JUNEAU, Alaska — "Every Alaska governor spins the oil price wheel," joked the current governor, Bill Walker, during an interview in his office last month.
When predecessor Sarah Palin was in office, the wheel came up to $144.59 — the high price set by North Slope crude oil in July 2008, and the inspiration for Palin's chant during that year's presidential campaign: "Drill, baby, drill!"
Walker, an Independent, has not been so fortunate.
The price had already dropped to around $74 a barrel when he took office at the end of 2014. By this past Jan. 20, it plunged to a painfully low $26.23, according to the Alaska Department of Revenue. The price has rebounded a bit since then, but not nearly enough to get Walker — and the state — out of the mess in which they find themselves.
The Alaskan legislative session, which was scheduled to wrap up Sunday, has gone into overtime, with no end in sight. Walker and state lawmakers are trying to close a staggering $4.1 billion budget gap. To put that in perspective, total state spending last fiscal year was less than $14 billion.