The Legislature has taken a lot of well-deserved abuse for failing to do anything this session on its two biggest challenges: stabilizing state finances and subsistence. Another failure -- the steadfast refusal to even consider a set of Gov. Tony Knowles' nominees to important state boards -- was breathtakingly arrogant. In some other cases, though, the Legislature's failure to act was good news.
That was particularly true on two fronts. Senate measures that penalized the poor and weakened the state constitution failed to make it through the House.
The Senate wanted to make it easier to slash benefits in welfare programs. Under the Senate scheme, the Legislature no longer would need to pass a law to cut benefits; it could just short-fund the programs and force bureaucrats to balance budgets with pro-rata benefit cuts. A governor couldn't block that type of benefit cut because the Legislature would simply withhold money, instead of passing a law the governor could veto.
The Senate also voted to end a compassionate program begun two decades ago allowing welfare clients to keep Permanent Fund dividends without getting tossed off welfare for having too much money. It was a mean-spirited and unnecessary move. Combining state aid with the dividend gives needy people a better chance to get out of debt and work their way off welfare. It's well worth the few million dollars required from Permanent Fund earnings.
Both moves were blocked by two moderate Republican House members, Peggy Wilson and Gary Stevens. Their principled stand protected thousands of needy Alaskans from gratuitous financial anguish.
The Senate didn't get much further with schemes to amend the state constitution. Its leaders' fiscal ''plan'' consisted of amendments to impose a state spending limit and to force the governor to identify budget priorities. Both were irrelevant gimmicks; both died in the House. Another piece of constitutional clutter, a freeze on state salaries, also stalled in House committee.
For a group that bills itself as conservative, the Senate's Republican majority spent much of its time pursuing drastic and imprudent changes. Its eagerness to make mischief shows the value of having a Legislature with two different houses. The more moderate House of Representatives stood in the way of the Senate's reactionary agenda -- and Alaskans can be glad it did.
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