- Associated Press - Thursday, July 14, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Gov. Bill Walker laid out a bleak picture for the state as it became increasingly apparent that he will not get the plan he hoped for to address Alaska’s gaping deficit during this special session.

According to Walker’s administration, the major state savings account lawmakers have been using to help fill the deficit will be gone next year if new revenue-generating measures aren’t enacted. After that, without a plan to address the deficit, the state would face massive cuts to school funding, prison closures, the loss of ferry service and road maintenance for some areas and the loss of thousands of state jobs, according to a report from Walker’s budget office.

Lawmakers could act on a plan during the next regular session, but it would have to be more aggressive than what Walker proposed, Walker’s budget director Pat Pitney said.

Walker told reporters that his administration has done everything it could in pitching a plan to help close Alaska’s multibillion-dollar deficit. Legislators hold the state’s future in their hands at this point, he said.

Lawmakers on Monday began their second special session this year dealing with the deficit, with some skeptical about what can be accomplished so soon after the last special session ended and weeks before the primary election. Most of the agenda includes items previously considered by legislators, including taxes and the use of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to help pay for state government. The one new revenue piece offered by Walker is a 3-percent sales tax.

Walker said he heard the session could end as early as Friday, though Republican Senate President Kevin Meyer said that is not the Senate’s intent. The Senate wants to give Walker’s bills a fair hearing and has scheduled meetings in south-central Alaska to hear from people there, Meyer said.

“The results may be the same … but I think it’s worth trying,” he said.

Much of the attention this week focused on whether lawmakers would try to override any of Walker’s budget vetoes, with a Friday deadline to act looming. Walker slashed nearly $1.3 billion from the budget, the bulk of which came from limiting the amount available for permanent-fund dividends and for oil and gas tax credits. House Speaker Mike Chenault said Wednesday that he wasn’t sure where the votes might be to try to override any particular veto. But he said there was enough interest on his side to at least hold a session to consider potential overrides.

Meyer said Thursday that the Senate would decline to meet for an override session, saying it didn’t appear there would be sufficient support to overturn any of Walker’s vetoes.

Walker questioned the usefulness of calling legislators into another special session if they don’t pass a plan.

Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, said there’s frustration with Walker and took exception to him saying that he would not rule out getting involved in this year’s elections. “I think everybody’s disgusted and bothered enough that we’re done,” she said.

Gattis said she believes the budget still needs to be reduced more and said Walker is using scare tactics. At some point the state will have to find other revenue, but it can’t tax its way to prosperity, she said.

There has been a sharp tone in rhetoric this week. A tweet from Walker’s official Twitter account Wednesday referred to “games” by lawmakers after a senator criticized the administration’s lineup for a committee hearing in Wasilla. Revenue Commissioner Randall Hoffbeck missed that meeting and was calling in to another hearing, at an overlapping time, in Anchorage.

House Majority Leader Charisse Millett’s Twitter account blasted another Walker tweet saying that property taxes will go up and Alaskans will have to pay more for services because of legislative inaction. “Ridiculous actions,” the tweet from Millett’s account said.

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Follow Becky Bohrer at https://twitter.com/beckybohrerap .


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