EDITORIAL: Legislators, governor, citizens: Do what it takes
Let’s just pull the tooth and get it over with.
It’s that or continuing pain and crying over it. Plus, a delay in and a longer recovery.
That’s how we see the best way to approach the state budget deficit.
It begins at the top, with the Walker administration and the Legislature, and trickles down to all Alaskans.
It’s time to reduce spending, spend wisely and continue to save, too.
Alaska’s government doesn’t have the income, with dramatically dropping oil revenue, to pay for all that it has in recent decades. The administration and lawmakers will have to set priorities, paying for what is at the top of the list and letting go of that at the bottom.
It then will be up to Alaska’s communities, businesses, non-profits, churches and the like to decide what will completely go by the wayside. If any of the services are to be preserved, it will be up to these entities to provide them. For example, until government started trying to become everything to everyone, churches traditionally assisted the poor.
It is imperative that Alaskans support Alaskans, beginning with the state. Alaska’s government should govern with the help of Alaskans and for Alaskans living within the state. It should do whatever it can to keep Alaska’s dollars moving throughout the Alaska economy instead of Seattle’s or the Lower 48’s. For example, that includes making retirement in Alaska attractive, keeping most of the dollars earned in Alaska for later in life spent in the state as well.
This also means that businesses buy as much of their goods and services within Alaska as possible — just like they want Alaskans to do. Alaskans will support the businesses that support the Alaska economy.
This needs to become a way of life for Alaskans who, like Gov. Bill Walker pointed out in his State of the State address this week, would be wise to devise a financial plan for the next 50 years. The state deficit requires a change in lifestyle.
Walker has begun this shift in preparing the next fiscal year’s state budget. Oil revenue is declining, and he wants to move the state away from an oil-dependent budget.
If state lawmakers and other Alaskans act soon, the state can accomplish this without a complete breakdown, using the Alaska Permanent Fund. The fund would be set up like an endowment, with the fund’s earning reserves helping to finance state government.
This means capping the Permanent Fund dividends at $1,000 per eligible Alaskan. That’s still $1,000 more than most Alaskans would have if the state delays in addressing the deficit. In four years, at the rate the state is spending, all of it would be history — not even a $1,000 annual dividend.
Of course, the state will have to cut its spending as well. Government has grown largely since the development of Alaska’s oil. The focus should be on growing private enterprise, which can provide jobs to make up for losses in state employment opportunities.
The state will have to cut jobs, and these Alaskans must have employment.
Then all of the employed — both in government and private business and industry — likely will be paying a state income tax again. Alaskans paid one before oil and high oil prices.
No Alaskan relishes the idea of an income tax or cutting back on government services deemed helpful. But delaying such action is only postponing and increasing the pain brought on by the fiscal situation.
There’s no common sense in that.
Gov. Walker and lawmakers know Alaska’s hurting. Most Alaskans want the pain to stop. Let’s do what it takes to get it over with.