The Red Pen Challenge

Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On the last day of the legislative session, the Alaska Legislature passed the capital budget. Its largess rivaled any other capital budget in the history of the State of Alaska. Some said lawmakers were being good stewards. Others likened the passage of the bill to irresponsible spending. What is clear is that in Alaska, where the Permanent Fund Dividend is sacred and a proposal to tax the people to pay for public services might be cause for a revolt, members of the Legislature are not rewarded for exercising fiscal restraint, especially in an election year. Did the system fail or did it produce the results it was designed to produce?

There is a balance of power in the Alaska political process. The governor has a right to veto those appropriations he feels are inappropriate or excessive. The governor, unlike the Legislature, is not accountable to a small group of constituents from a specific district. The governor can provide the leadership necessary to protect both present and future generations. The governor can examine each appropriation with an eye to the benefit it will provide to the people of Alaska. The governor can examine each appropriation with an eye to the increased maintenance burden placed on this and future generations. The governor can examine each appropriation with an eye to understanding that perhaps saving in years of plenty is a logical choice to meet the needs of those years when there will be budget shortfalls. Perhaps the governor can provide the balance and leadership that was not available in the legislative process.

But this is an election year. Will election year politics affect the governor's decisions? Will the governor calculate the number of votes lost by every line item veto? Will the other gubernatorial candidates cherry-pick the line item vetoes they think were wrong in an effort to gain advantage over the governor in the election? Will good decision making by the governor be sidelined in an effort to get reelected?

In light of the pressures of election year politics on good decision making, I have a proposal to make that should balance the field between the candidates and should provide a snapshot of how each gubernatorial candidate would lead the State over the next four years.

I call this proposal The Red Pen Challenge.

I propose that every candidate for governor review the capital budget and identify those items they would veto and submit them to the people of Alaska at the same time the Governor submits his signed capital budget bill, with appropriate vetoes if any, to the people of Alaska.

Rules of the Challenge

1)The governor agrees, in advance, to the date and time he will make public his decision on the capital budget.

2) Each candidate will submit their proposed capital budget to the public on the same date prior to the governor's submittal to the public.

3) Governors Rules apply - Each candidate will be required to provide the public with a copy of the budget with the specific "vetoed" items lined out and initialed, just like the Governor is required to do.

4) All newspapers will be encouraged to post on their website all responses so the Alaska public can compare the "decisions" of each of the participating candidates and add this information to their overall evaluation of who they want to support for governor.

I believe the above proposal will provide the appropriate scrutiny that was not applied during the legislative process to each and every appropriation in the capital budget.

Since the capital budget has not been transmitted to the governor, there is still plenty of time for each of the candidates to comply with the above challenge. They will have the same amount of time to review and analyze the budget as the governor has.

• Steve Porter is a lawyer, consultant to the Alaskan Legislature and the former Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Revenue.

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