The governor’s budget has attracted a lot press lately, some town halls and much discussion among Alaskans. People seem to forget that the governor’s budget is the product of the last four years of the Walker administration’s failures, including a $1.6 billion deficit.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy inherited a state government that was responsible for stunning failures. Alaska ranked 51st in fourth-grade reading and writing skills, 50th in public safety, 50th in economic growth and 50th in job opportunities, to name a few categories in the U.S. News and World Report’s index of the status of the states and Washington, D.C. Senate Bill 91 produced a crime wave and opioid abuse on a scale that has affected too many in Alaska. A massive failure in education and the family has been steadily increasing in magnitude in Bush Alaska, resulting in a high percentage of those ages 17-34 being ineligible for military service due to education and criminal records disqualifications.
Mike Dunleavy inherited a state government with massive overspending and abuse. For example, the state Medicaid program spends millions of dollars each year on transporting Bush residents to medical appointments in the major cities. What is the reason that this cost is not borne by the regional Native corporations, some of which are worth billions? Let them subsidize their constituents’ transportation costs.
Further, this part of the population largely votes for Democrats. Yet despite having 44 million acres of resource-rich lands to develop to provide for a future, they fight continually against such development and expect more support from government.
We have seen the enemy and they are us, the cartoon character Pogo used to say.
Those criticizing the governor’s budget ignore the violations of our Statehood Compact by the federal government that have removed from access or development an additional 110 million acres under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, thereby denying rational surface transportation infrastructure development and resource development to provide for money to meet the needs of the state. Not to mention the egregious impact upon sovereignty with the dismissal with prejudice by former Gov. Tony Knowles of the state’s challenge to the Katie John decision.
Even President Donald Trump violated our Statehood Compact, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s blessing, by reducing the state’s share of any future royalties from Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas development by 40 percent.
Those criticizing the governor’s budget ignore the fact of the growing deficit budgets that had become the norm with the massive revenues from oil production.
Further, those criticizing the budget ignore the fact that since the oil lease sales of the early 1970s, the Legislature and the governors have refused any constraints upon spending in order to provide the plebes their circus without anything to show for the grotesque budgets that kept growing without restraint. The die was cast for any crash of oil prices, given the steady drop in oil production over the years.
Gov. Dunleavy’s response to this runaway budget train was to attempt to throw the brakes on to slow the growing deficit by offering a balanced budget – spend no more than the amount of revenues taken in. This is the same any responsible citizen would do for themselves in managing their spending versus revenues.
Gov. Dunleavy did nothing more than make an opening gambit in a game of chess. The House and Senate must now respond to the governor’s opening move. Do they continue to spend the state into insolvency, or do they negotiate a reasonable compromise? Will Gov. Dunleavy hold the line and use the veto?
The House writes the checks, not the governor. However, the governor does have a line-item veto. The governor has shown his “hand” in his balanced budget. It is now incumbent upon the Legislature to find a way to deal with the governor’s opening move, or to ignore it.
Where the Walker administration chose to pursue policies that harmed Alaskans, drove out industry and reduced investment in Alaska, Gov. Dunleavy has chosen to challenge the Legislature, to return the PFD funds to Alaskans, and to show this administration’s intent to give fiscal stability to encourage investment in Alaska, meaning jobs, opportunity and growth, not failure across the board.
We need to support our governor and to realize that if he fails to halt the unreasonable growth in government, Alaska will be a failed state, economically and otherwise, into the future.
Larry Wood is a 64-year Alaskan living on Lazy Mountain outside of Palmer.
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