Governor should trim office's budget request

Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2004

I f Gov. Frank Murkowski really is considering a budget increase for his office while the Legislature is eyeing 10-percent cuts in many - if not most - state agencies, he's sending the wrong message during these lean economic times.

How in the world can the governor justify an additional $1.5 million in general fund spending for his office and its 76 employees for the coming fiscal year when he and the Legislature have so recently considered tapping into the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve and that most sacred of cows, the Alaska Permanent Fund?

Last month's Conference of Alaskans, held in Fairbanks, was designed to bring a diverse group of state leaders to the table to help find answers to serious economic woes. If the Legislature is being forced to look at cuts in education and other essential services, it makes no sense that the governor would seek what amounts to a budget that is 21.9 percent larger than last year's.

The increase the governor seeks is defended by his chief of staff as necessary largely because of increased employer costs. But that begs the question, "What makes the governor's office any different than the state's departments of Health and Social Services, Natural Resources or so many others in which some 200 jobs have been targeted for elimination?"

The state's other agencies and services evidently have higher employer and operating costs, hence the need for the drastic cuts that are being proposed. Rather than seek additional money for his office, the governor should offer to take the first hit or two relative to tightening the budgetary belt. If not, otherwise meaningful exercises such as the Conference of Alaskans are no less than political posturing.

The governor needs to rethink his approach to any budget increase for his office. With what other state agencies are being asked to trim, he should easily be able to forego the extra revenues he seeks. Doing so would send the right message to others.

If the governor manages to increase his own budget while asking others to get by on less, his actions will be construed purely as political and not at all as practical. That's not the kind of message the governor needs to send when all Alaskans could, potentially, be facing new taxes - perhaps an income tax among them - to help narrow the budget gap. It's time for the governor to be smart, not selfish.

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