Lobbyist believes Legislature will slash state’s $3B annual deficit

Kevin Jardell offered a rare bit of legislative optimism to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly on Thursday morning.

The city’s state lobbyist told the Assembly that he believes the Legislature will slash Alaska’s $3 billion annual deficit this year, bringing much-needed stability to state government. That’s critical for Juneau: More than 4,000 workers here are state workers, and another 2,000 local-government workers rely on state funding for at least a part of their salaries.

More importantly, those jobs are high-paying: More than half the wages paid in Juneau come from government.

Jardell said he believes the Legislature will decide to use the investment earnings of the Permanent Fund to balance some of the deficit.

“In the end, there will be a compromise, but I do believe we will see the earnings in some way this year,” he said.

Jardell’s prediction came with a downside: Even if the Legislature chooses to erase some of the deficit with new revenue, more cuts are coming.

“For Juneau, we are going to see some impacts. The entire state of Alaska is going to see some impacts,” he said.

The only question, he added, is where those impacts will be.

The budget proposed by Gov. Bill Walker includes cuts to the Alaska Department of Transportation’s planning department, whose duties would be taken over by private contractors.

Each member of the Juneau delegation said he opposes those cuts.

“I don’t want a guy in Oklahoma designing a bridge anywhere in the City and Borough of Juneau. I wouldn’t trust that,” said Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau.

Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, said he spoke with Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott on Wednesday.

“He assured me that it was not the governor’s intention to privatize all of that work,” Parish said.

Even if construction funding is reduced, “we should be able to have a pretty steady level of work available for our DOT engineers,” he added.

Assembly member Debbie White asked the lawmakers if they would fight to keep funding for the now-canceled Juneau Access road in Juneau ─ or at least in the upper Lynn Canal.

Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, said he believes the most obvious need for that money might be in Skagway, which needs a new ferry float, or in other portions of the ferry system.

He suggested that crew quarters might be added to one of the two Alaska-class ferries under construction in Ketchikan. That would allow the ferry to be used on routes longer than the Lynn Canal run.

The Assembly also heard from Washington, D.C. lobbyist Katie Kachel, who said most observers are awaiting the action of President Donald Trump.

“They’ve got to get organized, and they start work on Monday,” she said.

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