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Empire editorial: Gubernatorial candidates can't fix the fiscal crisis

Posted: Sunday, October 06, 2002

All candidates vying for the state's top job have grappled with the $64,000 question: "How will you solve the state's fiscal crisis?"

The question must be asked; however, it is naive to expect a detailed or short answer to such an enormous question. At least one major media outlet up north has gotten downright indignant in criticizing the two most prominent candidates, Fran Ulmer and Frank Murkowski, for not providing specifics.

Both candidates have sketched out "visionary" plans describing in broad terms their approach to moving the state forward into economic prosperity.

There are significant differences between the two candidates' general ideology on how to make this happen.

In a very superficial overview, Ulmer and her running mate, Ernie Hall, place closing the fiscal gap as their top priority. Ulmer has issued a broad generalized plan that hints at a preference for an income tax but leaves all possibilities open.

Murkowski and his lieutenant, Loren Leman, would invest in infrastructure and resource development while reining in government spending to get the state moving forward.

The state's fiscal dilemma is real, and it is long past the time when it should have been effectively addressed.

But the underlying question is, "Should Alaskans expect our gubernatorial candidates to come up with detailed, comprehensive solutions to an extremely complex and contentious problem within the context of intensely competitive gubernatorial race?"

Can we expect either Ulmer or Murkowski to do what 60 legislators working full time on the problem over the past session could not accomplish? In reality the issue has been studied and debated for years.

No other state in the union deals with economic variables as complex and volatile as Alaska's.

The bottom line is that Alaska has the wealth to pay for the cost of running its government. But to make this happen will require hard choices, compromise and cooperation.

Don't expect either candidate to touch the sacrosanct permanent fund during this campaign. And who could blame them for shying away from taking a hard line on taxation when those who have dared to tread there before them have been smitten mightily? During an election campaign, voters generally hear what they want to hear.

In this campaign, the first goal for each candidate is to win the contest. The real work on closing the fiscal gap starts after the new governor is sworn in.

Neither candidate possesses the power to resolve the state's fiscal crisis without a lot of help.

That help will come from new staff in the executive office working collaboratively with the new Legislature under the watchful eye of the media and the electorate. The Legislature will, in fact, play a larger role than the governor in hammering out the details contained in the solutions. It is quite likely that the electorate also will be involved in the process before the plan is carved in stone.

The new administration and new Legislature will face monumental challenges from the outset just in learning the lay of the land, making transitional changes, sorting out leadership roles, and reforming committees and working relationships.

Regardless of who takes the top spot, there must be a better working relationship between the Legislature and the administration than we've seen over the past eight years.

Between now and Nov. 5 voters will be forming their choice for the next governor of Alaska based on whose vision for the future most resembles their own. Details to follow.

Remember, today is the last day to register to vote. It only takes a few minutes to register. See details elsewhere in this newspaper.

Don Smith

dssmith@juneauempire.com

586-1428



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