Alaska governor plans to propose tax bill to ease money woes

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Bill Walker said Friday that he will probably run for re-election. But he currently has more pressing issues on his mind — including crafting a tax bill that he hopes will garner support from lawmakers.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Walker said it’s imperative that revenue issues be addressed this year.

He expects to unveil a tax proposal for consideration sometime this year, but he could not provide a timeline for doing so or details on what the bill might include. He did say it would not be an oil tax bill.

“Now that the session is out, we will look at all that has been discussed, what’s been passed, what wasn’t passed, input from the public — there’s been lots of input — and come up with a revenue concept that we think is going to garner support from both the House and the Senate,” he said.

The Republican-led Senate earlier this year rejected a House-passed income tax. Asked whether he thought the Senate is interested in taxes, Walker said he heard occasional references from senators about the need for revenues.

“I guess I’ll find that out,” he said.


The state is grappling with a multibillion-dollar deficit amid continued low oil prices.
Lawmakers funded this year’s budget out of savings — something Walker had hoped to avoid — after they failed to come to terms on a long-term fiscal plan. Since then, two bond rating agencies have downgraded the state’s credit rating.

Walker, a Republican-turned-independent, said he’s not sure how many letters the state needs to get from rating agencies to spur action.

He gave lawmakers credit for their work in addressing an oil tax credit system that he said had become unsustainable and for coming together on their own to reach agreement on a state capital budget. Lawmakers passed the capital budget during a one-day special session on Thursday.

“I applaud what they have done. But I’m also saying that we’re not finished until we have addressed the additional revenue side,” he said.

Lawmakers can sort out at a later date a bill that would allow for structured draws from the earnings of the state’s oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund, to help pay for government, he said. The House and Senate each passed versions of a permanent-fund bill, but they never reached final agreement.

On the issue of health care, Walker said he hopes there will be an opportunity now for governors to work with the Trump administration and Congress to improve the existing law. High health care costs are a major concern for this remote state.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate failed in their effort to repeal much of the law, with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski one of three Republicans who helped sink the effort. Murkowski, like Walker, had been critical of the process by which the overhaul was pushed.

That vote opened the door for more collaborative input, Walker said.

Walker faces re-election next year. “I’m sure I’ll run again,” he said.

Republican Sen. Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla is the highest-profile candidate so far to file a letter of intent to run for the office.