House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said the Legislature earned a "fist pump in the air for everybody" for wrapping up its work over the weekend. But maybe a subtle thumbs-up would be more in order. Although lawmakers in Juneau managed to avoid any critical mistakes, they nevertheless made little progress in addressing a number of issues crucial to Alaska's future prosperity.
That dichotomy is encapsulated in the debate over the budget. On the bright side, hardworking Alaskans can rest easy that it will not include any tax increases.
That was not from lack of effort by Gov. Bill Walker's part. He proposed just about every tax increase under the sun — income, sales, motor fuel, jet fuel. Thankfully, the Legislature stood fast in opposition. The closest the governor came to a tax hike was when the House passed an income tax increase last year. The Senate's refusal to take it up was a big win for Alaskans.
But the failure to enact hard spending caps leaves all Alaskans dangling at the end of a threadbare fiscal rope.
Whatever you think about using the earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay state operating expenses — as lawmakers did this year — the long-term solution is to spend less on government. And the best way to ensure that happens is to impose statutory restrictions on the Legislature.
Without such a cap, the temptation to continuously up the percentage of Permanent Fund earnings used to pay for state government — rather than a dividend for individual Alaskans –– is almost guaranteed to be too much for politicians to resist.
The split this year is 37 percent for the dividend and 63 percent on government. Those are numbers to watch as we move forward.
Aside from taxes, another promising development was passage of occupational licensing reform.
The bipartisan legislation cuts the number of hours required to qualify as a professional hair braider from 1,650 to 35. It also removes some red tape for barbers who will no longer have to be tested on bleaching, dyeing or waving hair if they apply for a special license that doesn't allow those practices. The measure also blocks the state from rescinding the business licenses of owners who default on student loans.
Another bright spot from this session was the passage of legislation allowing distilleries to mix drinks before serving to customers. This is a common-sense solution to a problem created by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. With the worst unemployment rate in the nation, state government should be making it easier, not harder, for Alaskans to find jobs and start small businesses. Occupational licensing reforms chip away at the regulatory edifice that acts as a barrier to hope, growth and opportunity.
Jeremy Price is the Alaska state director of Americans for Prosperity.