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Sen. Wielechowski: Majority's proposed budget cuts against Alaskan values

There's an old saying, "Don't tell me what your values are. Show me what your budget is and I'll tell you what your values are." With a $3.5 billion state deficit, times are tight and significant cuts are in order. Unfortunately, the current budget proposal by the Republican state Senate has its priorities all wrong.

For starters, it fails to cut the pork. And by pork, I literally mean pork -- as in the budget contains over $2 million for a meat slaughterhouse that has lost state money for 29 of the last 30 years.

Or consider the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. -- a great organization with a mission I support completely. In this time of deficits though, can we really afford nine executives there whose salaries and benefits exceed $225,000? Is it necessary for its CEO and his deputy to make over $400,000?

Compare this with our troopers, correction officers, clerks, secretaries, janitors and other state employees whose salaries for next year were cut, literally without notice, and only after public testimony had closed. The majority didn't dare touch the CEO's $411,000 wages and benefits, but instead cut the custodian making $13.62 per hour. They're asking the people who sweep our floors and pick up our garbage to take a little less, but don't touch the guy in the corner office making nearly half a million per year. Wrong priorities.

How about oil tax credits? Under next year's proposed budget, we will pay out $400 million more in oil tax credits than we receive in oil taxes. And lots of those credits go for oil the oil companies told us they'd produce years ago. Or refinery tax credits -- another massive giveaway that has us paying out up to $150 million in tax credits to refiners in Alaska over the next 5 years. For what? At least one Outside multinational refiner said they didn't need it and never even asked for it.

The majority then rejected $145 million in federal funds for Medicaid expansion. Recent polls suggest 65 percent of Alaskans support expansion, which would actually save the state millions more. In the last nine years, I can remember exactly one time federal funds were rejected. Gov. Palin vetoed federal funds -- and the Legislature promptly called itself into special session and overrode her. Is now the time to start rejecting federal funds, which make up $3.25 billion -- approximately 44 percent -- of our current budget?

And what about education? Again, at the last minute and after public testimony closed, education suffered another massive $47.5 million cut. Senate Democrats ran amendments to restore that funding by having the oil companies take a short delay in receiving their tax credits. Rejected.

All in all, Senate Democrats made amendments to cut over $760 million in corporate subsidies and bloated state executive salaries. All rejected. As were our attempts to restore senior benefits, domestic violence programs and public safety funding.

This budget has the wrong priorities. It chooses Outside billionaire oil company executives over Alaska kids and schools. An Outside multinational refiner over the poor, sick and elderly. Millionaire state executives over hardworking middle-class Alaskans. A slaughterhouse over public safety and domestic violence prevention.

The Republican Senate cut pre-K, K-12, university funding, poor people, sick people -- anyone who couldn't afford to hire a lobbyist. I've heard over and over, "everything's on the table," "the situation is severe," "we've got to cut everywhere." Everything, that is, unless you are a rich Outside corporation making a mint off Alaska's resources. Not one penny from them.

We've got school children holding bake sales for their education, but we can't cut the oil tax credits. We've got hundreds of teachers facing layoffs and increased classroom sizes, but we couldn't possibly delay the payment of 3.9 percent of credits to the oil industry.

Thousands of Alaskans are now speaking out. They are outraged. They should be. This budget does not reflect Alaskan priorities. Instead of supporting rich Outside corporations and millionaire state executives, let's scrap this budget. We can be fiscally responsible and make cuts without leaving our neighbors, children, elders and working families out in the cold. That is not the solution. That is not the Alaskan way. We can and must do better.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, a Democrat, represents East Anchorage and JBER. He was first elected in 2006.

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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