State fiscal plan needed

Alaska editorial

Posted: Monday, June 10, 2002

This editorial appeared in The (Kenai) Peninsula Clarion on June 7:

Rep. Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna, has proposed a novel solution for the Legislature's lack of action on a long-range fiscal plan for the state: Bring lawmakers back to work.

Lancaster has asked Gov. Tony Knowles to call a special session to deal exclusively with the state's financial health. He has asked that the session be at the Egan Center in Anchorage to provide for maximum citizen participation.

Despite it being an election year, Lancaster reasons lawmakers and the Knowles administration still have six-and-a-half months left to serve. Why shouldn't they accomplish what many, if not most, Alaskans agreed should be the No. 1 priority - putting the state on solid financial footing - when they were elected to office?

The bipartisan Fiscal Policy Caucus already has laid the foundation for such a plan; all lawmakers and the governor need to do is approve it.

Surely if legislators can return to Juneau to deal with reauthorizing the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, approving more money for a veterans initiative and trying once again to agree on a subsistence solution, they can find the will and the way to decide on a financial plan for Alaska.

Why should the burden be placed on the next Legislature and the administration?

Why should the Legislature stop working when it's work is undone? Lawmakers' terms don't end with the legislative session.

What business does the state - and elected officials - have that's more important than the financial health of Alaska?

Why should the Alaska Senate be able to keep this important work from moving forward?

Lancaster is right when he notes everything else revolves around a financial plan for the state. What business wants to locate here when the financial future is uncertain? How does the state ensure quality programs for public safety, for education, for roads when funding is an issue year after year?

The lack of a financial plan translates into a lack of vision for the state.

Without such a plan, the state has no road map for the future. Every decision the state makes should be made in the context of a long-range fiscal plan; lacking such a plan, the state has no focus.

It's been said before, but it bears repeating: Deferring repairs on the state's financial structure is like deferring maintenance on any building more time is only going to make the problems worse and more difficult to fix.

In the past three years or more of fairly steady discussion on the state's budget woes, there has been no striking new development that makes it wise for the state to wait.

In fact, procrastinating until a new crop of legislators and governor take office is likely to delay a resolution even more. After all, they will need time to learn the ropes and study the budget problems anew. By the following year, the state's revenue experts predict the Constitutional Budget Reserve, which the state has been using to balance its budget, will run dry.

Alaskans have been talking about the need for a long-range budget plan for more than a few days now. Do we really want to wait until the price of oil drops to under $13 a barrel (again) or the state's savings accounts are depleted before we're forced to do something?

Gov. Tony Knowles and the 22nd Alaska Legislature still have the opportunity to leave a legacy of a healthy financial future for Alaska. Should they have done the work in the normal 120-day legislative session? Yes. But the fact that they did not should not be an excuse to delay any longer. The state's financial problems have not gone away.

In order for a special session to accomplish anything, however, Alaska's senators need to recognize that their constituents want some action. They need to acknowledge Alaskans are willing to do their part, including paying taxes, to assure the state's financial health. They need to offer a broader solution than a constitutional limit on state spending.

If Alaska is going to move forward, lawmakers need to set a fiscally sound course for Alaska's future. Not next year, but now. Today.

As Rep. Lancaster wrote in his request to Gov. Knowles: "We still have time ... to do what is right for Alaska."

We couldn't agree more.

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