Alaska editorial: Legislature should be as time-efficient in 90 days as it was in one

Posted: Friday, July 06, 2007

The Alaska Legislature, eager to prove it could be efficient and cost-conscious while holding a special session more than 1,000 miles from the state capital, worked less than a day to agree to fund a program to take care of the state's low-income seniors.

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This they accomplished, according to The Associated Press, partly because they "didn't fret over ancillary issues."

What a concept.

While we appreciate the fact that, in a seven-hour period Tuesday, lawmakers focused on the work at hand, we'd be even more appreciative if they'd allow themselves fewer distractions during the 90 days they'll be in session next year.

Anyone can work steadily for seven hours, especially given a single task, when its outcome is clear from the get-go. (Did someone seriously think elected officials were going to tell that group of famously diehard voters, "Sorry, we've got nothing for you"?) We'd like to see that same dogged determination to deal with an issue applied to the regular session, when they're working on "our" time instead of what they think of as "theirs."

Many legislators complain they won't be able to get their work accomplished in only 90 days, the number mandated by voters.

The cynic inside every Alaskan says the less time politicians have to screw things up, the better. But the pragmatist knows that, even in the Last Frontier, government does have a role in our lives and that, for the most part, those who serve as lawmakers truly are trying to do some good for society. So let's assume they hope to do good during what time they have in session; to alleviate, and not create, problems for the citizens of Alaska.

We know more than most that having a hard deadline is an effective prod to getting things done. It also helps us realize that at some point, we have to do our best, call it good, and move on.

If legislators make it their practice to stop "fretting" about extraneous issues - like their own elections or potential court dates - during the regular session, they can get their job done in 90 days.

And they can do it without special sessions. Fewer long weekends, less grandstanding and partisan wrangling, less secrecy - all of those things would lead to more accomplishments in less time.

Ninety days, 120 days, whatever number: It's never going to be a long enough time to get done everything that could be done. That's true of life on earth; why wouldn't it be true of a legislative session?

What they need is not enough time to get everything done. They need just enough time to get done what must be done.

That would be doing plenty. We hope Tuesday's mercifully brief session shows they are figuring that out.

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