State to hold town meeting on fiscal gap

Juneau gathering to be held Thursday at the Alaska Capitol

Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2003

New taxes, legalized gambling and restructuring the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program will be among the topics discussed Thursday night at a special meeting on Alaska's fiscal dilemma.

The meeting will be held by the House Ways and Means Committee from 6 to 8 p.m. in room 519 of the state Capitol. It will present an overview of the state's budget gap and give citizens an opportunity to offer solutions, said Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican who serves as co-chairman of the committee.

The committee already has held meetings in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai, Palmer, Nome, Kodiak and Unalaska this year. It will head to Ketchikan on Friday and Sitka on Saturday.

The most consistent message Hawker said he's heard at the meetings is "the recognition amongst average working Alaskans that the fiscal issue is real and must be dealt with."

"I am finding that with the exception of a couple of pockets of folks that there is clearly the understanding that we can't balance the budget with cuts alone," he said.

With departmental consolidations, new revenues and $138 million in budget cuts, Alaska's debt this year came in at just under $400 million.

The money used to fill the gap comes from the state's savings account, the Constitutional Budget Reserve, which holds just under $1.9 billion. The reserve is made up of cash settlements from tax and royalty disputes with oil companies.

Counting the annual interest earned on the reserve account and other small royalty settlements, State Budget Director Cheryl Frasca projects the account could last until 2010.

Until then, the state must pursue further reductions in spending, increased taxes or new revenues through resource development.

Hawker will meet with Mayor Bruce Botelho and the Juneau Assembly, the Juneau School Board and the state and local chambers of commerce prior to the evening meeting.

He said the meetings have taken an informal tone. Attendees are invited to the table to speak with lawmakers.

"Every single meeting room is different and we've always had to accommodate what's available," Hawker said.

Hawker said he is working to hold a statewide teleconference sometime at the end of the month.

For more information, contact Paulyn Swanson, assistant to the Ways and Means Committee, at 465-6820.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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