Just one month remains in the first session of the 24th Alaska Legislature. Several major items that have been brought to the foreground seem, from the outsider's view, to be a good ways from conclusion. But judging from past Legislatures, just when it looks like an issue won't get resolved, the barriers can suddenly fall away and congratulatory handshakes are seen in front of the camera.
This moment in time is precisely when the public and the media need to be awake. Legislators and their aides are putting in long hours to work on bills that will affect the daily lives of thousands of Alaskans. Some senators and representatives are hoping to push some of this major legislation through in the few weeks remaining before the May 10 adjournment date.
The often-mentioned reason for wanting to complete work on major bills this year is that no one will want to work on them next year, an election year. And not only is next year the biennial vote for the entire House and a substantial number of members in the Senate, it is also a gubernatorial election year. So who wants to be dealing with retirement system reform, workers' compensation system changes, and the proposal to use a special pot of Alaska Permanent Fund money a pot that has nothing to do with the annual dividend when there are voters to be lured? That's an unfortunate line of thinking but is in part brought on by Alaskans themselves because, looked at as an entire electorate, they fail to invest the time to gain a basic understanding of these important and complex issues. It's just easier to accept the best-tasting sound bite.
Legislators, however, don't do the public a heckuva lot of good when they promote the idea that nothing major can be accomplished in the second year of a legislative session. If that's really the case, perhaps the Alaska Legislature should convene only once every two years, getting their work done in the odd-numbered years and well before the campaign season sails onto the horizon.
Two of the major issues the state-run retirement systems and workers' compensation will probably get some air time this week in the Senate Finance Committee. The committee is taking public testimony on the fiscal 2006 state operating, which has already passed the House and has connections to the retirement issue, meaning a discussion of what to do about the troubled long-term finances of those post-work benefit systems could again erupt. And workers' compensation, the rising rates of which are causing problems for nonprofit groups and businesses, comes before the committee at the end of the week.
It does appear that fixes need to be made to the retirement and workers' compensation systems, but whether they absolutely must occur in the next four weeks isn't so apparent. If indeed there is a real drive in Juneau to bring these issues to conclusion by May 10, then the time for Alaskans to tune in is at hand.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,
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