The state’s budget crisis is getting the disaster treatment.
Gov. Bill Walker formed up a disaster response team for the possible July 1 government shutdown, he announced Thursday. The shutdown is 22 days away if the Legislature fails to pass a budget by then.
“We don’t have the luxury of sitting back and hoping nothing happens,” he said.
The incident command structure, the official name of the team, is essentially regular meetings for key folks on his cabinet to work out the mechanics of the looming shutdown. It’s also the sort of thing that’s put together to handle disasters and was recently put in place for the opioid epidemic.
He said there are a lot of unanswered questions the team will try to answer over the next few weeks. That includes whether or not it’s going to be open season on fishing and hunting or completely closed down.
The news comes amid a torrent of press releases from every state agency detailing the shutdown. It’s a fire hose of information and reporters are working to digest just what’s in them.
BREAKING: No pull tab sales under an Alaska government shutdown. #akleg
— James Brooks (@AK_OK) June 8, 2017
The Midnight Sun will have a collection of those press releases before too long.
As for legislative negotiations, Walker said he believes “discussions are ongoing” and said he remains hopeful something will happen. He said he doesn’t plan on issuing a disaster declaration at this time.
“We’re not trying to overreact, but the worst thing we could do is sit back and hope nothing happens,” he said.
Walker was somewhat vague on the timing needed to avert the shutdown. Typically the governor takes a few days or weeks to review the budget, decide on vetoes and sign the bill. He said the sooner the Legislature can get it to his desk, the better.
The looming shutdown this year is different from the one nearly reached in 2015. That year, the Legislature passed partial funding for the budget that would take the state through the summer and into the fall. Walker said state attorneys are working to see what money could be spent on vital services without a budget. He said things like life, health and safety will the be the priorities.
Back in the Legislature, the conference committee on the operating budget is set to meet tomorrow to continue to hammer out the budget. It’ll meet at 11:30 a.m. with public safety, revenue, judiciary, military and veterans affairs, and executive branch-wide appropriations on the agenda. It met today and made some minor progress on the budget.
After a week of will they or won’t they, the conference committee on oil and gas taxes, House Bill 111, is set to meet Friday at 9 a.m.