We find it absolutely appalling that the Alaska Senate Majority has taken the constitutionally mandated budget process so lightly.
The only item that must be passed during the legislative session is the operating budget, so the state government can continue to function and not shut down. Instead, almost all the senators left Juneau within a day after the special session was called. Only technical sessions (where no legislative business is conducted and no attendance is taken) were scheduled until May 30. This the day before state employee pink slips are sent out advising them of their 30-day notice that they, as a state employee, are going to be laid off July 1.
If this is the way the Senate Majority conducts business, these people need to be replaced.
In contrast, the House of Representatives met all last week until Friday and resumed on Monday.
When the Senate bipartisan coalition existed, $16 billion was put into the Alaska state savings account. The Republican majority came into power and has spent all but $3.5 billion, with no plan in sight of new revenue. The excuse is that experts have said all corrections should not be done at one time; but this is the third year we have been deficit spending. When will they step up to the plate, make the tough decisions, and come up with a definitve plan to directly address the financial shortfall?
Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, says they are “kicking the can down the road,” hoping for the best. Meantime, pink slips are going out. Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, takes it lightly, calling it “collateral demage.” Doesn’t he understand that peoples’ jobs and families depend on their paycheck?
The deficit in the state budget this year is around $3 billion. Deep cuts have already been made in education, public health, etc. There is $288 million in the Statutory Budget Reserve. Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Anchorage, zeroed out the account and has proposed giving the entire amount of $288 million to the oil companies for the credits they have accrued but do not have to be paid now. Meanwhile, funding to education and other necessary state services has been cut down past the bone.
“Process” is another issue. When the Omnibus Crime Bill came back to the Senate from the House, Sen. MacKinnon made a big deal that the changes made in the House of Representatives needed to go through the “process” of committee debate with a ‘no’ vote on concurrence. However, when the income tax bill, with a $750 million fiscal note, came across from the House, the same Senate Finance Committee co-chair MacKinnon had it waived out of the committee in a ‘no’ vote on concurrence and put directly on the Senate floor for a vote. There was no “process” for a committee vetting the bill. With such a large fiscal note attached to the bill, it is unconscionable that it would bypass the finance committee. We can understand the finance co-chairs did not want to take public testimony, because when the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee took statewide public testimony on the income tax bill, the tally of public testimony was 61 in favor, 41 opposed, and 5 conditional.
This is the third year in a row that the Senate Majority has brought us to the brink of financial disaster. This year appears to be destined for a full state government shutdown.
The end result is that the Senate Majority will spend all the money in the saving accounts and limit the Permanent Fund Dividend to $1,000, then use the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve to pay for state government services.
It is valid and crucial: The Senate Majority needs to be replaced.
• Paul D. Beran and Willie Anderson reside in Juneau. Other signatures on the letter, in agreement with the authors, are: Philis Beran, Dan Corson, Judy Gustafson, Marsha Buck, Roger Birk, Mindy Birk, Chuck Orsborn, Meagan Hinton, Nancy David, Jeff Sauer, Dean D. Rasmusson, Rebecca Peterson and Virgil Fredenberg.