This editorial appeared in Sunday's (Kenai) Peninsula Clarion:
Legislators and others who wonder why the public isn't more involved with the political process and who debate the reasons for public apathy need only look as far as legislative actions this past week.
After some debate, the Alaska Legislature agreed to ask Congress to allow Alaska and other states to spend less money on programs like welfare and drug and alcohol treatment. The measure, sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee, seeks a two-year moratorium on federal requirements that mandate states maintain a certain level of spending on some programs that receive federal funds.
The reasoning apparently is that many states are struggling with budget shortfalls as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
There's no doubt about that, but Alaska certainly was struggling with a budget shortfall long before Sept. 11. Certainly the state has far less money to fund homeland security issues created by the terrorists attacks as well as everything else but to tie the state's budget woes to the terrorist crisis is bogus at best.
But here's the worst of it.
Before the measure was passed, it looked like members of the House were prepared to stand up to the Senate's silliness. On Wednesday, they voted to strip all the original language from the resolution and send it back to the Senate, requesting the Senate first act on a long-range fiscal plan for the state, as the House already has done. It was a responsible, reasonable request.
Unfortunately, the House reversed its action the next day, with some members saying they didn't want to hurt relations with the Senate. In other words, they feared for their legislation. As co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, has the power to affect other legislators' priorities. The Associated Press reported Donley's aides were checking to see which way House members voted.
Sounds like blackmail to us. It should not be how the system works. Powerful committee chairs should not be able to intimidate, threaten and, ultimately, control what legislation passes and what doesn't. There is no way that results in what is best for Alaska and Alaskans.
It does, however, provide powerful arguments in favor of term limits, a unicameral legislature, an overhaul of the legislative committee structure and the elimination of political parties all together.
It is absolutely mind-boggling that those who have been in the Alaska Senate the longest and have the most power seem to be the most unwilling to take action to get the state out its fiscal crisis. It's on their watch that Alaska became mired in this nearly $1-billion hole, yet they apparently take no responsibility for the state's fiscal crisis.
Instead, they would rather take easy, short-term steps that do nothing to close the budget gap, but allow senators to tell the folks back home that they didn't raise taxes and they protected the permanent fund. And, in the case of the request to Congress, the savings targets those least likely to have high-priced lobbyists in their corner namely, the poor.
Not to mention, as Rep. Andrew Halcro, R-Anchorage, pointed out, the Legislature's request to Congress is simply embarrassing: "I'm sure some of the folks in D.C. are going to get this and say, 'Hey, I have an idea. Can't pay your bills? Stop sending out free money.' "
He's right. For Alaska to seek such help from Congress is like a millionaire seeking food stamps to feed his children because he doesn't want to spend his investments.
Alaskans should be disgusted. Legislators should be ashamed.
It appears part of the capital, namely the Senate, has already been moved. What planet are those folks on, anyway? It's certainly out of the range of reality.
Alaska to Senate, come in please.
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