In my Chair’s Corner, I usually provide original, timely information pertinent to the Tongass Democrats, the Alaska Democratic Party and other progressive subjects of interest to our readers.
Today I want to share with you a clarifying message from Alaska’s Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage). Thank you Senator Gardner for allowing me to use your words to share the progressive view of Alaska’s budget and fiscal plan struggle.
Berta Black Gardner, June 17 at 11:49am·
I’m not surprised that at day 151 of the 2017 legislature, my inbox is stuffed with messages from Alaskans asking what is going on, asking for a budget, asking for a fiscal plan, decrying income taxes, cuts to education, etc. Here is the essence of my response to folks.
Thank you for writing to me. I think I can assure you definitively that no one wants a state shutdown and the conflict is really about more than a budget. It is about a fiscal plan which allows for future reasonable budgets. Here in very broad strokes are the factors:
Spending: There are different visions about the kind of state we want to live in. Some would cut services until we are “living within our means” in what I think of as a mean state. We see that translated into inadequate funding for the Pioneer Homes, in cuts to services for those with disabilities, in unsafe caseloads for child protection workers, in dramatic cuts to education and our university system, in loss of state troopers etc. Others insist on retaining these quality of life functions at adequate levels.
Revenue: Some believe we should live off state savings accounts, draining the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) and using the Earnings Reserve of the Permanent Fund (ERA) which will reduce dividends. Others believe that we need to also have new revenue coming from some combination of an appropriate share of oil profits, and income tax or sales tax.
While there are variations, generally the Republicans want to reduce government services and use savings to sustain ourselves. They argue that the state has a lot of money (Permanent Fund?) and does not need to take money from individual Alaskans or from industry. The problem with this option is that it hurts low income folks disproportionately, sustains and deepens the recession, and inhibits investment.
Generally the Democrats want to retain services (especially education), protect the dividend because it is crucial to so many people, and are willing to help support state government through payment of taxes…just as every other state in the nation does. We recognize that the ERA has a role in funding government but we support its use only as part of a balanced plan.
What looks like brinkmanship is actually this struggle and the concern that we have had the same fight for 3 years now. It is well beyond time to have a real fiscal plan, reducing our reliance of the price of oil, and giving us a stable revenue stream to support state services and capital budgets to meet our needs, without which we are inevitably in the same painful struggle next year, and the next, and the next….with fewer options each time.
Thank you, Senator Gardner, for your leadership and guidance in this budget debate.
See also Nathaniel Herz’s Alaska Dispatch News article “What’s the hold up? The Alaska Legislature budget standoff explained” for more detailed information.
So the Alaska legislature is now in its second special session with a call to focus ONLY on the operating budget to avoid a government shutdown. It appears there will be no opportunity for the Alaska Legislature to vote on a fiscal plan this year. The Republican led Senate majority has once again kicked the can down the road, thinking Alaska can continue to operate on savings only—the status quo with no fiscal plan.
Please continue to contact your legislators. Thank the House Majority Coalition for standing strong in supporting a broad-based revenue stream, protecting the integrity of the Permanent Fund, educating Alaska’s students, and supporting those less fortunate through its fair and sustainable budget proposal.
Let the Republican Senate majority know Alaska can no longer live off savings alone. The math just doesn’t work. With their supposed “vision,” Alaska will be bankrupt in no time. Ask them to stand up and do their job to not only pass a 2018-19 operating budget, but to also pass a fair and sustainable fiscal plan.
Until next week…. Or really I should say “Until next time…” since I can’t seem to get my blog entries done on a weekly basis!
Chair, Tongass Democrats