May 23, 2002 The Peninsula Clarion questions what this year's legislature accomplished

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2002

The Legislature adjourned Tuesday. Finally. A week later than the scheduled 121-day session.

And what do legislators have to show for their time in Juneau?

It took an extension of the session for lawmakers to even pass a capital budget -- and that should be considered routine work.

They are returning home without a long-range fiscal plan, without a subsistence solution, without a plan to extend the state's utility regulatory agency -- one of the last issues holding up adjournment -- without much to brag about when it comes right down to it.

The best news is that the session is over.

But it's not really. All those big issues hanging over the state when the Legislature convened in January are still looming as lawmakers make tracks back to their respective districts. Subsistence talks and maybe another special session are down the road.

If anyone can feel good about what happened -- or more accurately, what didn't happen -- this session, we'd like to know who it is. There's just not a way to put a positive spin on the second session of the 22nd Alaska State Legislature.

Sure, there are lawmakers who can claim they protected Alaskans' permanent fund dividend checks. Alaskans need to remember them in a couple of years when the Constitutional Budget Reserve runs dry and it will take a miracle not to touch dividends or the permanent fund to make ends meet.

There also will be lawmakers who expect accolades for saving Alaskans from their ''tax-and-spend'' counterparts in the Legislature. Again, Alaskans need to take names, because all these lawmakers have done is delay the pain that's going to come. As the saying goes: It's not a matter of if, but when.

Unfortunately, the way the session dragged on without purpose hides the good work that was attempted; some even accomplished. All lawmakers can't be painted as no-good-do-nothing politicians.

Individual lawmakers who chose not to play politics deserve praise. These are the lawmakers who broke with party ranks when they thought it would best serve the interests of all Alaskans.

Those lawmakers who took an active role in the Fiscal Policy Caucus also deserve kudos -- and lots of them. They dared to push for changes which would put Alaska on sturdier financial ground. The House approved many of their recommendations, but not the Senate.

The result: Alaska is still at Square 1 when it comes to figuring out how to raise revenues or live within its means. Fixing that problem was many, if not most, Alaskans' No. 1 priority. How could the Senate have missed that message?

There yet may be some good to come out of this session.

The anger, betrayal, disappointment and disgust many Alaskans are feeling because so little of importance was accomplished this legislative session needs to be put to good use at the polls.

If you don't like how individual lawmakers performed this session, don't elect them again. Don't ask for more of the same.

Alaska and Alaskans truly deserve better.

On the other hand, if you see nothing wrong with some lawmakers holding up valuable legislation without good cause, think partisan politics results in a better state and have no worries about the state's financial future, well, cast your vote for those lawmakers who agree with you. The Senate is full of them.


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