Planning for the future is hard, but it is necessary. Whether you own a business, teach in a classroom or are a parent – you know the responsibility, you know the burden of future planning. If you make plans too rigid, you may not be flexible enough to handle what can lie ahead. Make them too casual, and risk the whole plan collapsing without structure. This issue came up often while I was campaigning with the governor last fall, and even then he was consistent on three things: We must live within our means, we must reduce spending to meet our current revenue, and we must give Alaskans their statutory share of the state-owned oil and mineral wealth — in other words, a full Permanent Fund dividend. Gov. Mike Dunleavy is one of the few elected officials who is keeping his word to Alaskans.
My time as a former presiding officer and finance chair in the state Legislature provided insight as to how budgets are allocated to state services. More importantly, in my time as a state resident and working in various community service organizations, I’ve witnessed and experienced how those services affect the daily lives of all Alaskans. Your state government has a serious and unquestionable responsibility to provide a level of support and protection to every Alaskan. But I’ve also watched as growing state budgets have vastly exceeded our levels of revenue. My legislative colleagues and I struggled for years to bring our spending back in line with our income, in order to prevent catastrophe in the very near future. The desire to fund the needs and comforts of our Alaska friends and neighbors must ultimately be limited by the resources we have to do so. Like any household or organization, fiscal disaster is inevitable if we continue to spend money that we simply don’t have.
The tempting approach to our roller-coaster, deficit-ridden budget process would be to keep ignoring the deficits and declining to make the necessary spending reductions, worsening our situation while only avoiding serious discontent from budget recipients momentarily. A too-casual approach might be lazily slapping an income tax on the citizens of Alaska, providing a marginal, temporary revenue boost while devaluing Alaska’s attraction to business activity and investment. Both of these approaches will assuredly result in failure for the same reason: They allow only a short-term avoidance of discomfort while kicking the can down the road to the next legislative session or the next generation of Alaskans. Without immediate, forward-thinking action, the consequences of neglecting our state financial problems will quickly become too great to manage, giving future Legislatures an impossible task and jeopardizing the very existence of that next generation.
Instead of submitting to the temptations of self-interest or willful delusion, Gov. Dunleavy successfully campaigned on the promise of taking Alaska off its unsustainable path of debt and default, to make the hard choices himself instead of hoping someone else would. Last year, Alaskans voted decisively to empower him to change the direction of the state to one of success and stability. The hard work and pain of establishing strength and security now is the price paid for the fiscal prosperity and stability of tomorrow.
No one will argue that it is easy or enjoyable to cut a budget. The pain of those who lose a job or find their support reduced is, believe it or not, shared by those of us shouldered with the responsibility of representing our friends and neighbors who elected us to office. We take this responsibility most seriously, and we demand of ourselves the effort to provide the support that Alaskans need — not just today, but what we will need tomorrow and for generations to come.
As we restore the state budget to one that matches our current revenue, we understand and remember that there will be at least one individual negatively affected by every cut. But the renewal of Alaska’s financial security and sustainability is ultimately a benefit to every resident, and the generations of Alaskans for years to come will thank Gov. Dunleavy and the Legislature that helped him secure Alaska’s future.
Kevin Meyer is the lieutenant governor of Alaska.
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