An un-special session

Posted: Sunday, June 27, 2004

It was a week at the Capitol like any other this year, with no one showing any resolve to reach a consensus that works for Alaska. As with the regular session before it, this week's special session found lawmakers riding high oil prices toward the November election without asking voters to decide whether to tap the Alaska Permanent Fund to close a chronic revenue gap.

It also saw a governor who already had made plain his desire to close the gap - and been rebuffed - repeat the futility.

Some $75,000 and untold travel costs later, the special session generated a cigarette tax increase that could have been decided during the regular session. In that sense the session could be said to have paid for itself, but that was hardly the point. We must ask who has the will and the leadership to tackle a long-term fiscal policy. And we must hope that the election will help determine that, so that when lawmakers return for the next session they'll mean business.

Some caution on the part of individual lawmakers is understandable. Alaskans have a unique asset in the permanent fund and its yearly dividends, and many consider it a birthright rather than a tool for the state's future. Many voters have made clear that no meddling with the fund is acceptable to them. But as a body, the Legislature has a duty to find a way for a state with money to pay its bills. This week it was asked only to advance a plan and let voters convey whether the majority considers the fund a sacred cow or a tool.

On Friday, the governor bristled at suggestions that he called the special session without doing his homework or lobbying enough legislators effectively. He said that legislators - even those in the majority of his own party - declined to act. He said that the session's "dead cat" did not belong on his doorstep.

It is true that legislators had the chance to act where they had failed in the regular session, and instead treated the special session charade as a photo opportunity for campaign ads. But the governor also should ask himself why his own party is not ready to follow him. It's an important riddle for him to answer by year's end if next year is to be different.

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