Legislature should heed the growing call to act on fiscal plan

Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2002

The cry for a long-range fiscal plan is getting louder. From many corners of the state, private citizens, independent economists, civic organizations and business groups alike -- of all political stripes -- are weighing in on the need for legislators to address the budget gap this session.

Joining the chorus most recently is the Alaska Municipal League. The group of mayors from around the state met in Juneau last week to present its list of legislative priorities to lawmakers. Topping the list was, not surprisingly, finding a solution to the state's growing budget shortfall, which is expected to grow to $1.2 billion in three years.

"The gravity of the situation is enormous," said Rep. Andrew Halcro, an Anchorage Republican. "You can't imagine the pain this state is going to go through (if nothing is done)."

At present there is only one plan on the table, the one unveiled by Gov. Tony Knowles at his recent State of State Address. It is an aggressive plan calling for, among other new sources of revenue, an income tax.

The Fiscal Policy Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers mostly from the House, has also been brainstorming a long-range plan for several months. Just as portions of the governor's plan did, some potential revenue-increasing components of the yet-to-be-finalized plan from the Fiscal Policy Caucus have met with criticism and opposition.

It is easy to find fault with any plan of this necessary magnitude and complexity. No plan is ever going to be perfect. But legislators and voters alike need to remember that the good should not be the enemy of the perfect.

We encourage the Senate to do its part and become an equal partner with the House in finding long-range fiscal solutions. The exclusive route now being followed in the Senate -- discussion in the party caucus, rather than in full session -- seems to preclude the compromise and bipartisanship necessary to get a workable plan passed.

It is time for the Legislature to put partisanship and individual considerations aside and put Alaskans first. The vast majority of Alaskans, after all, call themselves neither Republican nor Democrat. And this is not a political or philosophical problem anyway. It is a simple math problem. The state's budget numbers don't add up. And that's not good for any of us.

Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor Jack Shay issued perhaps the best challenge to lawmakers when he said that individual political ambitions should not be an impediment to making what are likely to be difficult decisions this year.

"Those with any kind of courage will step up," he said.

We agree. Most everyone, it seems, realizes that the time for feet-dragging has passed. It is no longer politically or fiscally responsible to sit around and pass the buck to future legislatures. Or to wait for the price of oil to bail the state out of another dilemma. The time for action has come. Indeed, it is long overdue.

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