Alaska governor issues 10,000 layoff notices amid budget wrangling

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 01, 2015 7:37 PM

By Steve Quinn

JUNEAU, Alaska (Reuters) - Alaska Governor Bill Walker issued layoff notes on Monday to more than 10,000 state employees, serving notice of a partial government shutdown that would begin on July 1 unless state lawmakers can agree on a budget for the forthcoming fiscal year.

Alaska is facing a $3 billion budget shortfall, worsened by a global oil price plunge, and lawmakers have been fighting for more than four months over how to fund day-to-day operations.

"The amount of difference right now being argued in the legislature is really about 1 percent of the problem," said Walker, an Independent who last year defeated incumbent Republican Sean Parnell. "We want to focus on the 99 percent opportunity we have to solve this."

The state House and Senate have differed on how much they can cut without hurting services to the 750,000 residents.

If no agreement is reached, some 10,000 workers doing a range of jobs from communications to issuing permits and certain non-emergency road maintenance would be laid off temporarily, though some personnel could be recalled for emergencies, according to government statements.

The 11 marine highway ferries that serve Alaska's coastal communities, plus one Canadian and Washington state port, would also be out of service.

In April, the legislature approved a budget that would fund only certain government operations into the fall. Walker vetoed those sections, saying he wants a fully funded budget.

Major differences remain about how much to fund public education, the state's universities, and the marine highway system and restoring pay raises to state workers.

On Saturday, the House approved a $5 billion budget that reflects a compromise between the Republican-dominated majority and the Democratic-led minority.

Without a compromise, the minority caucus could hold up the House's ability to tap into a state savings account for $3 billion, which requires a three-quarters vote among the 40 members.

The Senate, however, did not sign off on the budget.

The Senate Finance Committee produced its own budget and has said it wants to create a conference committee for the two chambers to negotiate differences.

This prompted Walker to follow through on his pledge from two weeks ago of issuing layoff notes one month in advance to personnel not essential to "life, health and safety."

"We are contractually bound to do that and morally bound to do that," Walker said.

(Reporting by Steve Quinn in Juneau, Alaska; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Mohammad Zargham)