When, exactly, should concerns about Alaska’s fiscal and economic future give way to fear? When the general fund fiscal shortfall hits $5 billion each year? When the failure of the Legislature to adopt a sustainable budget or address the fiscal situation reduces Alaska’s bond rating to junk status?
Most Alaskans increasingly identify with the statement of the Apollo 13 astronauts: “Houston, we have a problem.” But instead of being stranded deep in space with a failing return vehicle, Alaskans face declining government revenue, a budget perceived as unsustainable and an economy poised to tank.
The average citizen knows our state has a significant fiscal problem. Based on their conduct, the same cannot be said about the Legislature.
Alaska, we have a problem. But you wouldn’t know it from the lack of concerted action on the part of many of our state politicians.
The lack of genuine adult leadership in the Legislature has been painfully exposed by the failure to meaningfully address Alaska’s looming fiscal crisis. What was once “a problem” is now a crisis. The Legislature’s failure to adopt a budget for Alaska within 90 days (or even 120 days), reform gargantuan oil tax giveaways and pass meaningful taxation measures that would put Alaska on a sustainable fiscal footing is to blame.
Instead of dealing with the obvious threat to Alaska’s fiscal integrity and the possibility of causing catastrophic economic harm, the Legislature has fooled around with legislation pertaining to pot, daylight saving time, dallied with sex education matters and engaged in meaningless matters suggesting that Alaska has the right to overturn federal law. With the notable exception of passing a comprehensive criminal justice reform package, the Legislature has failed to conduct the business of our state in a responsible manner. To us, it seems clear that our Legislature is missing a sufficient number of adults and is failing to deal with the obvious issue.
Gov. Bill Walker and his administration don’t get a total pass here either. While Walker assembled a disparate package of measures that would have put Alaska’s public finances on a sustainable path, if enacted, the administration’s proposal was largely a lash up of ideas that were never integrated into an ascertainable package diligently presented to the Legislature or the public. The governor’s worthwhile proposals were scattered like seeds on untilled ground. Left untended, most of his ideas have languished or died.
Has Alaska really come to the point where our elected officials are unable to act in concert for the greater good? Is our Legislature so beholden to narrow interests that we cannot achieve a balanced and sustainable budget? Is the administration incapable of advancing and then working with the Legislature to provide for a sound fiscal future? Right now, these questions are unresolved, much as the issue of getting the astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission home was when that crisis hit.
Whether or not we have enough adult leadership in the Legislature and administration to adequately address our fiscal problem is very much an open question. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Alaska’s fiscal future doesn’t appear to be headed to an ending where everyone makes it home safely. After that sad event comes to pass, perhaps then, and only then, will the voters in our state elect enough adults to operate our government in a mature and measured manner.
— Juneau Empire Readers’ Council,
Empire Readers’ Council editorials are written by members Joe Geldhof, Abby Lowell, Tom Rutecki and Alex Wertheimer.