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Alaska House Finance Committee Unveils 'Understanding Alaska's Economy' Website

Special Cmte on Fiscal Policy project hopes to spark a dialogue with Alaskans

Wednesday, July 18, 2012, Eagle River, Alaska – A new website went live today to help legislators have a dialogue with Alaskans about how the state makes and invests revenues. The House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy contracted with a local consulting firm to create the site – alaskabudget.com along with other peripherals.

“This site, which is visually stunning and straight-forward, is another effort to simplify the state’s finances to help Alaskans understand some of the decisions we make and will have to make in the future,” Chair Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, said. “I hope people take the time to click around some of the tabs, watch the video and get engaged in how their state invests their money.”

The site has tabs on a variety of financial aspects, like spending, saving, revenue and the forecasted “fiscal gap,” plus a library to help Alaskans do research, a glossary of common terms, and more. “Last month the Fiscal Policy Committee met to walk through the materials Information Insights designed for this website and we are very impressed and pleased with the work they did,” Fairclough said. “The site is easy to navigate and I hope people bookmark it. We’ll be continually wrestling with spending decisions, uncertain world economies and markets. This will be a valuable tool. The whiteboard video itself is a fantastic piece that I’ll be sure and use in meetings with my community going forward.”

Information Insights was the lead contractor who built the site and all materials for the Committee, after an open bid process led by Rep. Fairclough’s office through funds from the House Finance Committee. Agnew::Beck assisted Information Insights.

“We’ve evolved from having internal discussions, committee meetings and presentations, to outreach,” Fairclough said. “We’re in the cat-bird seat, financially, now, but with throughput this week under 400,000 barrels, and with a volatile oil price, we need to prepare people for the likelihood of lower revenue. That means also preparing to handle the challenges before we reach a crisis – that’s what this is meant for.”

Cady Lister, a senior consultant with Information Insights, said the firm reached out to a number of state agencies, including the Department of Revenue, the (Governor’s) Office of Management and Budget, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, and most significantly the Legislative Finance Division. Lister said the agencies provided their time and data to help prepare the materials.

“The state budget often appears complex, and when discussed publicly, the process sounds confusing. However, the fundamentals of Alaska’s fiscal structure are actually quite simple,” Lister said. “State revenue comes primarily from oil and gas which will likely decline in the future. When this happens, unless something changes, expenses will exceed revenue and Alaska will face a fiscal gap. Solutions to avoid a lengthy fiscal gap require planning for the future. Now is the time for Alaskans to have a forward thinking discussion about our future. Currently, we have adequate revenue to fund state government and there is money in the bank. Alaskans have the opportunity to identify solutions before a fiscal emergency hits.”

 

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