Voices of Alaska: Legislators must reach fiscal fix this session

  • By Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott
  • Wednesday, March 15, 2017 11:54am
  • OpinionOpinion

As we reach the halfway point of the 2017 legislative session, we wish to share some thoughts about this critical time that represents a truly defining moment in our state’s history. What we do or fail to do over the next few months will send ripples through the lives of Alaskans for generations.

Alaska faces new realities and unfamiliar struggles. Navigating the uncomfortable concepts needed to overcome these challenges has pushed each of us to question what we really need or want from our government. After two years of public outreach and input, this difficult debate now rests with our legislators.

Both the House and Senate have taken this seriously and filed legislation that, if passed, would begin to address this historic challenge. We therefore applaud both chambers for showing the courage to engage in these discussions. We are also pleased that things are progressing well, and we see no reason why this work cannot be completed within the regular 90 day legislative session. Compromise is certainly still required, and we have stated all along that these plans should be considered written in pencil—but the time is rapidly approaching to break out some ink.

As we work toward a solution, we will evaluate all plans against two main criteria. The first is math: does it add up; are the assumptions associated with it valid; and can it realistically eliminate the entire deficit in a reasonable period of time? The second criterion is vision: do the mechanics of the plan remove uncertainty from our economy; will it preserve the quality of life Alaskans deserve; and does it have a long-term view that will put us back on a path to prosperity?

It is essential that both math and vision be considered together as we move forward. Otherwise the easiest, most non-controversial math will gain traction at the expense of a severely tarnished vision. We must remain vigilant against such tendencies. Our children deserve better. We therefore encourage all participants to avoid the path of least resistance and to embrace the tough decisions required to reach a truly meaningful solution. One needs only look at the legislation we proposed last year to know what we consider to be an example of a fair and balanced approach.

There are those who say we cannot solve our entire fiscal problem this year; that there are too many difficult lifts to do at once; or that implementation should be spread out to minimize impacts on the economy. While these may be reasonable concerns, there is simply no perfect solution. Continued delay results in even worse consequences. Without a comprehensive solution this year, we will see the recession deepen, state investments dry up, a further out-migration of Alaska’s best and brightest, and short-sighted decisions like shifting state expenditures to our local communities who are far less equipped to handle them.

Partial solutions only extend the runway; they do not allow us to actually take off. It means continuing to rush down a runway at high speed for a longer time, but with no plan for how to clear the trees when we finally get to the end. And even if we got off the ground at the very last minute, the more time spent on the runway means less fuel to reach our ultimate destination – a bright future.

Alaska has shining potential. If we can only get this fiscal challenge behind us, we can immediately devote all our attention to priorities like building a strong economy with safe and vibrant communities; ensuring healthy families; and pursuing responsible resource development. It is all within reach—if we solve the crisis. We must first fix Alaska to build Alaska. We just need to balance our checkbook, and then we can get to work on what’s really important.

History is waiting. Posterity is watching. We have a sacred responsibility to honor both. So please let your legislators know that you support them as they do the difficult job we were all sent here to do. Tell them it is okay to make the tough decisions and that we need to tackle it all. Most importantly, be sure to let them know it all has to happen this year.

Bill Walker is the governor of Alaska. Byron Mallott is the lieutenant governor of Alaska.

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