Two weeks ago, right before Valentine's Day, the Empire reported on the budget bills that were filed Feb. 11 in both the House and the Senate. The bills pretend to approve full funding of the state employee contracts, but then whack the departmental budgets by the amount needed to pay for them. Talk about bait and switch ... but that's not all!
Rep. Eldon Mulder, co-chair of House Finance, says this plan with its $14 million in "unallocated reductions" is only a starting point. He and his counterpart, Sen. Dave Donley, are pushing for deeper reductions.
Then last week we had U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski speaking to the Legislature, calling for a spending limit and reductions in state spending. Two days later there was Sen. Pete Kelly demanding that the governor institute a hiring freeze. And on Saturday John Coghill, chair of House State Affairs, threatened to hold up voting on proposals for new revenue sources until action is taken to restrain spending.
The message from these legislative leaders is clear: Rather than develop a sound fiscal plan that will work in the long run, they prefer to put their efforts into cutting and capping, freezing and faking, and ordering reductions which are quite painless so long as they remain unallocated - at least, by them.
The Mulder/Donley budget appears to honor the contract which the state signed with our union almost two years ago, but it would have several negative effects. It would pressure state agencies to reduce the workforce, and require the remaining employees to take on more responsibilities in order to maintain service levels.
It would punish the administration for making a fair deal with its employees. It would impact the surrounding community by reducing the number of paying jobs.
The largest state public employees union, ASEA, is now in the process of electing a new bargaining team to negotiate our next contract. It seems like only a few months ago that we held our organizing drive, took a strike vote, and rallied on the steps of our Alaskan capitol. I hope we won't have to go through all that again, but the recent behavior of the legislative leadership has not been very encouraging.
After the past two weeks it's anyone's guess what antics those legislators will be getting up to next. Whatever they do, they need to get serious about planning for the future. They need to come up with a balanced and workable fiscal plan. And they need to keep in mind that, as Sen. Murkowski observed, they cannot balance the budget "on the backs of state workers."
John P. Roxburgh
Southeast (Juneau) Representative
ASEA Executive Board