April 12, 2002 The Peninsula Clarion on special session costs

Posted: Monday, April 15, 2002

Here we go again.

Like death, taxes and the annual return of swallows to San Juan Capistrano, a legislative ''special'' session is on tap again in Juneau. Once again, the focus will be on finding a solution to one of the state's most enduring and long-festering controversies -- subsistence. The source of the controversy is a small minority of Republican senators who are preventing the necessary two-thirds vote to place the issue where a vast majority of both lawmakers and the voters who put them there want it -- on the ballot.

What sets this special session apart, perhaps, is that it comes at a critical time, fiscally, for the state. Work still needs to be done on closing an almost $1 billion budget deficit, and a long-term plan for the healthy financial future of the state and its residents is desperately needed. The Republican-controlled Legislature has said more cuts must come. Government, like private citizens, must exist within its means, they say.

We agree. We do not, however, see how this can be reconciled with a special session that, according to the state Legislative Affairs Agency, will cost taxpayers a minimum of $25,000 per day. Since the session could last as long as 30 days, that amount adds up quickly.

With schools in crisis and cuts being proposed that affect those least able to defend themselves -- children, the elderly and disabled -- this is nothing short of irresponsible. For a state with a multibillion-dollar budget, $25,000 per day may seem like a drop in the bucket. But we don't think anyone facing the effects of proposed budget cuts would consider it chump change. The cost of the special session would go a long way for the laid-off teacher, the student sitting in an overcrowded and, in some cases, run-down classroom, the parents who can't afford immunizations or medical care for their children, or the senior citizen facing the loss of needed in-home care.

It is little wonder, then, that voters are cynical about the political process.

Why can't legislators see the folly in this course of action?

Although neither side seems to think a subsistence solution is possible in the regular session, we urge them to come together and work it out. The proposal on the table from the governor contains compromises enough to have at least one of the previous opponents -- Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Nikiski -- talking about a solution being in reach this time.

So why not just take care of business during the regular session? If government were run like a business, after all, an unaffordable special session wouldn't even be a consideration.

Alaskans have been told there's no money for government. They've been told that they must feel the pain of cuts to services. They've been told that they must share in the burden by paying taxes. Shame on those, then, who would turn around and tell us that thousands of dollars must be squandered on yet another special session -- especially if it is unsuccessful.

Whether the Legislature chooses to act now or wait until the special session in May, we urge them to remember the voters who put them in office. These are the people who have consistently and overwhelmingly been in favor of seeing a viable constitutional amendment question on the ballot.

Lots of lip service has been paid by lawmakers in recent months to heeding the ''will of the people.'' We hope that voters will remember, come November, those legislators who continue to ignore them. Likewise, we hope that those who have stood in the way of the will of the people over subsistence in the past will heed it this time around.

Then, maybe, this special session will be truly special. ------

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