Columns 2017

Deja-vu all over again

It’s deja vu all over again. Our Alaska legislature did not finish their business on schedule. They didn’t finish in the ninety days the citizens of Alaska voted for. They didn’t finish in the 120 days the constitution allows. And I’m going to venture a guess that they won’t finish during one special session. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Christmas doesn’t find them still holed up in Juneau afraid to come back and face their constituents.

I don’t know why we just don’t admit that we no longer have a part time legislature. Let them stay in Juneau year round since that’s what they seem to like doing. Then we won’t ever feel intensely frustrated again by their inability to do their job on schedule. We’ll never hear the words special session again. We’ll never again be flabbergasted as the leadership announces they are stunned at how fast the end of session arrived.

Remember last year after the legislature finally left Juneau having not solved our fiscal crisis? Remember how they almost emptied various state savings accounts in order to come up with some sort of balanced budget? Remember how they said this year would be different because they’d almost be out of savings and would have to focus all their time and energy on coming up with a solid fiscal solution to our looming deficit? Remember that? Ah, good times.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that we may hear repeats of all that blather when they finally leave Juneau this year. I simply don’t see this legislature as having enough grown ups to actually do what is best for this state. That would take true statesmen and we no longer seem to have any of them.

Just about every credible economist has made it clear that short of a miracle rise in the price of a barrel of oil, the only solution to the deficit is a state income tax and capping the PFD checks some seem to take as a god given right. Poll after poll shows that the majority of Alaskans support this approach. Those same polls also show that most Alaskans have a rather negative view of the money we gift to the oil companies each year.

Realistically, if there is oil here and it’s marketable, then the oil companies will be here extracting it. Sadly, while the dunderheads in DC continue to gut environmental regulations so that America can continue to depend on dirty energy, most of the rest of the world is rapidly moving towards renewable energy sources. For goodness sakes, even China is ahead of us in this area. How embarrassing is that? All of which would seem to indicate that subsidies to oil companies in this state may begin to look like we are propping up an industry whose time is starting to pass; maybe not in the next decade, but soon, much sooner than we want to imagine.

So we end up with a House coalition that listened to the experts and developed a balanced budget without emptying out every savings account the state possesses. The Senate, on the other hand, seems intent on emptying those accounts even though that means that next year we will be facing the same predicament only we’ll have no savings to fall back on. And, oh yeah, the Senate plan doesn’t actually close the deficit.

What the Senate budget does do is gut our schools to the point of lunacy. We constantly tell our children that they are our future. We tell them they need to get an education in order to participate in our economy and make a good life for themselves. We tell them we want them to stay in Alaska to make that life. Nice words. Too bad they aren’t backed up by any action on the Senate side. Instead, the Senate proposes to pretty much cripple education in this state. You can understand why our kids may not feel we really mean it when we say they are critical to the future.

I don’t know what the result will be when this year’s session ends. But the fact that we’ve reached the same point this year as we were at last year, still looking for a way to avoid being adults while praying for another oil price boom, does not bode well for Alaska’s future.

Hear that sound? It’s the sound of our young people leaving the state to go to a place where they are appreciated with more than just empty words.