Gov. Bill Walker visited Homer Thursday. Walker was in town for an campaign fundraiser Thursday evening, but he also met with public officials and gave a speech during a Homer Rotary Club meeting in the afternoon.
Walker highlighted the end of the legislative session, and noted some of the roughly 130 bills passed this year, namely Senate Bill 26. The bill will allow the state to draw from the Permanent Fund Earnings reserve to pay for both dividends and government.
“I can say that we have made that turn. We made it before we ran out of money,” Walker told southern Kenai Peninsula residents. “We did it in such a way that it doesn’t fix everything, but it does fix of the $3.7 billion deficit I inherited, we removed that down to a $700 million hole.”
Walker has pushed for revenue options on top of restructuring the Permanent Fund in the past, but when asked after his speech if the state still needed additional revenue, he took a wait-and-see approach.
“Perhaps, let’s see what happens with the price of oil. If the price of oil comes up and stays where it is, maybe we’ll be ok for a while,” Walker said. “We’ve been about 80 to 90 percent dependent on oil. Now, that’s come down significantly as a result of Senate Bill 26. It doesn’t completely resolve us on that. The oil fluctuation certainly could fill that gap at this point. We won’t know that until next year.”
Walker also met with both Homer City Manager Katie Koester and Mayor Bryan Zak. Walker said he toured Homer’s harbor during his meeting as both Zak and Koester explained the city’s plan to expand the harbor for larger vessels. He said while the state may not be able to provide direct financial help, the state would advocate for federal funding to help move the project forward.
Walker also highlighted his upcoming trade mission to China both during and after his speech. Walker and state officials will acompany 35 companies – ranging from seafood buyers to baby food and Alaskan breweries – to the country in hopes of boosting trade.
Walker also said the state has been working with China-based airliner Hainan Airlines and others to bring back direct flights between Alaska and China. Walker hopes those flights would help bring more of the roughly 100,000 Chinese citizens that leave the country for vacation each year to Alaska.
“It’s moved beyond preliminary. We’ve been talking quite a while about this,” he explained. “I don’t have a hard deadline when, but I will probably have that when I get back to find out what kind of timeline to make that happen.”
Walker also said that his administration and the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation will likely meet with gas line partners while on the trade mission, but he wouldn’t say if any major developments would come out of the trip.
Walker attended a campaign fundraiser later Thursday evening before flying back to Juneau.