Senator disputes importance of budget solution in upcoming session

Editorial prompts response

Posted: Thursday, January 03, 2002

I usually resist the urge to respond to editorials, even when their linkage with reality is tenuous. Your Dec. 23 editorial was, however, so far afield in both tone and content that it deserves a response.

Your writer took one reported sentence out of an hour-long interview I had with the Juneau Empire to suggest that I had a cavalier attitude about Alaska's fiscal condition -- or worse yet, that I am somehow hindering those legislators who are trying to fix it.

Your interpretation is wrong. First, in my interview, I noted that dealing with Alaska's fiscal situation is one of my highest priorities. Second, my record on the Senate Finance Committee, easily available to you, is consistent with this. And finally, you could have called me for clarification or visited my Web site -- or even referred to an article I wrote, published by your newspaper in 1999, dealing with our need for a more complete fiscal plan.

When the Juneau Empire interviewers asked me if I really expected a comprehensive fiscal plan, complete with new revenue measures to raise an additional $900 million per year, would be passed in the next session, I told the truth and responded, "No." However, I noted that I expected some new revenue measures to pass in 2002, with a more complete revenue plan to be completed by the next Legislature, working with a new governor. It is no secret that the current governor has opposed efforts by the Legislature to make systemic changes in government to help reduce its costs, particularly with formula programs that drive up costs each year. I am optimistic that the 2002 election cycle will result in the election of a governor who will work constructively with the Legislature.

The most important first element of a more complete fiscal plan is a spending limit that works. Several of our municipalities already have this in place. The Senate has already passed this measure, and I expect it to pass the House this session. I am confident that Alaskans will be more willing to pay their fair share for services when we see government spending restrained.

Our Republican five-year plan for reducing State General Fund spending by more than $250 million worked. So has welfare reform. However, spending reductions alone will not solve our fiscal challenge. Additional revenues will be necessary.

But before we ask hard-working Alaskans to dig into their pockets to pay more for government services, we must be able to look them in the eye and assure them we have done everything in our power to reduce costs by making government more efficient, limiting new growth and ensuring the tax burden is fair and equitable across our state.

You suggested that Alaskans are cynical about the legislative process. This is not the case with the people I am meeting. Most are optimistic about our future and determined to improve opportunities, particularly for young Alaskans entering the work force. If cynicism exists, I suggest that it is fueled more by lazy and inaccurate reporting and editorializing than by the legislative process. We deserve better.

I do agree with you on one point, however -- that legislators should do the right thing -- even if it is sometimes difficult or unpopular.

Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, is the Senate majority leader and a candidate for lieutenant governor.

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