It will take an amendment to the Alaska Constitution to compel a spending limit on state government, Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, said Monday of last week.
That's why he's pinning his hopes on SJR 23, which would cap spending at 2000's level, a bill he's co-sponsored with Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage. The measure already has passed the Senate and is before the Alaska House. If passed by voters, it would force future legislatures to prioritize state spending to cover health, safety, transportation and education -- the constitutionally mandated basics.
Increases of up to 10 percent could be made, but only with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Increases beyond that would require a ballot measure.
Ensuring lawmakers are forced to toe the line is so important, Ward said, the spending cap isn't just his top priority -- it's practically his only priority.
"All my energy will be on the Constitutional Spending Limit," he said, adding that he won't even discuss taxes or use of the Alaska Permanent Fund until one is in place.
"I will oppose any of them," he said.
Ward didn't lay blame for the current state of affairs -- namely, years of budget shortfalls -- on any individuals or political party. There are spendthrifts aplenty in each group, he noted.
"It's just the nature of government."
For several successive legislatures, many lawmakers have called for some kind of long-range fiscal plan, even going so far as to propose a mix of spending cuts and taxes. Ward is skeptical about current efforts toward such a long-range plan.
"In my opinion, that's just flowery words to cover the fact they don't want to address the real problem," -- the lack of a spending ceiling, he said.
Gov. Tony Knowles has asked lawmakers for $40 million in state funds for his Homeland Security Initiative. He's also required law enforcement officers or National Guard units to stand guard at airports and ferry terminals.
Ward said he wouldn't second-guess the governor on those decisions, but he is concerned about the cost and will be looking closely at the various safety measures when the Legislature convenes. For one thing, he said he is worried about the "tremendous overtime bills" such preventive measures have imposed.
"Lots of local communities are asking, 'Who is going to pay?'" he said. "We'll have to address that."
When it comes to funding education, Ward said he liked the proposal in SB 188, a bill that would create an education fund and land endowment to fund schools. The University of Alaska and the Alaska Railroad have such land endowments. Education should too, thus freeing it somewhat from annual budget battles, he said.
We're allowing education to sink like a big boat because we're not prioritizing," he said. "Why should education be at the mercy of the legislative process?"
Though he won a second four-year term just over a year ago, Ward already has indicated he would run for re-election should that be required by redistricting. Under the proposed plan -- currently in court, Ward's Senate District E, which includes Nikiski and a portion of southern Anchorage, would become Senate District Q, which would include most of the western Kenai Peninsula north of Anchor Point.
It would pit him against Sen. John Torgerson, also a Republican, should Torgerson seek re-election. Torgerson has expressed interest in the job of mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and it is not clear if he will run again.
With the peninsula entirely represented by majority party members in the Senate and House, Ward said municipal wish-lists probably have an excellent chance of success this session.
"We won't get shorted," he said.
Community leaders, however, should demonstrate unanimity in their requests. He warned against any internal "back-room dissension" over priorities.
Ward said voters could see a general obligation bond ballot measure for transportation projects come the fall.
On subsistence, Ward said he expects that no matter what approach the state takes, the issue will end up in the U.S. Supreme Court at some point.
Ward said he was pleased with the way Alaskans have reacted to and handled the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. He said he never dreamed America would suffer an attack on its own soil, but likes the way Congress, President George W. Bush and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani have behaved since the tragedy. More than that, he thinks the nation is standing up.
"Americans did what Americans always do. They rose to the occasion," Ward said.
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