What others say: No end in sight for Legislature

  • Wednesday, May 18, 2016 2:57pm
  • Opinion

Today is Day 121 of the Legislature’s regular session.

We don’t know when the Legislature will finish its work, but it won’t be today. It may not be this month, either. For Alaska’s sake, we hope it’s next month.

Earlier this session, we stated in this space that when the Legislature finishes doesn’t matter as much as the end result.

We still believe this, but time is running out quickly.

Alaska is now less than 45 days from a government shutdown. If the Legislature does not approve a budget in the next two weeks — and figure out how to pay for it — thousands of state employees will receive layoff notices, just as they did last year.

From where we stand, this seems likely to happen.

We again wait in anticipation.

Under the Alaska Constitution, the Legislature has 120 days to finish its work. A court decision translating the constitution made that deadline effectively 121 days.

Legislators have the ability to extend their regular session for 10 more days if two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate agree.

If they don’t agree, the governor has the ability to call them immediately into special session on an agenda of his choosing.

That agenda should have one result: The erasure of most of Alaska’s $4 billion budget deficit. Even if the deficit is not wholly erased in one year, the Legislature should put Alaska on a path to erase it within a matter of years, even if oil prices rebound only slightly.

Gov. Bill Walker has said he wants the Legislature to come up with a plan to solve the deficit by 2019. We agree with that goal.

As the governor has repeatedly said, the enemy in this situation is not the deficit itself — it is the uncertainty it brings. Until we know what new taxes the government will levy, or how much of our Permanent Fund Dividend will be sacrificed to balance the budget, we cannot adjust personal expectations.

We, as do companies, as do industries, live in uncertainty until the Legislature acts.

This choking smog of uncertainty suffocates the future.

Alaska has the resources to erase its deficit. Alaskans are, even now, the least-taxed people in the nation. Our Constitutional Budget Reserve bulges with $8.2 billion. The earnings reserve of the Alaska Permanent Fund has billions more.

We have the resources we need to solve this budgetary crisis.

Our Legislature must have the courage to use them.

— Juneau Empire, May 17

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