Anchorage, AK – The Alaska Chamber supports House legislative efforts to curtail increased spending as the State grapples with a dramatic budget shortfall. House Bill 379 – a bill that checks automatic pay raises when oil revenues are low. It is a meaningful step in controlling automatic increases to an already unsustainable operating budget.
Alaskan’s have responded with hope that the State might now be willing to control costs while continuing to pursue cuts and alternative revenues.
Hal Ingalls, a long-time Chamber member and president of Denali Drilling expressed relief when the bill was introduced. “I’ve already laid off half my employees and all these people talk about is new taxes. If they can’t cut the budget, at least they won’t be passing out raises while my people are out of work.”
Chamber president and CEO Curtis Thayer said that automatic step increases were part of his testimony opposing proposed new taxes. Thayer said, “This is a good bill; a courageous bill. If public and privately employed Alaskans are truly going to work together toward a government that Alaska can afford, we can’t be giving raises to one group and pink slips to the other.”
Thayer’s testimony on House Bill 249 – an omnibus bill proposing steep increases to taxes on motor fuel and the fishing and mining industries – resonated with legislators. The proposed new taxes do not come close to covering the cost of automatic pay increases.
Alaska’s business community is looking to Juneau with a cautious sense of renewed optimism. Still, after two years with no meaningful change to unsustainable spending, employers like Ingalls remain guarded.
“I’ve gone to Juneau for years telling [legislators] to privatize services, to get rid of buildings they don’t need and can’t afford to maintain, to quit buying equipment they don’t use. If the State wants to give raises, they can cut some of their other expenses. I don’t have enough employees left to tax.”
The Chamber hopes that HB 379 is the first of many steps that lawmakers take toward controlling spiraling cost. “The budget is like a run-away train,” Thayer said. “We have to slow it down before we can hope to restructure it. HB 379 isn’t a cut, it is a pay freeze. We applaud the legislators that are trying to reign in unnecessary spending.”