Alaska editorial: Let's take stock of the recent legislative session

Posted: Friday, May 25, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Peninsula Clarion:

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Well, they did it. The Legislature managed to push through the big-ticket items before the clock struck midnight Wednesday - barely.

Most importantly, they passed the $1.7 billion capital budget - give or take a few dozen amendments. At least it passed without having to extend the session.

The budget will provide funding for education, revenue sharing, retirement assistance and capital projects around the state, including many on the Kenai Peninsula.

We understand that when it comes to the state's money, everything is political. What we don't understand is why we continue to go through the same scenario year after year, especially where education is concerned. Pink slips are handed out, pending the decision in Juneau, which has school district teachers and staff sitting on pins and needles for months. Yet, every year the Legislature approves funding assistance - well, every year so far.

While we're grateful to get the money and keep what people and programs we can, the 800-pound gorilla is still in the room. Lawmakers failed to deliver a permanent fix to the central problem - the foundation formula that determines how funds are distributed to public schools, which would have helped level the playing field for districts like ours.

Instead, they provided still another one-year appropriation. The dollars are welcome, but the problems remain.

Now, what about that PERS/TRS issue? No effective solution there, either. It's got its own one-year Band-Aid.

Reinstating revenue sharing in communities? Again, another one-year fix.

There's definitely a developing pattern here. Have politics clouded our legislators' vision so much they can't see beyond a year?

Perhaps everyone is treading lightly because of the Veco scandal.

At least everyone agreed on the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. AGIA lays out the framework for how companies will compete for a contract to build a natural gas line from the North Slope to the rest of the country.

What a change from former Gov. Frank Murkowski's efforts to push his version of a bill through. Gov. Sarah Palin fared much better with her approach. Both houses basically approved the bill last week, but there were a couple of little differences to mull over before it could get an official thumbs-up on Wednesday.

Under the "head-scratching" category was the bill to prevent oil companies from taking tax credits for facility repairs caused by improper facility maintenance. The bill sat in the House Finance Committee for nearly a week. The Senate passed it unanimously, but the House voted against bringing it to a full floor vote along party lines, and so it must sit in committee until the next session.

With so much apparent activity - and so little actually accomplished - in Juneau this year, it begs us to ask: How in the heck are we going to address all the leftovers, plus all the new business in 90 days next year?

We suggest our legislators do more homework out of class and come back fully prepared to solve problems.

What a nice change that would be.

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