Columns 2015

Why can’t the legislature figure out how to adjourn on time

Once again Alaskans are being treated to the spectacle of a legislature unable to finish its business in the time allotted. This gives further credence to my theory that the reason Republicans are so hard on government employees is because they know that they themselves are some of the worse government employees imaginable.

Every year our legislators troop down to Juneau, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for the challenge of creating the needed laws and budgets to keep the state going another 12 months. And every year we are treated to the sight of three months of a lot of hot air blowing out of the capitol buildings followed by the steam that ensues when the legislature realizes that the end is near. Suddenly, everyone goes into overdrive.

Do you know of anyone working for government who could get away with that year after year after year? Picture a district attorney spending 11.9 months discussing how to proceed on a case and then trying to jam the work actually needed on the case into the last day before the court hearing. Isn’t that just what our legislature does every year to us? They complain that limiting the session to only 120 days has made it almost impossible to get anything done. Yet for most of those 120 days, what we hear from the legislature is that they have plenty of time before they have to make any final decisions. Then suddenly, much to their surprise and chagrin, the end of session is upon them and they are flummoxed by all that’s left to be done. They had no idea.

I know this year has been a tough one for them. After all, they are faced with a collapsed oil economy that, in turn, has threatened to collapse our economy. Suddenly they did not have enough money to feed the people who pay for their campaigns while also taking care of the citizens they purport to represent. Trying to fill that hole kept them so busy they had no time for other things, like passing Erin’s Law or creating the laws needed for marijuana sales in the state.

It’s that last one that puzzles me most. Given that Colorado collected so much in taxes over pot sales in the first year that they may have to return some of it, you’d think our legislators would have jumped on the chance to create a new revenue stream by making the bills needed for pot sale a priority. They could have been even more creative and designated a certain percentage of the tax revenues from the sale of pot to help out our beleaguered school system. Heck, if Alaskans use as much pot as I suspect they do, the pot industry could end up sending money to support the oil industry.  Now there’s something I’d definitely want to hang around to see.

Back to my point though, I find it hard to believe that the same group that constantly implies that every state employee is either extraneous, overpaid or lazy can’t get it’s own house in order to finish its work in the time allotted by Alaskans. It’s not as though the financial picture is going to dramatically change the day before the end of session. It’s not as though ideological opposites are suddenly going to come together and sing Kumbaya. It’s not as though if they wait long enough, suddenly everyone will love and agree with everyone else. So what are they waiting for?

If I was a cynic, I’d suggest that they want to make all the per diem they can and don’t want to leave anything on the table. If I were a cynic, I’d say they like being down in Juneau feeling oh so very important. Why go home when you’re having fun? Think about it. Their one biggest task is the state budget and here we are at the end of session and we still don’t have one.

It seems to me that adults who know what the tasks before them are should be able to set a schedule for completion of those tasks in the time allotted. Maybe the Legislature should look in the mirror the next time they want to complain about state employees who are overpaid and underworked. They might find that those employees are staring back at them.