Everybody likes pizza, right?
If you’ve ever tried to order pizza for a group, you know it’s not that simple. Everyone always wants something more than plain cheese, but it can be a challenge to get everyone to agree to exactly what those toppings should be. Some people don’t like olives or mushrooms. Others won’t eat sausage or pepperoni. Some people are philosophically opposed to pineapple on pizza. And there’s always someone who wants something exotic, like artichokes or goat cheese.
What does ordering pizza have to do with anything, you might ask? Well, down in Juneau, the Legislature has been arguing about toppings for three years now, and has yet to place its order.
As of Saturday morning, the Legislature appeared to be on course to close its second special session without any plan to address the state’s deficit, estimated at $2.7 billion for the fiscal year that started July 1. Alaska is still in the same boat it’s been in since oil prices plunged four years ago, with no semblance of a solution to be found.
Most lawmakers agree on key steps to addressing the deficit — reforming the state’s oil tax credit program and enacting a mechanism to spend a portion of the earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund among them. Yet instead of compromising on areas where there is agreement, lawmakers — in our view, particularly those in the House majority — have managed to tack on enough conditions to their proposals to make any deal unpalatable.
Seriously, no one wants anchovies.
What’s more, at this point, we don’t expect things to change. With a number of new members and a reorganization in the House, this Legislature started back in January with hope of a different result, yet here we are at the end of a second special session with even more of the same and another downgrade to the state’s credit rating to boot. And we’re told not to expect anything next year, because it’s an election year. As for the year after that, we know better than to expect anything different — most voters tend to think their representatives are fighting the good fight; it’s those other districts that need to change.
In fact, change is only going to come about because, with their inaction, lawmakers will have painted themselves into a corner when it comes to funding the budget. Barring an 11th-hour miracle or some compromise reached in yet another special session, the Legislature will convene for its second regular session next January without enough money in the Constitutional Budget Reserve to cover the deficit. The decision before lawmakers won’t be whether or not to use Permanent Fund earning to pay for government; they’ll have no other options.
No, the choice they’ll be faced with next year is whether they can compromise on a multi-year plan to take structured draws from the earnings, or just manage yet another single-year patch. Based on how quickly the Constitutional Budget Reserve has been drained, we’re hoping for a multi-year plan.
But at this point, we’re not expecting the pizza delivery guy any time soon.