Columns 2017

That old refrain is getting very old

I may be mis-remembering this, but it seems to me that last year this time our esteemed legislators were singing the same song they sang this year after not accomplishing their most important task – passing a balanced budget. Yep, it was just last year this time after yet another special session that our questionable leaders explained to us that they simply did not have the time they needed to create a fiscal plan for Alaska’s future. They said that the one-year stopgap measure they passed would be just that, a one-year measure. This year, they promised, they would come back into session with the sole purpose of putting Alaska’s financial house in order with a sustainable and balanced budget.

Anyone who is surprised that they didn’t do that should immediately apply for home health care assistance because they clearly are not of sound enough mind to take care of themselves.

This year’s statements, pronounced as legislators tried vainly to sneak out of Juneau by mingling with the tourists, are the same as last year’s: Not enough time; too complicated to craft in such a short period; enough is in the reserves to carry us forward; the sky is not falling; the price of oil will soon be rising; Santa Claus surely won’t deny us the one present we requested two years in a row.

All those excuses are given to us year after year as far too many of those legislators supposedly representing us sit at the feet of Big Oil and obey their commands above all else. The fact that our savings accounts are limited and our schools and public services are slowly being starved to death seems of little to no consequence to these legislators so long as their overlords are pleased with them.

I must give the House credit here for actually coming up with a fiscal plan for the future and not just a stop gap measure to last one more year while we pray for a miracle in the price of oil. Whether you liked their plan or not, at least they had one. It raised revenue, closed the fiscal gap and funded education as though we all actually believed that an educated public was important to the state’s future health. The Senate came up with a plan that gave oil companies a whole lot of money, didn’t close the budget deficit, depended on spending from pots of money that were not renewable and, by their own admission, was only meant to bridge the gap through the coming fiscal year. They apparently plan to come back into session next year with the absolute goal of creating an actual fiscal plan to carry the state into the future. Hmm… haven’t we heard that line before? Oh, that’s right. It’s what they said they’d do last year when they also passed a one-year stopgap budget.

I’ve spent a lifetime paying taxes for schools I’ve never used or had children using. I’ve spent a lifetime paying taxes for runways I’ve never landed on, roads I’ve never driven on and bridges I’ve never crossed. And guess what? I still feel as though they all did more for me and the future of this state than the State Legislature that just adjourned without accomplishing the one thing they were sent to Juneau to do.

I find myself again wondering just how long most of us would last in our jobs if we conducted our business the way the legislature conducts the people’s business. Perhaps the greatest irony is that the incentive is right there to encourage them to go into extra sessions since they earn money for every day they dither and blather about our state’s dismal fiscal future without doing anything about it. By the time the special sessions are completed, these people have taken enough from the state’s coffers to cover the salary of more than a few teachers.

So I propose that we turn this dysfunctional system on its head. Instead of making money for each additional day they are in special session, I propose we make them pay us back a day in per diem for each extra day they are in session. Maybe hitting them in their wallets will finally wake them up to just how disgusted most Alaskans are with them at this point. If nothing else, the money they pay back to the state can go towards rehiring a few teachers. Quite frankly, that would be a much better use of those funds.