I read the op-ed piece "Governor should veto budget" by my brother Mark Begich (ADN commentary, June 6) and felt a need to shed a different light on the subject.
While I love and respect my brother and am proud of his service as mayor of Anchorage and in the U. S. Senate, I disagree with his conclusion that Gov. Bill Walker should veto this operating budget and that further cuts are the answer out of our fiscal situation.
Mark makes the point that these decisions should not be continually kicked down the road. But the fact is they have been, again and again, by the Senate and House Republican-led majorities. He wants decisions made now before it is too late, but it seems these majorities won't do it now, no matter how hard they are prodded. The House minority's answer in supporting the budget was to not punish hardworking Alaskans, parents, students, kids and small businesses by letting the Republican-led majorities' unnecessary and harmful cuts go forward. The minority's response was to fund a working budget, and then tackle each of the revenue options after holding our must vulnerable Alaskans harmless for at least one more year.
These Republican-led majorities are unlikely to move on any significant revenue options this year. They are more likely to hide behind "no new taxes" and "we have to cut more" rhetoric and a prayer for higher oil prices. But nearly every expert agrees that cutting more will devastate, not secure, our economy and our future. And they all agree there needs to be a combination of revenue options and they all need to be undertaken.
So what then is the real answer to getting to that vision? The answer is to replace the leaders of the Republican-led majorities in the Senate and House if they won't make the tough decisions. We need to elect leaders who can sit down in good faith and negotiate a path forward that is fair to all Alaskans. I've had to negotiate between sides with entrenched positions in the past. It is not easy, but it can be done.
I spent the last few months working with the House minority leader and others on strategies we hoped would convince those majorities to move forward on a comprehensive package of revenue reform that included reductions in oil industry tax credits, modifications in the dividend, tax increases where appropriate and a limited use of the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund. Consistent with the message often repeated by the majorities, this would have spread the burden around to all Alaskans and put us on a clear path to sustainability, not economic poverty. While progress was made in the House, the state Senate Republican-led majority clearly never meant what they said. They never intended to hold all parties accountable equally. Instead they continued to value their near-obsessive protection-at-any-cost of the oil industry over the needs of all Alaska citizens.
The House minority's decision to allow a Constitutional Budget Reserve vote to preserve education, the university and so many other essential elements of a functioning government was sound and should be sustained by the governor. They and some of their majority colleagues in the House were focused on problem-solving. That led to a decision that recognized the reality of both an unmoving, myopic Senate majority and an election year that will allow the people of Alaska to weigh in on the question of what vision is most appropriate for our future.
And what will that vision be? Will it be a functioning, balanced state that recognizes the importance of an educated public, basic infrastructure development, and where the burden of providing for society is shared by all? Or will ours be a state where we drive ourselves deeper and deeper into economic despair by holding the oil industry harmless while continuing to cut so deep that we dumb down our kids, spur an exodus of our best and brightest and let our public assets deteriorate?
I believe in Alaska's future. The House minority's decision to support this budget is the right first step to getting there. The battle lines for the next Legislature are being drawn now. If we are to change our future, provide possibility for generations to come, we need to change these Republican-led majorities, not veto the budget and cause further harm to Alaska's hardworking citizens.
Tom Begich is a community and political activist and a Democratic candidate for the Alaska State Senate in District J, downtown Anchorage.
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