It's important for all Alaskans to learn about budget crisis

Posted: Monday, March 18, 2002

A debate that will frame the short- and long-term financial future of Alaska is raging in Juneau. It should be raging in every household as well.

It's an issue vitally important to all Alaskans. When legislators start talking about cuts, they are talking about programs that affect the everyday lives of each of us in one way or another, whether those cuts are to education, health-care programs or other services. When they start talking about raising taxes or redirecting the permanent fund dividends, that affects Alaskans directly where they tend to notice first and most: the pocketbook.

So it behooves each citizen to make themselves as informed as possible about the state's current fiscal situation and what is projected to happen in the next few years. State legislators need to hear how the people want them to act, but for that to happen information is required.

In a nutshell, the state is facing a projected $1 billion budget shortfall in its next budget year. That is not news in itself, as the state has faced shortfalls for several years. The reason this issue is so important now is that soon the safety net the state has depended on to fill in that gap -- the Constitutional Budget Reserve -- is expected to be depleted by mid-2004. Essentially, the state will no longer have a savings account to make up such budget differences.

Meanwhile, the debate continues in Juneau -- with plenty of political rhetoric thrown in as well. But there are plenty of avenues to find information about the state's situation and the possible solutions being considered. ...

Contact the Department of Revenue at (907) 465-2300 or visit it online at www.revenue.state.ak.us. That site even includes a "revenue fiscal model" that allows visitors to pick different ways of solving the state's (financial situation) to better show the effects these options have on the budget.

Another excellent source of information is Alaskans United, which has put together a citizens' information booklet that is clear, comprehensive and still easy to understand. The group is not advocating a specific solution, but is hoping to broaden Alaskans' basic understanding of the issue. Visit www.alaskansunited.com for additional information. ...

This legislative session, it is the job of our state legislators to find solutions that will allow the government to continue operating within its means, whether that is through spending cuts or new revenue sources. But it is the job of Alaskans to become fully informed so that all can become participants in the debate. Learn about the issues, educate yourself about what the legislators are considering and express your opinions to your elected representatives.

Only then will Alaska's fiscal future truly reflect the wishes of the people.

-- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

March 10



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