It was 50 minutes of oratorical mediocrity, but there have been worse in the history of State of the State Addresses.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker tonight stammered his way through his Address to the people of Alaska — not tipsy, but with that lazy elocution that Alaskans have come to know as the Walker Dialect.
In the content department, however, it was like Gertrude Stein arriving in Oakland: When you get there, she said,”there is no there there.”
Walker struggled to read the teleprompter, rushing through the text and skipping over words, and there were many to skip over.
He was his most animated and endearing when he broke free from the script and told the story of his teenage years and a harrowing winter drive from Delta to Valdez in a car that only had a reverse gear and only made it part of the way home before giving up that gear too. It was reminiscent of a Jay Hammond moment. The crowd didn’t go wild, but at least returned to a waking state.
The moral of his story, he said, is to learn from the past. Another wag in Juneau noted: “Don’t get into a car with Walker. He’ll take you backwards and then it will break down.”
In the end, there really wasn’t anything that stood out in what was ultimately a nothing-burger, hold-the-relish performance, except his admonishment to the Legislature: If you don’t like my fiscal solution, bring one of your own, he said. But don’t bring it unless it balances.
“Gravest Fiscal Crisis in State History” was the title of Walker’s speech, and he spent at least some time reviewing the seriousness of the problem, which has not changed much since last year, except the options are clearly closing.
State revenues are down more than 80 percent from four years ago, he said. During that period, he said he has cut the budget 44 percent.
“But we still face a $3 billion fiscal gap,” he said.
Walker didn’t mention the spending cap that the Senate has proposed, nor the $750 million in cuts the Senate has also offered as a three-year plan. But he acknowledged that Alaskans said they want their government cut.
We learned that Walker is still pursuing the income tax: “In this vein, I maintain my support for a modest income tax and other revenue bills I introduced last year,” he said. “If all of these measures passed, with Alaskans receiving a PFD each year, we would still be the lowest taxed individuals in the nation.
“Before reintroducing those bills, I plan to work with you in this body to chart a path forward,” Walker said.
The translation is that he’s going to count votes before introducing any more taxes under his own name.
The governor also did not talk about how to stimulate the private sector economy, although he cheered the news that there are oil finds on the North Slope that will help the state. He’d like to see more of them, at least.
He revisited his request that all Alaskans shop at farmer’s markets in their area, as that circulates millions of dollars through communities: “If every Alaskan spent just $5 a week on Alaska-grown products, that would translate into $188 million circulating through the Alaska economy annually,” Walker said.
The governor said he would not pursue projects that “don’t pencil out,” referring to the cancellation of the Juneau Access project and Knik Arm Crossing. He said the gasline project “will be financed by long-term purchase commitments from LNG buyers, not from the Permanent Fund. It will not be pursued at all costs. It will only be pursued if it has long-term customers.”
Walker spoke at length about the gasline project that he’s pursued most of his adult life, but did not mention the fact that the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation has just opened up a Tokyo office.
The best speaking of the night came in the prerecorded response from a casual and unrehearsed Senate President Pete Kelly of Fairbanks, who let it be known that the Senate’s proposed $750 million in budget cuts over three years and the proposed spending cap would be every bit as essential as looking at the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account. Kelly was articulate, spoke with conviction, and was, well, chill.
Importantly, Sen. Kelly focused on getting oil production ramped up, which implies he will not be friendly to any bills coming from the House of Representatives that further hobble an already struggling oil industry.