What others say: Gov. Walker the one leading the Legislature

  • Monday, July 25, 2016 8:22pm
  • Opinion

There really is only one adult in the messy room of Alaska’s finances. It’s Gov. Bill Walker.

Gov. Walker came up with a plan to close this year’s estimated $3.1 billion budget deficit and to reduce the all-but-certain massive budget deficits of subsequent years. The governor, elected in 2014, has done — and continues to do — what all elected officials and candidates for office should do: Put what’s best for Alaska ahead of personal political future. Too many, probably most, of our elected officials and candidates are concerned only with remaining in office.

Gov. Walker demonstrated immense courage when he laid out his deficit-reduction package in December. It consisted of rolling back oil tax credits; making some budget reductions; increasing taxes on motor fuels, cigarettes, alcohol and several industries; imposing a personal income tax; and, most controversial of all, restructuring the Alaska Permanent Fund so as to make it a sustainable source of revenue for the operation of government. In doing so, the amount of the annual dividend to residents would be cut in half from what is expected this year, to $1,000 guaranteed for three years and then fluctuating after that.

That was the governor’s bold plan. And it was slowly shredded by the Legislature. In the end, Gov. Walker demonstrated further courage by acting alone to reduce the deficit, vetoing $1.29 billion from this year’s budget, including $666 million from the permanent fund, with the result being a reduction of this year’s dividend to $1,000 per qualified Alaskan. He also cut $400 million in oil tax credits, cut department budgets by $38 million, and eliminated $58 million in K-12 education spending and an additional $10 million from the University of Alaska. Those cuts only affect the new fiscal year, which started July 1.

It was a last-ditch effort to prompt the Legislature to act on a sustainable, longer-term fix. Instead, lawmakers dithered and did nothing.

How many times must we hear that nothing can get done on a major issue — this time it is the fiscal crisis — because it is an election year? So what? Legislators will tell you they have a tough job, but really it’s simply. They are supposed to solve Alaska’s problems and work to make Alaska a better place to live. That’s it.

Now, with the Legislature having closed up shop, Alaska is having to draw $3.1 billion from its declining savings accounts to balance this year’s budget. Estimates are that, without any action to fix the problem, Alaska’s savings accounts will be empty in two or three years. At that point, too, the dividend will also end.

“Do we have to go broke before we fix Alaska? I guess that’s my question to the Legislature,” the exasperated governor said at a June 1 news conference. Now we know, after several special sessions, that the answer from the Legislature is “Yes.”

To all legislators, Republicans and Democrat, we say this: What is your plan? And, if you do support the governor’s plan or something like it, will you give up trying to leverage that support to gain a concession on some other project or legislation?

The same questions can be asked of those who are running against the incumbents in this year’s elections. The too-few legislators who did support the governor could find themselves facing the age-old, knee-jerk, self-serving bumper-sticker battle cry from those election challengers: “Don’t raid the permanent fund!” and “Don’t touch my dividend!” The phony cries are nothing but the shouts of political opportunists.

It’s been a painful summer of inaction in Juneau. And we may all pay the price because of it.

At least we have a governor willing to risk his political future for the good of the state. Too bad we don’t have all 20 senators and 40 representatives willing to behave the same way.

—Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, July 24

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