On of the popular definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
And then there’s the Alaska Legislature.
After a year and a half of debate and discussion on the need to change the way the state funds government, lawmakers appear to be no closer to coming up with a solution to address the state’s fiscal gap. The operating budget passed by the Legislature on Tuesday certainly includes many spending compromises, but as Pat Pitney, Gov. Bill Walker’s budget director, noted, it barely moves the dial, leaving the state with a $3.3 billion deficit.
What the legislature has yet to do any heavy lifting on is a plan to cover the deficit with something other than savings. Gov. Walker has put forward a number of budget proposals that include use of the permanent fund earnings reserve and new or increased taxes. Lawmakers also have their own proposals to consider which would employ similar mechanisms to fund government.
Unfortunately, there does not appear to be support in the current Legislature to enact any of those measures, leading Gov. Walker to ask at a Wednesday press conference whether the state needed to go broke before lawmakers would fix the problem. According to the Associated Press, Gov. Walker could not yet say if he would call another special session should the Legislature fail to come up with a revenue plan, but made clear that he expects action.
“When I say we need to get the job done this year, I mean we need to get the job done this year,” he said.
Quite frankly, that job may be better left to the next Legislature. This one clearly doesn’t want to do it, and a half-hearted solution won’t suffice.
Between the time the current Legislature adjourns — whenever that may be — and the next Legislature convenes in January 2017, Alaska voters will be headed to the polls, first for the primary election on Aug. 16 and then the general election on Nov. 8. A number of lawmakers already have said they will not seek re-election, and we suspect that with the current lack of progress in Juneau, voters may not be so inclined to keep other incumbents in office. Regardless of what measures the Legislature passes, the state’s fiscal situation — and a plan to address it — will be a centerpiece of every candidate’s campaign.
We hate to see the state burn through its savings for another year while we wait for a solution.
But perhaps we’ll be better off if there’s people in office who actually want to find one.