State has no more room for choices when it comes to budget

  • Thursday, December 29, 2016 3:47pm
  • Opinion

Gov. Bill Walker in his proposed budget plan identified a number of ares where state spending can be cut.

Now comes the hard part: actually making those cuts happen.

On Tuesday, the Alaska State Employees Association filed a grievance in response to Gov. Walker’s proposal to downsize Department of Transportation and Public Facilities staff and outsource most of the agencies design work. The union claims plans to privatize union member positions must first have a feasibility study or opportunity for the union to submit alternate proposals.

“It’s only fair to our members and it’s part of the contract that there be some justification if they’re going to privatize jobs,” ASEA Executive Director Jim Duncan told The Associated Press.

While we appreciate the work of Alaska’s public employees, quite frankly, we are well past the point where cuts have to be “fair.” And if outsourcing design work to the private sector will save the state money, what more justification do we need?

The fact of the matter is that the state’s fiscal situation is ugly. Even if the Legislature enacts everything the governor has proposed — including using Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to help pay for state government — Gov. Walker’s proposal still includes an $890 million gap. And there are lawmakers who already are proposing to make the Permanent Fund dividend program a constitutional right, while pay raises for public employees became a sticking point during the Legislature’s budget negotiations in 2015.

In other words, though there is a lot of talk about cutting state spending, the political will to follow through has been lacking. Gov. Walker attempted to take one for the team last summer in his veto of about half of the allocation to pay out this year’s dividends, but the action did not inspire enough lawmakers to follow through on restructuring the way in which Permanent Fund earnings are used.

Whether a new mix of lawmakers in Juneau, including a new majority coalition in the House of Representatives, can come to a consensus remains to be seen. Whatever action lawmakers take, there are no easy cuts left to make.

When faced with revenues that don’t cover expenses, the business community is forced to cut costs. Just look at the number of oil industry layoffs over the past two years, and the ripple effect they have throughout the rest of the economy.

Had lawmakers been able to effectively shrink the budget gap over the same time period, perhaps deeper cuts would not be needed now. But the fact is they didn’t, and some of that pressure came from the same public employees who are now complaining about proposed cuts.

It’s time to face facts: the state is all but out of savings. If the state can find efficiencies to provide essential services, it no longer has the option of not taking them.

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