Parnell signs budget bills, makes no vetoes

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell signed a $12.8-billion state budget package Wednesday, issuing no vetoes and saying he was proud of the work that he and lawmakers had done.

The state, amid slumping revenues, was still facing a nearly $3.1 billion draw from savings to fill budget holes between the current year and 2015.

Parnell said lawmakers worked to reduce unrestricted general fund spending from $8 billion in 2013 to about $7 billion this year and $5.9 billion for the coming fiscal year as part of the operating and capital budgets. The category of unrestricted general funds refers to money that isn’t restricted in its use by the law, constitution or something else.

“We have a functioning legislative branch and a functioning executive branch working together for the benefit of Alaskans,” he said.

He listed as accomplishments a plan to provide additional education funding over the next three years, passage of legislation setting the state’s participation in a massive proposed liquefied natural gas project and the infusion of $3 billion from savings to help pay down the state’s unfunded pension obligation and lower annual payments required as part of that responsibility in the coming years.

He told an Anchorage Rotary group that Alaska’s financial future is bright and that he and legislators had worked together to be wise stewards of the public’s money.

Total spending authorized for 2015 is $12.8 billion. That compares to $13.2 billion for the current year, according to Parnell’s budget office.

At a news conference later, he said while lawmakers met the spending target he had set, he did an intensive review of the budget but found nothing that gave him pause and merited a veto.

The state shows a budget deficit of $1.4 billion for next year, according to Parnell’s budget office. The deficit for the current year, which ends June 30, is $1.7 billion.

Parnell, during a news conference in Anchorage, said the smaller projected draw is a sign of moving in the right direction.

He said the idea is to continue conserving savings while reducing spending and getting more oil flowing through the trans-Alaska pipeline to help bump up revenue. Alaska relies heavily on oil revenue to fund state government operations and the Legislature last year passed an oil production tax-cut, championed by Parnell, as a way to encourage more investment and production. Critics say it’s a giveaway to industry, with no guarantee of what the state will see in return.

Asked when the deficits might be gone, Parnell said it could be next fall, given how subject the state is to the vagaries of oil.

Senate Minority Leader Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said the oil tax cut and budget are dangerous for Alaska’s economy.

“You always have to keep downward pressure on the size of government; that’s a constant job of any elected official. But the idea that you’re going to cut, you know, $500 million, particularly out of the operating budget, is irrational,” said French, who is also seeking his party’s nomination for lieutenant governor. Smaller capital budgets also harm the Alaskan economy, he said.

Both he and Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said the way to improve the state’s fiscal outlook is to repeal the oil tax. Wielechowski, for example, favors returning to a tax structure that captures more for the state at higher oil prices. A referendum on the oil tax is scheduled for August.

Parnell, for his part, told the Rotary group the best facts available now show the tax structure is working. He said it’s not about oil companies making money but about opportunities and jobs for Alaskans.

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