What others say: Despite veto, governor not to blame for state’s fiscal problems

  • Monday, September 26, 2016 9:00pm
  • Opinion

The announcement of the amount of this year’s Alaska Permanent Fund dividend amount — $1,022 — came with considerably less fanfare than most years. While the announcement is often treated with a similar level of anticipation to Christmas morning, the mystery this year was dispelled by Gov. Bill Walker’s veto that stripped roughly half the value of each dividend check in an effort to defray the state budget gap. Many were quick to voice their displeasure at the smaller check this year, most blaming the governor for the situation. But the truth is that the governor is one of the only elected lawmakers in Juneau who grasps the magnitude of the fiscal crisis facing the state. If Alaskans are unhappy about the situation, as many are, their outrage should be directed at those who have failed for two full years to make meaningful progress toward closing the gap.

It’s worth pointing out that the question of whether the governor has the authority to make the sort of veto he did in cutting the dividend disbursement amount. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, has filed a lawsuit claiming he doesn’t. The extent of the governor’s veto power with regard to the dividend is a worthy topic to probe, as it would give the state’s chief executive a particular power that has never been exercised until this year. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to separate the politics from the policy — while those suing the governor may claim to be motivated solely by maintaining the balance of powers in Alaska’s government, they’re also doing plenty to make political hay of their fight that would restore what would otherwise be the dividend’s full amount. And Alaskans’ anger over getting a check only half as large as the one they were expecting obscures the reason for the veto and the state’s position on the fiscal precipice.

Whether or not the governor is found to have had the authority to veto part of the dividend allocation, his move was not a cash grab for government but a last-ditch effort to get the Legislature to meaningfully address the state’s multibillion-dollar funding shortfall through revenue measures. That effort ultimately failed, though not through a lack of effort on the governor’s part. In issuing the veto, he attempted to remove the political consequences for the Legislature supporting a restructuring of permanent fund earnings, which would have resulted in a hit to dividends of a similar amount. Instead, the members of the Legislature, for a second consecutive year, took no substantive action on new revenue for the state. They got bogged down in partisan politics, with majority Republicans insisting on more cuts despite not making those cuts in their own budget and minority Democrats crying foul on oil tax credits. This was a political diversion from an unpleasant fiscal reality: Even if each caucus controlled all the seats of the Legislature, the Republican-led majority couldn’t cut its way to a balanced budget, nor could Democrats reduce tax credits by enough to close the gap.

The permanent fund and the revenue it generates were envisioned as a way to help the state after oil wealth could no longer provide for services. We have reached that point, and those who don’t acknowledge it are denying reality. The governor’s action may not have been popular — everyone can think of meaningful ways that another $1,000 would help ease their own budget issues. But we’re well past the point of being able to have our cake and eat it, too — and Gov. Walker shouldn’t be shamed for acknowledging that reality.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sept. 25, 2016

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