I feel like I've seen this movie before, and I didn't like the plot last time either. Once again, the Alaska Legislature is looking head-on at a government shutdown.
Lawmakers have now passed the 90-day voter-imposed deadline as well as the 121-day deadline they think they are entitled to — because what do voters know — and they still have not passed a budget.
And yes, you're right — the budget is the only thing the Legislature is constitutionally required to do every year.
Of course they haven't finished the budget, it's actually a difficult task now, thanks to declining oil revenue. Just in case you're under the impression these men and women are serious about their duties, keep one thing in mind: On Monday, when the Legislature gaveled into the special session ordered by Gov. Bill Walker, nine representatives and five senators were absent from the floor session.
As an electorate, we have reached the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
We keep re-inviting the same jokers to the Legislature and they continue to spit in the face of Alaskans by not doing their job. At this point, I think Alaskans pretty much get what they deserve. If a supervisor wants a job done but doesn't back it up with consequences, no one should be surprised when nothing gets done.
The talk about driving over the fiscal cliff has been around for so long at this point we must be crashing toward our death. The men and women in this current Legislature took control of the clown car and drove it over the cliff long ago. At this point, they are just trying to cover up the crash and make it look like it was somebody else's fault.
So, the Legislature is now in "special session" — which has become so common, I can't imagine the term "special" is any longer appropriate.
The joke is on us, and honestly, at this point, we deserve it. We deserve the Legislature we have, because we have consistently voted these clowns back to their respective seats in the car.
It shouldn't be surprising we are where we are. It's an election year and clearly legislators are careful about perceptions heading into election season. We've seen, as recently as the last Anchorage mayoral election, how damaging rhetoric about using funds from the earnings reserve can be, and with the Constitutional Budget Reserve with just over $8 billion left, lawmakers are running out of options.
Without a budget in place, most aspects of state government shut down. We have seen this happen on the federal level and had the threats of it on a state level last year when the Legislature was at a budget impasse. On June 1, state employees will receive layoff notices and if the budget hasn't been passed by July 1, some state workers will be laid off.
So, with people's livelihoods and the future of the state hanging in the balance, state lawmakers continue to play partisan games in Juneau rather than do the job they were elected to do.
Keep in mind, they aren't looking at problems they inherited or they didn't see coming. Leadership in both houses have been in the Legislature for many years, most over a decade and they have been making a living out of avoiding creating a long term fiscal plan for Alaska.
The time for flinching, fumbling and failing is over. Alaska is at the cusp of the "fiscal cliff" debate, and the time for action is upon Alaska's Legislature. The cost of the special session is not nominal either. Going into overtime cost the state $886,000 last year. The first special session last year cost the state over $18,000 a day. So, the first day of session, which almost a quarter of the legislators skipped and the only scheduled committee meeting was cancelled, was an expensive one.
Many Alaskans have been complaining about the lack of leadership for a long time. Now, in the darkest days of Alaska's budget crisis, we are seeing that failure come to a head. With the extended cost and the threat of a government shutdown looming, the time for the Legislature to act has long since come and gone.
Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s. Email him at email@example.com.
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