While there may have been a momentary sigh of relief as the governor and Legislature closed out the seventh special session since 2015, they still failed to implement any sort of long-term fiscal solutions to get our economy back on track. This lack of leadership means continued economic uncertainty for Alaska families and small businesses and keeps our economy moving in the wrong direction.
Yes, there have been budget cuts, but not enough to right-size the government. Make no mistake about it, our elected officials are facing a series of difficult decisions. It's tough to cut a budget and even tougher to reach agreement on additional sources of revenue. Even worse, however, the last several years of handwringing have proven that without clearing those two hurdles, making long-term investments is off the table. In other words, we will inevitably end up right back where we started because we failed to prevent it from happening again.
If the governor and Legislature don't take the lead by investing in Alaska's future, then why should others? Our leaders should be demonstrating that strategic investments have value here in Alaska. We can't expect others to see our state as a place of opportunity and growth if we aren't making investments that reflect those values.
I applaud the Bipartisan Coalition in the State House as they tried to bring forward a long-term budget plan, but the Republican-controlled Senate opted for a short-term life support option rather than long-term planning and protection.
If we see our leaders matching hard-working families' sacrifices, then I believe Alaskans will be ready and willing to do their part to fill the fiscal gap — if there still is one. However, as long as the Legislature continues to operate in a time warp where they pit one group against another, like oil companies vs. hard-working Alaskans, you can bet that the public will remain skeptical at best. There are common-sense, balanced solutions that will allow Alaska businesses and families to thrive simultaneously, but someone has to be willing to put them on the table and fight for results. I believe the path for progress is there, but it is up to us to pave the way and believe in the future.
It can be tough to remain optimistic in times like these. The negative news and noise coming from Washington, D.C., seems to have bled right into Juneau. From raucous town halls to pending government shutdowns and special sessions, changing the status quo can seem impossible. The Alaska I know never settles for second-best and thrives on tough challenges. We know life is different here and we are willing to put in the work to preserve that way of life.
Alaskans have the character and the ingenuity to solve any problem, but we need a vision. I have seen Alaska through highs and lows and I know without a doubt that our best days are ahead of us. The question is, how long are we going to have to wait to turn the tide?
Mark Begich is a former Alaska U.S. Senator and former mayor of Anchorage.
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