The next several weeks in the Legislature will be important ones for Alaska and warrant the public's close attention.
With the first session of the 23rd Legislature now halfway to its scheduled conclusion, lawmakers will soon begin in earnest to deal with the session's main event: Gov. Frank Murkowski's budget.
The governor has proposed a multitude of cuts and taxes -- some small, some not so small -- to help close the state's budget shortfall and reduce the amount that will need to be drawn from the ever-dwindling Constitutional Budget Reserve.
Alaskans were caught off guard by many of the governor's proposals, notably those to terminate the Longevity Bonus Program, reduce funding for public education and raise the fuel tax by 12 cents a gallon. Local governments and several interest groups have embarked on intensive lobbying campaigns since the governor submitted his proposed budget at the beginning of the month.
Even so, it is the public's responsibility to weigh in now rather than moan about cuts after they are made. Important questions must be asked, such as these: Why were these cuts not discussed by the governor and lawmakers during the campaign? If we are to endure these cuts and not pay taxes as promised, what is the plan for balancing the budget after you run our savings dry in two to three years?
Committees in both legislative chambers have already begun holding hearings on the several bills that constitute the governor's plan, which makes $189 million in reductions in state general-fund spending. Many additional hearings are scheduled before a variety of committees.
The public can listen by teleconference to most of these hearings at Legislative Information Offices, or online at a site (www.ktoo.org/gavel/) operated by ''Gavel to Gavel Alaska,'' a service provided by public television station KTOO in Juneau.
A schedule of hearings can be found on the Legislature's Web site (w3.legis.state.ak.us/home.htm) or by calling any local Legislative Information Office.
To find out about hearings on bills to implement the major components of the governor's proposed budget, use the following Senate and House bill numbers:
Eliminating the Longevity Bonus Program: House Bill 158, Senate B 117;
Increasing the motor fuel tax: HB 156, SB 112;
Tax on studded tires: HB 173, SB 106;
Increasing the business license fee: HB 162, SB 114;
Wildlife conservation pass for nonresidents: HB 163, SB 122;
Reductions in other areas, such as in education funding, are contained in the main budget bills, HB 75 and SB 35.
Whatever your position on the budget, this is no time to stay quiet.
-- The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
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