Voices of Alaska: Budgeting with Alaskan opportunity in view

Leaving a strong, vibrant Alaska for our children and grandchildren requires living within our means now, and prioritizing spending for Alaskans’ future.

With these aims in mind, I recently released my state budget proposal for the next year. We propose paying down state debt, significantly reducing state government spending, and investing in Alaska’s constitutional priorities.

Even with considerable restraint on state agencies in FY 2015, the budget I put forward contains significant resources that support Kenai Peninsula residents. The operating budget includes more than $84 million in K-12 education funding, $3.1 million for school debt reimbursement, $123 million for public employees and teachers retirement systems unfunded liability, and nearly $4 million in community revenue sharing. In support of public safety, the budget for the Peninsula includes more than $7.5 million for 45 Alaska State Troopers and dispatch services. More than $41.5 million is requested in capital spending for airport improvements, deferred maintenance, parks access and improvements, and ferry and road improvements.

I will work closely with the Peninsula’s legislative delegation to address other community priorities through the upcoming session.

To tackle the state’s largest budget cost driver, I’ve proposed a plan to pay down Alaska’s $12 billion unfunded pension liability. We can move $3 billion in savings to another state savings account — Alaska’s pension trust funds — resulting in much lower fixed annual payments on the rest of the debt over time.

Think of it like a credit card that Alaska is paying down. Paying down some debt now will dramatically lower our annual future payments on this obligation in the future.

Each year until 2025, Alaskans will save hundreds of millions of dollars off the current payment plan we’re on now. We have a truly historic opportunity to avoid saddling our children and grandchildren with this debt, and we should take it.

Next, in order for the young people of our state to grasp Alaska’s promise for their lives, they need better access to quality teachers and courses.

My proposed budget funds the first year of our Digital Teaching Initiative. Several school districts have already invested in technology allowing teachers, through digital means and screens, to teach in multiple classrooms at once. Teachers interact in real time with students in different locations using video and audio technology.

This exciting development makes greater access to a better education possible for more Alaskans at lower cost. We should invest in educational opportunities like this and better secure Alaska’s future.

Finally, in this lower oil price environment, Alaskans are better protected with the More Alaska Production (MAP) Act. In fact, the state expects to collect more revenue with the MAP Act in place, compared to the amount the previous tax system, ACES, would have collected in the next fiscal year.

Besides gaining better protection at lower oil prices under the MAP Act, Alaskans are seeing new opportunities. Billions of new dollars are flooding into oilfield investment, creating new opportunities for Alaskans. More trucks are hauling on the Dalton Highway, and more aircraft fly in and out of Deadhorse. The new oil tax law is keeping businesses, shops and Alaskan workers across the state busy as they try to meet the renewed demand for construction work.

With a responsible budget plan, and the increased jobs and economic activity being generated by the MAP Act, our state will continue to be prosperous and full of opportunity. Alaska’s future is bright.

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