May 23, 2002 The Anchorage Daily News says this legislative session will long rank as one of the worst

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2002

The death throes of the 22nd Alaska Legislature made it pretty clear: This was the least effective session in a generation. One hundred-twenty days of regulation and seven days of overtime produced precious little legislative accomplishment.

Despite bipartisan satisfaction with school funding and a long-sought alcohol tax increase, this session -- and particularly this Senate -- was a failure. Two big issues -- fiscal foundations and subsistence -- dominated the session from beginning to end. Thanks to Senate obstinance, Alaska went backward on both of them.

Despite a flawed but bold effort in the House of Representatives, the Senate blocked any progress toward a long-range, sustainable budget plan. It's a given, at least among those who think rationally, that we'll have to pay taxes of some kind and tap Permanent Fund earnings to continue paying for services and investing in Alaska's future as oil revenues decline. But the state Senate refused to seriously consider any proposal.

A show of concern for budget-cutting early in the session was followed by arbitrary spending caps from finance committee chairmen and then an orgy of pork-barreling and vote-buying at session's end. While pandering to anti-government public sentiment, legislators porked out. Another year's time and $900 million of the state's shrinking reserves will be lost, making the state's inevitable fiscal adjustments more painful.

The subsistence issue remained unresolved, despite ever-increasing federal management of Alaska's fish and game resources. Restoring a rural subsistence priority in the state constitution would restore state authority over fish and game management, intractable senate opposition thwarted any action. Worse, the unofficial vote count in the Senate for a rural subsistence amendment actually dropped.

Secrecy and backroom dealing became a way of life in this Legislature. Nothing of importance was decided in the open. Political calculus within closed caucuses became the entire test of a measure's prospects. Key players pursued selfish agendas -- settling personal scores, seeking partisan advantage in the coming election campaign and jockeying for position in next year's power structure.

With the perspective of time, history sometimes judges events differently. But this session of the Legislature gave history little to work with. No amount of time will remove the stain the second session of the 22nd Legislature inflicted on itself.


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