- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 19, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The latest on the first day of the Alaska legislative session (all times local):

1:05 p.m.

The Alaska Legislature is now officially in session, with the House convening Tuesday afternoon.

The Senate convened earlier in the day.

Legislative leaders sought to strike a conciliatory tone at the start of what could be a contentious session, as the state grapples with an estimated $3.5-billion budget deficit amid low oil prices.



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11:25 a.m.

Senate Republican leaders are planning to focus on budget cuts and cost-saving measures to major programs.

Members of the GOP-led majority held a news conference on the first day of the legislative session. Senate President Kevin Meyer says priorities include pursuing reforms to Medicaid, the state corrections system and oil tax credits.

The state faces an estimated $3.5 billion budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year amid chronically low oil prices. Gov. Bill Walker has proposed a suite of options to help fill the gap, including a personal income tax, industry taxes and use of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to help finance state government.

Meanwhile, members of the House and Senate minorities are supporting a Ways and Means Committee to focus revenue measures.

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11:03 a.m.

The Alaska Senate has convened for the start of a legislative session expected to focus on the state’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

The Senate gaveled in late Tuesday morning for the scheduled 90-day session. The House was expected to gavel in at 1 p.m.

The state faces an estimated $3.5 billion budget deficit next year amid chronically low oil prices. Alaska has been using savings to get by, but the Legislative Finance Division says that continued deficits of this size will sap reserves by fiscal year 2020.

Gov. Bill Walker has proposed moving away from budgeting around volatile oil revenues. He would put oil tax revenue into the Alaska Permanent Fund and proposes drawing a steady stream of cash from the fund’s earnings reserve to finance state government.

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