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It’s time for the tough conversation

  • Author: Cathy Giessel
    | Opinion
    , Bryce Edgmon
    | Opinion
  • Updated: August 2, 2019
  • Published August 2, 2019

Leadership of the Alaska House and Senate confer Wednesday, July 10, 2019, at the state Capitol in Juneau, Alaska, where lawmakers failed to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget vetoes. About a third of the lawmakers were absent from the Juneau session, choosing to meet in Wasilla instead. Standing are House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, from left, Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich and Senate President Cathy Giessel. Seated are Senate Majority Leader Lyman Hoffman, left, and House Majority Leader Steve Thompson, with his back to the camera. (Michael Penn/The Juneau Empire via AP)

The two of us were born here and have lived through a time that — in a way — has been our state’s childhood and adolescent years, when the question that drove most major policy decisions was, “What do we want today?” rather than “What will this cost tomorrow?”

Now, it is time for Alaska to enter adulthood, where responsibility and sustainability must take center stage. To continue expecting other people to stock the fridge and fill the car with gas is to remain trapped in a dream world paid for by endless oil that will never return.

While this week’s legislative work resolved many immediate budget questions, Alaska’s long-term path remains unsettled, and our work remains unfinished.

Juneau has become a battleground because Alaska’s future is at stake.

Who will we become? Can we continue to thrive on policy decisions made decades ago? Or do we reevaluate those youthful policies and move forward, into adulthood?

These are the fundamental questions we face. Putting off the tough conversation will only make our future worse. We have heard from Alaskans young and old, from every corner of Alaska’s vast wilderness. Now it is time to take that input, consider the status of Alaska’s bank accounts, and chart the best course for our state.

The Alaska vision set in motion 60 years ago has reached the point where we must reconcile the Permanent Fund and the dividend into a sustainable fiscal plan.

The Permanent Fund dividend is a legacy unique to Alaska; it must be protected for generations to come. We must consider the history of the PFD, but we must acknowledge that growth requires change while stagnation is causing paralysis. This paralysis is making Alaska an unappealing place for families and businesses.

We can’t keep winging it without a plan, and we can’t keep changing directions based on political whims of the moment.

Maturity means restraint, patience and living with long-term vision. Alaska’s legislators are working to find and set a sustainable course. This work includes all parties from all parts of the state.

By the end of this year, the Alaska Legislature must come together and determine the place for the Permanent Fund and the dividend program as integral parts of a responsible financial plan. Settling the issue of how these pieces fit together is the most important action we can take to become a stable and predictable place for families to live, businesses to grow, and jobs to be created.

The status quo does not lead to a sustainable, prosperous future. Skipping the hard conversation today just means more pain tomorrow.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, is the president of the Alaska State Senate. Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, is the speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives.

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