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It’s high time for legislators to agree to a long-term plan

  • Author: Ed Rasmuson
  • Updated: May 1, 2017
  • Published July 9, 2016

On Monday lawmakers will gavel back in for the second special session of 2016. I hope, for the benefit of Alaskans, they are able to agree on a long-term fiscal plan this time.

Alaska's overall economy is unstable. While declining credit ratings and poor market returns might not sound the warning bell for everyone, all Alaskans know what it means to be worried about jobs, home prices, and the prospects for our kids.

The worry is growing; I hear it everywhere. Every "For Sale" sign prompts neighbor concern. Parents are uncertain what impact education cuts will have on their schools. Alaskans are having their wages and hours cut, and thousands have lost their jobs altogether.

This is frustrating because it is unnecessary. Alaska has within its means the ability to put a halt to economic uncertainty. With political will, we can accomplish both a leaner state budget and the revenue to pay for it.

One year ago, the Rasmuson Foundation issued a white paper that outlined options for building a sustainable budget. Those options are as valid today as they were then: reduce the budget, reduce oil-tax credits, cap the Permanent Fund dividend and use excess earnings to help pay for a state budget, and institute a modest sales tax, income tax or combination of the two.

I applaud Gov. Bill Walker for boldly taking action on a short-term fix. However, unless the Legislature votes to support long-term measures, we are back in the same sinking boat next year with a bigger hole to fill.

Nearly every member of the Legislature, whether they say so in public or not, agrees that using Permanent Fund earnings is necessary. And most Alaskans, 58 percent according to a Rasmuson Foundation poll, fully expect to pay a sales or income tax in the near future.

The cost of the state services we all use — like airport runways, state troopers, schools and road maintenance — should be shared by all Alaskans and by all industries, including transportation, mining, fisheries, tobacco, and alcohol. Now is the time for everyone to come to the table to create a sustainable budget plan.

Compromise takes courage — the courage to give up something in return for the greater good. And leadership is doing what needs to be done regardless of concerns about the November elections. We have another chance to put Alaska on a sustainable financial path — let's get it right this time.

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