Senate Republican Minority Leader Gene Therriault says half of Alaska's windfall revenues resulting from high oil prices should be used to repay $5 billion in budget-balancing loans from the Constitutional Budget Reserve Account in recent years.
The North Pole Republican has offered a draft amendment to the Senate's revised version of Gov. Sarah Palin's petroleum tax proposal (the Alaska Clear and Equitable Share bill) that would encourage future legislatures to do just that.
"In lean years, the Legislature has had to borrow over $5 billion from the CBR and now in times of high surplus we should pay back those loans," Therriault said in a press release.
State revenue forecasts indicate significant budget deficits in the near future, Therriault noted. In addition, he said, it could be at least a decade before a natural gas pipeline begins producing new revenues.
"It is imperative that the Legislature use every opportunity to rebuild its 'Rainy Day Account' to help us maintain essential state services and infrastructure in the coming years," he said.
The Department of Revenue would determine annually whether certain criteria were met the previous year to allow for a payment to the CBR. Preliminary financial calculations suggest the amendment would produce about $583 million for the state savings account at today's oil prices, the minority said.
Therriault's amendment would be a statement of legislative intent, not a binding provision. However, Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, said he thinks the public would support such a move, and that could mean significant political pressure on future legislatures to pay annual attention to the idea.
"It's a great thing to do," he said.
Whether the amendment will fly is another question.
"I think the chances are good, but then, the minority hasn't had a good track record getting anything passed by the working group (the Senate Majority Coalition)."
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