A long-term fiscal plan must continue reductions and include a meaningful spending cap that will protect Alaskan’s pocket books and their PFD’s. No matter how you look at this year’s budget it increased. The talking point some have used is that there is nothing left to reduce. In some cases there is some truth to that, but in others there are places that we can strategically reduce. During my first term on finance, I chaired two department subcommittees that saw some of the largest reductions, with one of them seeing reductions over two years of over 50 percent. These reductions were done in a manner that maintained core services. Duplicating that in those same departments or even others would not make sense or even be possible today, but that does not mean that there are not opportunities available for efficiencies, reductions (especially in areas where the current majority has increased spending), or even basic spending control. It just means talking about things with an open and strategic mind not a political agenda.
This term I found myself in the minority, and it was frustrating as the new House majority showed it was out of touch with our current fiscal reality. The recently approved fiscal year 2019 operating budget was 5% larger than the previous year (using Unrestricted General Funds as the basis of the metric). That was after the Senate made the House accept some reductions to the House’s even larger proposed budget. Growth in the budget when money is not available is just not responsible. I get inflationary pressures, but that means applying innovation and strategic thinking to prevent growth in expenditures. My colleagues and I sponsored hundreds of amendments that took a scalpel not a hatchet to the budget, but they were rejected without even as much as a consideration. This type of refusal to listen to new or different viewpoints is completely contrary to what Alaskans want and need right now during this shift in our economic realities.
While we need to have a deep dive into how education is being delivered in this state, the recent pink slip game played on teachers due to failure to govern by the current House Majority was unnecessarily causing heartache for teachers and those in education. I was happy to support two years of forward funding to give our educators some stability. The fact that we had to pass an education bill separately from the rest of the budget though speaks to the failure to lead and plan for completion of our budget on time by the current majority.
So what can be done? First, plan to succeed. Second, determine that a long-term fiscal plan must continue reductions and include a meaningful spending cap that will protect Alaskan’s pocket books and their PFD’s.