I’m an optimist by nature and a cynic by experience.
But this year, I’m optimistic the Alaska Legislature will finally take steps to put the state on a sustainable path; optimistic because after blowing through $13 billion of our savings in the last 4 years, there are only two years of funding left in the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR).
If lawmakers don’t deal with it this year, they’ll be left with even tougher decisions next year — an election year. So, for once, their instinct for political survival might play in our favor.
This is the year. Gov. Bill Walker knows it and lawmakers know it.
The good news is, after voters sent a lot of their colleagues home last fall, there appears to be renewed interest in working toward a solution.
The bad news? Lines in the sand are already being drawn.
In his State of the State address, Walker laid out his plan — again — which calls for a combination of moderate cuts, permanent fund earnings, reduction of PFD’s, and tax increases on the oil industry and Alaskans.
But in Juneau, it’s been easier to kill an idea than to compromise.
Some resist raising taxes on the industry for fear of stifling new production.
Others will accept nothing less than full permanent fund dividends.
Some reject income taxes.
Others want deeper budget cuts.
While still others fear deeper cuts will only send Alaska’s economy into a deeper dive.
There is growing consensus around the use of permanent fund earnings, either because lawmakers recognize that was the fund’s intent, or the earnings are all that’s left after the CBR is gone.
Walker has challenged lawmakers to accept his plan, or come up with one of their own.
Our elected representatives are going to have to stop telling us what they cannot accept, and start determining what they can — because Alaskans can live with an imperfect plan, but not without a plan.
The politics are tough, but the math is relatively easy. And lawmakers are out of time.
That’s why the optimist in me hopes they’ll get it done this session. And the cynic in me hopes the optimist is right for a change.
John’s opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of Denali Media or its employees.