The 2015 session of the Alaska legislature starts in less than two weeks. Around the state, elected officials are getting ready to head to Juneau. KTNA’s Phillip Manning spoke with State Senator Mike Dunleavy (dun-LAY-vee) about his plans once the session is underway.
Given the current price of oil and the deficit facing the State of Alaska, Senator Mike Dunleavy’s priorities are not too surprising.
“Somebody asked me the other day, ‘What are your top three priorities?’ I said, ‘The budget, the budget, and the budget.'”
At current projections, the state could be facing a deficit in excess of $3 billion. Governor Bill Walker took office last month, and has already put a hold on a number of capital projects. Senator Dunleavy says that is just the beginning.
“There have been some capital projects that have been earmarked for possible elimination. I think there’s going to be a reception by most folks on reducing our capital budget significantly, at least for this year. That’s the easy lift.”
Senator Dunleavy says the hard cuts will be in the operating budget, which employs over 20,000 people statewide and funds a large number of programs. He says cutting the operating budget will not be easy.
“We’ve got to restructure the government, and it’s going to impact people. In some cases, at least in the short run, it may not be pretty, but I do believe in the mid-and-long-run it’s going to be better for Alaska and will put Alaska on a solvent footing.”
Senator Dunleavy says the state does not produce nearly as much oil as it did in the 1980s, and that oil prices tend to be fairly low, though there have been spikes in recent years, including 2014.
Dunleavy says he believes the best course of action is to make those difficult cuts, and that he does not anticipate the state opening up alternative means of revenue, such as taxes.
“If we immediately default to an additional revenue source, taxes, user fees, or the permanent fund, we never really do dig into and really have a question and stress-test some of these programs that we have. We just won’t do it if we default to a tax.”
One of the large items in the state operating budget is education. Senator Dunleavy will chair the education committee in the State Senate this year. He says he does not currently plan on cutting funding for schools, but that everything should be on the table.
“We have not had discussions in this office about reducing funding for education, but I do believe funding for education will come up this session. Where it goes, I can’t say at this point.”
Senator Dunleavy says one thing he does plan to do is talk to educators and find areas where they believe current state regulations impair their ability to teach.
“…As a teacher in a school in Talkeetna or Su-Valley High, what are some rules on the books that you feel, if they were changed or modified, could help you better do your job and better serve kids?”
In response to the recent filing of a bill by Senator Bill Stoltze of Chugiak to move the legislature from Juneau to Anchorage, Senator Dunleavy says he sees why bringing state government closer to the population center could be attractive, but he is not familiar enough with the details to form a complete opinion yet.
No matter what the outcome of Senator Stoltze’s bill is, this year’s session will be held in Juneau, and will begin on January 20th.