?” he said.

The 22-member coalition majority that runs the Alaska House prefers the first philosophy.

It has proposed a four-part plan to fix the deficit. That plan includes modest budget cuts, cuts to the state subsidy of oil and gas drilling, spending from the earnings reserve of the Alaska Permanent Fund, and an income tax.

The House Majority sees uncertainty as the state’s biggest threat. If people don’t know how the deficit will be fixed, they’ll hold off on investing — or so the argument goes.

The 14-member majority that runs the Alaska Senate has the second philosophy.

It has proposed addressing the deficit through spending from the earnings reserve of the Alaska Permanent Fund, and budget cuts.

The Senate has proposed about $275 million in budget cuts this year, and it has said it will propose more in future years, but it’s not clear where those cuts will come from. In addition, even if those future cuts happen, the state will still have a deficit.

That’s by design, said Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, in a Monday hearing.

“In the Senate, we like that little bit of deficit. It keeps the pressure on us to keep the spending down,” he said.

If the Senate keeps spending down — and it has proposed spending caps to force future legislatures into that position — an expected gradual rise in oil prices will balance the state’s budget in the long run. The Senate’s plan reduces the budget enough that the state’s savings would be stretched until that happens.

If those are the two menu options — House and Senate — the Legislature will spend its next several weeks negotiating a compromise.

On Wednesday, the House appointed three legislators to a six-member committee designed to come up with a compromise between House and Senate versions of the Permanent Fund spending idea.

Earlier this year, members of the House Majority said that it wanted to see all four pieces of its plan on the table for compromise together. The idea is that the House and Senate majorities could barter components of each piece. If, for example, the House agreed to cut more from one part of the budget, the Senate might agree to additional reductions in the state subsidy for drilling.

“All these are tied together,” said House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, on Tuesday.

Wednesday was the 100th day of the Legislative session, which is constitutionally limited to 121 days. Lawmakers can extend for 10 more days, then they’ll have to call a special session.

The drop-dead deadline in all this debate is June 30. That’s because the state’s fiscal year starts July 1.

If lawmakers can’t reach an agreement by then, state government will shut down.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 419-7732.


Alyse Galvin, left, marks a location on a map of Alaska as Maureen Conerton reads one of over 750 letters in support of education funding on the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. Concerned parents with Great Alaska Schools and Students with Voice staged a daylong “Read-a-thon” to express support for public education. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Alyse Galvin, left, marks a location on a map of Alaska as Maureen Conerton reads one of over 750 letters in support of education funding on the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. Concerned parents with Great Alaska Schools and Students with Voice staged a daylong “Read-a-thon” to express support for public education. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 23, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, May 22, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Campaign buttons urging Alaskans to repeal ranked choice voting in Alaska sit on a picnic table at the home of Phil Izon, a backer of the initiative, in Wasilla, Alaska, on Tuesday, May 14. Arguments are scheduled May 28 in a lawsuit challenging the state Division of Election’s decision to certify the initiative for placement on the ballot this year. (Mark Thiessen / AP)
Ranked-choice voting has challenged the status quo. Its popularity will be tested in November

Arguments scheduled Tuesday in Alaska lawsuit involving ballot initiative repealing RCV.

A sperm whale is seen in an undated photo published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (NOAA photo)
Alaska fisherman pleads guilty to federal charges after ordering crew to shoot whale

A Southeast Alaska troll fisherman has agreed to plead guilty to a… Continue reading

Juneau high school seniors Edward Hu of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé (left), Elizabeth Djajalie of Thunder Mountain High School (center) and Kenyon Jordan of Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School. (Photos of Hu and Jordan by Juneau Empire staff, photo of Djajalie by Victor Djajalie)
Senior Spotlight 2024: Three top students take very different paths to graduation stage

Ceremonies for Juneau’s three high schools take place Sunday.

The entrance road to Bartlett Regional Hospital. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Bartlett Regional Hospital looking at eliminating or trimming six ‘non-core’ programs to stabilize finances

Rainforest Recovery Center, autism therapy, crisis stabilization, hospice among programs targeted.

A king salmon. (Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Biden administration advances bid to list Gulf of Alaska king salmon as endangered or threatened

Experts say request could restrict activity affecting river habitats such as road, home construction

Mayor Beth Weldon (left), Deputy Mayor Michelle Bonnet Hale and Juneau Assembly member Paul Kelly discussion proposals for next year’s mill rate during an Assembly Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Assembly members support lower 10.04 mill rate ahead of final vote on next year’s CBJ budget

Initial proposal called for raising current rate of 10.16 mills to 10.32 mills.

Most Read