Comprehensive budget plan moves debate forward

  • Saturday, December 12, 2015 4:27pm
  • Opinion

This should give everyone something to talk about.

Gov. Bill Walker this week released his budget plan for the coming fiscal year, and the administration has followed through on its everything-is-on-the-table promise with an all-of-the-above fiscal plan that includes continued cuts, a plan to leverage Alaska Permanent Fund earnings, cuts to oil and gas tax credits, a mix of tax increases and — the item that might grab most Alaskans‚ attention — a state income tax.

Reaction to the governor’s proposal so far has run the gamut. There is enthusiastic support on one end of the spectrum, to a flat out “no way” on the other, with many falling somewhere in between.

The proposal is certain to generate plenty of debate when legislators return to Juneau in January. The state continues to face a multi-billion dollar deficit, and any one measure to reduce spending or increase revenue won’t balance the budget by itself.

The administration has spent the past several months selling this approach to Alaskans, with a conference in June and a series of presentations around the state outlining the state’s fiscal situation.

Now, Gov. Walker will need to sell his plan to state legislators, many of whom approach the governor’s proposals with a healthy skepticism, to say the least.

Moving forward, we hope all Alaskans — those making decisions, and those who will live with the consequences — remember two things.

First, there is no magic bullet to remedy the situation. Oil revenue used to account for about 90 percent of the state’s revenue. But the price of oil continues to drop, and a recovery is not expected for several years. In short, the state needs to act, and changes in how we generate revenue are essential for Alaska’s long-term economic health. A wait-and-see approach is not an option.

But the other thing to remember is that, with healthy savings accounts, we don’t need to panic.

That’s not to say we should drain our budget reserves waiting for a solution. That would simply be irresponsible.

It is to say that if some parts of the all-of-the-above budget proposal are left on the table this year, there is an opportunity to revisit that decision next year. We’re not in an everything-or-else scenario — yet.

We think that putting together a budget package, rather than handling proposals a la carte, is a good idea. Chances are many Alaskans will be more amenable to some ideas, less so to others. A comprehensive proposal, as the governor has put forward, is a the best way to proceed. And let’s be honest — proposing new taxes takes a certain amount of political courage.

Gov. Walker’s proposal lays a good framework to move the budget debate forward. We’re looking forward to that debate.

Of course, doing nothing will quickly put us in a position where we can no longer choose from a range of options, but for the time being, a measured approach and a thorough vetting of all budget proposals represents a reasonable course of action.

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