Craven. Desperate. Unnecessary.
Those are three words I would use to describe the latest attempt by the House and Senate Republican-led majorities to justify their actions. Senate President Kevin Meyer and House Speaker Mike Chenault have each penned commentaries in the past week trying to blame the House Independent Democratic Coalition for the budget dispute. Don't fall for it.
Alaskans know our coalition is standing strong for the priorities that Alaskans hold dear while supporting additional cuts to the budget. The House coalition has stood for funding of education, assistance to needy seniors, health care for the sick, and to keep our promises to working Alaskans.
Our coalition submitted amendments to the budget that would have reduced the deficit while still funding the priorities of Alaskans. We have presented solutions; unfortunately, every single one of these ideas were voted down by the majority. In fact, throughout the entire legislative session and subsequent special session the majority has locked us out of the process.
Here is the truth they don't want you to know: Democrats proposed a budget that was SMALLER than the one proposed by the Republican-led majority.
We support a lower-cost alternative to the outrageously overpriced new legislative building in downtown Anchorage. We support implementing Medicaid expansion and reform that would save the state $330 million over five years and bring new money into our economy. We support eliminating $20 million for the Bragaw Road extension, which is opposed by nine Anchorage community councils. We also proposed delaying, not eliminating, oil tax credits for one year resulting in over $200 million in savings.
We need to do this until Alaska gets its fiscal house in order.
Our overall proposed operating budget would have been approximately $115 million less than the current majority-supported operating budget of $4.05 billion. Yes, you read that right. With our priorities, adding back money for education, seniors, and honoring labor contracts, but implementing the aforementioned cuts, our operating budget would have been about $3.89 billion.
The majority leadership claims we are trying to spend more. That's not true. We want to cut different items and protect public education, jobs, children, and seniors -- things Alaskans value.
But they wouldn't listen to our ideas.
To get to a budget, those in the Republican-led majority should have done their job: Negotiated across party lines to produce a 100 percent funded budget. But they didn't. For the first time in history the Republican leadership sent a two-fifths funded budget to the governor. They failed to do their job.
Now a month later, they are trying to blame others and are grasping at accounting tricks to avoid having to address the concerns of Alaskans.
They are twisting themselves into pretzels to avoid working across party lines. And now I am hearing they have found a cynical ploy to avoid a three-fourths vote to tap the Constitutional Budget Reserve by moving money from the Alaska Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve. This puts future dividend checks at risk. But this maneuver would then allow the majority to access the CBR with a simple majority vote. This would then completely shut out the concerns that our caucus has raised and fought for, on behalf of everyday Alaskans. Is a one-party budget so important that they would risk the Permanent Fund dividend?
It isn't about winning or losing. It's about working together so we can have a budget we all can be proud of. The blame game isn't solving anything. When the speaker and the Senate president are compelled to desperately make their case, yet again, at the last minute, it tells me they know Alaskans aren't with them on these issues. Don't be fooled.
The people want to be heard and their wishes respected. We are committed to standing strong with Alaskans, and for a budget that reflects the people's values. As we work to confront the crises we are facing, Democratic leaders are fighting for you, for your rights, and for our Alaska way of life. We are on your side.
To my majority colleagues: Stop with the posturing. Come to the table. Negotiate. Do your jobs.
Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, is the minority leader of the Independent Democratic Coalition in the state House of Representatives. He has served in the House since 2009.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com
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