In the end, sanity won out. With nine days to spare before a state government shutdown that would have thrown Alaska into economic chaos, legislators from the House and Senate sat down together and worked out a sensible compromise on the state budget.
Alaskans’ sense of relief at state services continuing uninterrupted was tempered by the (accurate) sentiment that such a deal could have and should have taken place long before now. But what’s most important is that the budget is done, and the Legislature should move immediately to deal with an overdue long-term solution to the state’s fiscal crisis.
It was the kind of compromise those watching the Legislature most closely hoped would come in April. Neither side got exactly what it wanted — the bipartisan coalition caucus leading the House secured stable funding for K-12 education and a substantial but not dire cut to the University of Alaska (at $317 million, the final funding number hit close to the midpoint between the House’s $325 million and the Senate’s $303 million). But the Republican-led Senate majority caucus got some of its priorities, too — a $1,100 dividend that reduced the draw on state savings, for instance.
Ultimately, nothing was gained by letting political gamesmanship by House and Senate leaders bring the state to the brink of catastrophe, a lesson all legislators should internalize for future negotiations.
Regardless of points of view on budget priorities, what all Alaskans should be able to agree on is that the Legislature’s work is far from done. Because the squabbling over the budget went on so long, the Legislature has not dealt with a long-term fix to address the multibillion-dollar fiscal gap.
This year, for the first time in the more than two years, the House and Senate held meaningful debates about several partial solutions to the deficit, including a restructuring of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings, state income tax and tweaks to the state’s system of oil taxes and credits. Legislators shouldn’t abandon that work and kick the can down the road until they reconvene in January, during an election year. The time for solutions is now, and members of the Legislature have just demonstrated they can knuckle down and compromise when the state’s welfare is on the line
The best time for that work to be done is immediately; Gov. Bill Walker thinks so, too, as evidenced by his addition of House Bill 111 to the second special session call immediately after the Legislature passed the budget. If legislators are able to continue their good work unabated, they should do so. If, for whatever reason, they are not able to meaningfully address the fiscal crisis during the current session, they should call themselves back into a third special session and take up the matter as promptly as is possible
The budget compromise shows there’s reason to hope functional governance and fiscal leadership is still possible in Juneau. Let’s keep that train rolling and deal with the other crucial pieces of putting Alaska on a more stable fiscal track.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,