Budget woes highlight the need for a long-term plan

  • Saturday, April 18, 2015 6:40pm
  • Opinion

While there is the possibility of a special session, the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn today. The main focus of the session has been the budget as lawmakers face a deficit in the billions of dollars.

The cuts proposed by lawmakers to the operating and capital spending plans are going to be felt by all Alaskans, one way or another.

Our question is this: Now that we’ve had a few time to digest the severity of the crisis, what are we going to do to ensure we don’t do this to ourselves again?

Because, while the plunge in the price of oil is the culprit for the current budget shortfall, we as Alaskans have insisted on putting all of our eggs in that basket — and refused to plan for the volatility the oil market is subject to.

We’ve been through this before, yet we refuse to learn from it.

Instead, the state essentially lives paycheck to paycheck, budget to budget, with little thought given to long-term fiscal planning.

Yes, there are state reserve accounts, but as the current situation has shown, they are not always adequate to address serious issues.

There have been solutions offered, such as a state personal income tax or a percent of market value plan to use some of the earning s from the Alaska Permanent Fund. But there is little political will and, it seems, less public support for considering other options.

Why does it matter? Why should we change? What’s wrong with cutting when the budget is tight, and spending more when revenues increase?

Quite frankly, it’s an irresponsible way to govern. Alaska, a state with tremendous public wealth, is most prosperous when government spending is consistent. Take road repairs. When crews are able to get out and fill pot holes and cracks every spring, the road lasts a little longer. Let that annual maintenance go, and after a few seasons, instead patching a few spots, we’re faced with resurfacing the entire roadway.

Think about the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Biologists have been studying issues with king salmon returns, but those studies require several years of data collection. With funding for research on the chopping block, scientists will have to start over if and when additional funding becomes available.

Think about public schools. It takes 13 years to educate a student, from kindergarten through high school. Mix in a couple of years with cuts to key programs, and there’s a high probability that many students are going to be left behind.

Look at any facet of government, and you will find that cuts can be more costly in the long run than the money they save in the short term.

So again, we ask, what’s the plan?

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