Assembly vote favors state fiscal plan

Action overrides borough mayor's veto of resolution urging Legislature to act now

Posted: Thursday, April 04, 2002

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted 6-3 Tuesday overriding Mayor Dale Bagley's veto of a resolution calling upon state lawmakers to draw up a workable and fair long-range fiscal plan before the end of the session.

On March 12, the assembly approved Resolution 2002-030 asking for a plan that was fair and sustainable, that would provide financial stability and maximize returns on investments. Assembly members said their aim was to clarify the borough's legislative priorities for borough lobbyist Mark Higgins.

But Bagley vetoed the measure because it failed to call for further spending cuts and lacked any emphasis on economic development. His greatest concern, however, centered on the term "long-range fiscal plan" itself.

Bagley said there is no clear definition of what a long-range plan should be or what it should include, alluding to proposals under legislative consideration calling for taxes and tapping the Alaska Permanent Fund earnings. Bagley said he does not believe there is widespread public support for those steps.

Assembly member Bill Popp of Kenai disagreed with the mayor's reasoning and said he couldn't understand the mayor's position given previous assembly policy statements that have gone unchallenged.

"This was a restatement of our previously stated policy that went through no problem at all as far as this administration was concerned as regards our state priorities. It wasn't a big deal," he said.

Assembly member Paul Fischer of Kasilof attempted to amend the original resolution and eliminate any reference to "long-range plan." That move was disallowed by parliamentary rules, however. The only thing to be considered was the veto override.

Thwarted, Fischer said he would vote against the override and then suggested that cameras be set up in the Alaska House and Senate to record how fast the resolution ended up in legislative waste baskets.

"What I'm saying is you're making a lot to do about nothing," he said, adding that since last fall's dire predictions of a huge fiscal gap, oil prices have risen, which may change the economic picture.

Popp said as far as the resolution ending up as so much legislative trash, that could probably be said of lots of appeals from the public. Nevertheless, the issue of long-range planning and preparing to meet budget shortfalls should not be ignored and that the assembly was justified in sending that message to Juneau. A failure by state lawmakers could lead to a collapse of Alaska's economic "house of cards," he said. Popp then took Bagley to task for reading more into the resolution than its text actually said.

"It's amazing how facts can be extrapolated out of this resolution that are not facts in terms of what the assembly's intention was with this resolution," he said.

"Nothing in this resolution talks about a raid on the permanent fund. Nothing in this resolution talks about capping the dividend. Nothing in this resolution says anything other than to come up with a plan this year that is fair, sustainable, that deals with maximizing investments, that provides financial stability and that gives local government a clear picture of where it's going to be in the long term, and how much of the state's current responsibility is going to get dumped off on local government. We don't know and we will never know because it's a moving target from year to year to year."

"I think it is vital that we say something," assembly member Milli Martin of Diamond Ridge said. She lamented proposed cuts in state spending that will limit essential services, such as maintenance of roads. "We're talking about public safety here."

Martin also noted proposed cuts to state parks that could devastate businesses in Anchor Point.

Assembly members Tim Navarre of Kenai, Ron Long of Seward, Chris Moss of Homer, Pete Sprague of Soldotna, Popp and Martin voted to override, while assembly members Grace Merkes of Sterling, Gary Superman of Nikiski and Fischer voted against the override.

Following the vote, Bagley said the issue points up a difference of opinion over the what long-range fiscal planning means.

"There's definitely a philosophical difference on this. It's not just in this area," he said. "It's all across the state, it's down in Juneau. There are a lot of people who feel state government needs to be cut first."

Bagley said there were a lot of things that still can be done to raise revenue without resorting to taxes or raids on the permanent fund earnings.

He suggested doubling the $50 million dividend from the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. That won't solve the whole problem, but it's a start, he said. With the price of oil rising and the fact that actual expenditures are typically less than budgeted expenditures, the fiscal gap may well be smaller than predicted, he added.

"It's not going to be that bad," he said.

He also said more money might be found by making better investments of state money to increase returns and that there might be money to be found in the state's science and technology program. He took a shot at state agencies for the way they drum up public support for their programs. He used proposed park closures as an example.

"They understand they're going to close every park on the peninsula. Give me a break! A 15-percent cut and we're going to close every park on the peninsula? I hate that stuff. It's scare tactics designed to make the people go ballistic, call up their legislators and get money put back in to protect their precious little account."

According to the state Division of Parks, six parks could be closed on the peninsula. There are others that would remain open if current cuts survive into the final budget.

Bagley said he believes he's gotten his point across, more importantly to the public than to individual assembly members.

"This isn't a burning issue. I mean, what is the long-range fiscal plan. I mean, the room is not obviously packed with people on either side on this issue," he said. "I do think that it is important that people know what's going on on this issue."

He said he realizes he has to sit and listen to members of the assembly disagree, but believes that the majority of residents of borough support the action he took.

"There are things that can be done," he said, "and sending this long-range fiscal plan (idea to Juneau) that gets used improperly by the Alaska Municipal League and members of the assembly when they go down there to lobby is not something I'm for."

In other business, the assembly, classified 4.3 acres near McNeil Canyon and 5.52 acres near Nikolaevsk for government purposes. The land will be the location of future fire stations for the Kachemak Emergency Service Area and the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area, respectively.

The assembly also introduced ordinance 2002-10, which revises assembly district boundaries. If adopted, the terms of four assembly members would be truncated and seven of the existing nine seats would be up for election in October.

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