Columns 2017

Fantastical thinking… budget category

I’ve always wondered how Republicans can call themselves the party of fiscal conservatism when faced with the stark reality that the federal debt goes up under Republican presidents and down under Democratic presidents. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

And now here we are faced with the same dilemma in Alaska. The Republican majority in the Senate crafts a budget that does not balance the budget; that calls for unspecified cuts in state government that they are too chicken to actually name; that depends on what can only be called voodoo economic reasoning; that relies on pots of money that may or may not actually be there; and yet they still have the nerve to call themselves the party of fiscal responsibility.

There are other columnists and reporters in this paper who can explain the intricacies of this process much better than I can. But given that I have a reasonable amount of intelligence and managed to get through life without major debt, I have to think that if the budget proposed by the Senate had even a tangential outreach to reality, I would be able to grasp its basics. But I can’t because it doesn’t. The budget being proposed by the Senate seems to be a “gentleman’s agreement” between certain senators and their bosses in the extraction industry. It is based on doing absolutely nothing towards making their bosses feel any pain as Alaskans watch jobs disappear, income plunge and life become suddenly a lot scarier.

The House coalition, on the other hand, has actually looked at real numbers that real people can understand and drawn the inevitable conclusion that we are about to go broke and need new revenue sources to keep the lights on. Unlike the Senate and the State Chamber of Commerce, the House coalition is not depending on Tinkerbelle spreading fairy dust on the oil industry thus causing the price of a barrel of oil to suddenly double.

I think what many Alaskans find most frustrating is that we have told our legislators in poll after poll that we understand the free ride is over and we need to start participating in the financial health of our state in order to maintain services we all want our government to provide. Despite this, the Senate continues to harp on bloated government without targeting even one program for elimination – well, except for the Pioneer Home in the Valley and we all know how fast they ran from that debacle. This task of cutting programs is one they prefer to leave up to the governor because, and I’m just speculating here, they are frightened that if they actually name programs (see Pioneer Home above) to be cut, the only thing that will actually be cut is their job in the next election.

It took a decent amount of political courage for the House coalition to vote on creating a state income tax. Not exactly a story for Profiles in Courage, but nonetheless a level of courage that is sadly absent from politics in today’s age of focus groups and lobbyist drafted legislation.

There will be screams and cries that the sky is going to fall in if we actually continue down this path and institute an income tax. There will again be calls for government to be cut because it is bloated. Interestingly, when asked where this bloat is, people are always happy to point out a program that helps someone else. But the programs that help them never make the list. They are apparently not bloat. They are necessary government functions.

So the next person who states that we need to cut government more should be required to follow that statement with exactly what programs they believe should be cut to wipe out the deficit and how doing so will not hurt Alaskans. And remember, we are talking a deficit in the billions so you’ll have to use a hatchet, not a scalpel.

Meanwhile, whether you agree with the idea of an income tax or not, can we at least get a round of applause for a group of politicians who actually have shown some real courage in a world where it is sorely lacking?

And if you have any doubt as to how much fantastical thinking went into the Senate version of the budget, try budgeting your household based on the theory of money you don’t yet have coming from sources you can’t quite put your finger on. After you’ve done that, we’ll meet at Bean’s Café for the only meal left that you will be able to afford to discuss how well that budget worked.