“Compromise is not capitulation.” That was Gov. Bill Walker’s message to legislators in his State of the State speech on Thursday.
“The longer we hold onto partisanship, the longer we hold onto the deficit,” Walker said.
Compromise is certainly a noble aspiration, and it’s what we should expect of our elected officials as Alaska continues to face challenges. But it’s also proven to be much easier said than done, as lawmakers, with a few notable exceptions, have been unable to find common ground — or at least unwilling to acknowledge that any exists — throughout Gov. Walker’s first three years in office.
So, what can we reasonably expect to change in the next 85 days (the Legislature gaveled in for a 90-day regular session Tuesday)?
If lawmakers are serious about a budget fix — and everyone in Juneau claims to be — work on a compromise bill needs to start immediately. If you’re so inclined, you can actually put together a Venn diagram with revenue and spending measures from Gov. Walker, and the Senate and House majorities. You will find areas of agreement, most notably, the idea that some sort of mechanism to use some of the earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for state services is essential to re-establishing the state’s fiscal stability.
The concept has been bouncing around the Legislature for three years, and while there has been agreement on the concept, each side has added enough caveats to their proposal to make it unacceptable to the other. In last year’s legislative session, the Senate plan called for deeper cuts and use of savings to cover the rest of the deficit until the state’s revenue flow rebounds. The House insisted that any use of Permanent Fund earnings be contingent on passage of a broad-based state tax.
And Alaska has been stuck in a stalemate ever since.
Oddly, this may be the session we see partisanship break down — at least on certain issues. There are number of Republicans and Democrats seeking to enshrine the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program in the state’s constitution.
Perhaps this is the issue over which a compromise can be reached. Gov. Walker and others have asserted that without a long-term budget fix, the dividend program will eventually go away. The state’s courts have agreed that the dividend is a legislative appropriation, not an entitlement. Maybe we’re finally at a point that a plan to take structured draws from Permanent Fund earnings while preserving the dividend program is palatable.
Because the other option — leaving a budget fix to the next Legislature, which, with state savings gone, will have very little option other than to use Permanent Fund earnings — is not.