Alaska is noisy right now. Radio ads, television commercials, mailers and social media videos from candidates asking Alaskans for their votes bombard us daily. Most legislative candidates claim solving the state’s budget crisis will be their top priority, if elected. Few provide much detail. It doesn’t have to be that way.
A new website offers all Alaskans, including political candidates, the opportunity to make revenue and spending choices to address the projected $1.3 billion dollar shortfall in the State of Alaska’s fiscal year 2022 budget.
The interactive website was developed by Commonwealth North’s Fiscal Policy Study Group. Our nonpartisan group has worked tirelessly since May to flesh out the most likely options for balancing the state’s budget. During that tedious process, a dozen work groups and more than 60 diverse Alaskans closely examined spending and revenue choices. Because the state budget is complex and multifaceted, the web tool focuses on undesignated general fund spending and programs that most rely on those funds. In other words, the areas where legislators can choose to spend money.
The website, which is the only one of its kind in Alaska that we know of, works like this: Visitors read basic descriptions of different budget categories, and choose what actions to take. They can cut spending, add new revenue, increase current taxes, and any combination of the above. As they make choices, the website updates the budget gap in real time. For example, when a hypothetical user chooses to implement a new tax, the site shows how much revenue would be raised and how large a gap remains. The site is meant to give Alaskans a holistic look at what balancing the budget looks like, and how large and serious the challenge is.
Perhaps to the dismay of some candidates, there is no reason they cannot visit the site and make their proposed choices public. In fact, we encourage them to do so. And we encourage voters to ask candidates to “show them the money” by producing their completed budget plan.
The exercise is not just for legislative candidates. All Alaskans can visit the site and have their say, which empowers citizens to provide input to elected officials as they prepare for a grueling session in Juneau. We urge Alaskans to roll up their sleeves and struggle with the same choices and trade-offs the administration and Legislature will face in 2021. Make your voice heard and spending priorities known. Even better, be an informed citizen. Our elected leaders take feedback and criticism much more seriously when we demonstrate an understanding of the challenge and have done the hard work ourselves.
Ultimately, Commonwealth North will collect responses from Alaskans, and share them with legislators and the administration.
To be clear, our intent is not to hold up a single budget solution, but rather to engage Alaskans so they have a better understanding of the difficult choices all of face in the next year. We invite Alaskans to be part of the process now as the debate heats up.
The CWN budget website is www.akbudget.com.
Cheryl Frasca is a former director of the State Office of Management and Budget, and former director of the Office of Management and Budget, Municipality of Anchorage.
Eric Wohlforth is an attorney, and former Trustee with the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. He served as the commissioner of the State Department of Revenue in the early 1970s.
Commonwealth North (CWN) is a nonpartisan public policy forum focused on illuminating Alaska’s most critical issues. The organization’s mission is to educate Alaskans on significant public policy issues and assist in identifying effective solutions.
• By Cheryl Frasca and Eric Wohlforth