Rep. Jonathan Kriess-Tomkins, D-Sitka, facilitates a meeting of the newly-formed Fiscal Plan Working Group at legislative offices in Anchorage on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. The working group is meant to draft recommendations to resolve the state's budget deficit, but some members said they wanted to see a faster pace from the group. (Courtesy photo / Joe Plesha, Alaska House Majority Coalition)

Lawmakers say group working to solve budget woes must pick up the pace

Lawmakers pledge to quicken pace of financial work group

Members of a working group tasked with offering long-term solutions to the state’s fiscal problems said the group needs to pick up the pace of its meeting schedule.

Near the end of the group’s second meeting on Wednesday, members of group made of state lamwakers from the minority and majority caucuses of both the state House and Senate said two or three meetings a week may be necessary.

“This is not even close to what we were looking for,” said Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, referring to the group’s schedule. “We are requesting more meetings, at least twice a week.”

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said he had wanted to give lawmakers some time at the end of the legislative session before jumping into the working group but told McCabe he envisioned the group potentially meeting three times a week.

[Fiscal working group members set lofty goals, say time is needed]

The group was formed at the end of the last special session in the hopes of crafting bipartisan recommendations for solving the state’s fiscal deficit, but lawmakers said they didn’t see that happening at the group’s current pace.

The group met for the first time on July 7, and is currently scheduled to meet again July 22, but the next special session of the Alaska State Legislature is set to begin Aug. 2, leaving lawmakers with little time to prepare.

The working group is supposed to draft recommendations for resolving the state’s fiscal deficit, a problem that has befuddled lawmakers for years. But before that can happen, lawmakers said they first needed to agree on baseline financial projections.

Lawmakers have expressed frustration in the past about varying financial projections from different entities. Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, said Wednesday projections from Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office released earlier this year were, “not in line with the assumptions of (Legislative) Finance.”

Most members of the eight-person working group met at legislative offices in Anchorage to attend a presentation from Legislative Finance Director Alexei Painter that walked through the state’s financial history since statehood. Wednesday’s presentation was meant to give working group members “a common and consensus view of the problem,” said Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, co-facilitator of the group.

Painter took lawmakers through a summarized history of state finances in a presentation similar to those he gave legislative finance committees during the last regular session but only two members of the working group, Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, and Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, are on their respective finance committees.

The work group was formed out of an agreement at the end of the last special session that left the state’s budget incomplete but avoided a government shutdown. According to the agreement, the group is supposed to draft recommendations for solving the state’s fiscal issues that reflect the interest of the various caucuses in the Legislature.

Even if the pace of the work group increases, the next special session is only weeks away at the beginning of August.

At the group’s first meeting, several lawmakers including Hoffman and Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said they had dicussed moving the start date of the next special session with the governor.

In an email Wednesday, Dunleavy spokesperson Corey Young said it is the governor’s intention that the next special session begin Aug. 2.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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