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May 23, 2002 Alaska Newspapers Inc. says Senate was derelict in its duty

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2002

The Senate's inability to deal with the affairs of state is reprehensible.

While the House took steps to close the budget gap and the urban-rural divide, the Senate turned its collective back on the needs of Alaskans.

Despite a $1 billion budget gap that could buckle the economy in two years, despite a subsistence battle that has festered for more than a decade, the Senate twiddled its thumbs until session's end.

Where was the leadership? Does retiring Senate President Rick Halford have short-timer's disease? Does anyone in the Senate care?

While Anchorage lawmakers like Dave Donley and Jerry Ward grumbled about the need for a constitutional limit on spending, the Legislature cost Alaskans $6 million during the 121-day regular session.

What did Alaska get out of it? Not much.

One bill the Senate did pass would have raised money off the backs of the poor -- a whopping $4.6 million -- by taking about 7,700 low-income families off public assistance. The measure got nowhere in the House.

The Senate did agree to raise the alcohol tax to a dime per drink. The bill is a positive step that will help reduce drinking and alcohol-related crimes. Financially, it's a drop in the bucket: It will raise about $20 million.

Other measures to raise revenue fell to the wayside almost immediately, and the Senate was forced into a two-day extended session and a multi-day special session just to balance the budget with savings. The cost to taxpayers? About $25,000 a day.

And there's still another special session to go because lawmakers did nothing to fix the subsistence dilemma that has divided Alaska along racial and geographic lines for years.

While the House took steps to close that divide -- passing an Alaska history requirement with a Native studies component and a new Alaska Flag Song that honors the flag's Native designer -- the Senate refused to give both bills the courtesy of a single hearing.

The Senate's lack of concern toward closing the urban-rural divide almost smacks of racism, except it's just another dose of the equal opportunity arrogance they've shown all Alaskans by doing nothing.

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