Murkowski showing leadership in calling June special session

Posted: Monday, June 07, 2004

When it comes to politicians, the public more often than it should be tempted just wants to say, ''grow up,'' especially at the end of a legislative session when lawmakers failed to tackle the state's most important issue.

That issue is the chronic budget deficit.

Well aware of the deficit and the need to address it, Alaskans elected former Sen. Frank Murkowski governor. Voters knew who we were electing, what he stood for, and what he would do if elected. We knew he had experience in tackling and overcoming difficult situations; we recognized him as a leader who would set a fiscally responsible course for the state through its budget. Alaskans spoke overwhelmingly in support of the man who would do that.

And Murkowski's trying. He has made budget decisions that some of his best friends are pained to accept, but accept them they do. He has cut some programs, and he replaced others with new options to give Alaskans a better value for our dollar.

Murkowski also has proposed legislation that will have to effect of shortening this financially painful period of cuts that continues to draw down the state's savings account. And instead of forcing his proposal on Alaskans, he's asking for a vote on it in November.

But the Legislature, in its own wisdom or lack thereof, adjourned last month without giving its necessary endorsement to the election.

The governor even allowed lawmakers time to save face and call themselves back into a special session to address the financial issues. They didn't.

So the governor's doing it. Once again when leadership is needed, it comes from the governor's office. Lawmakers appear to just want to play politics, and it's politics that perturbs the public. This isn't a game to the public.

The governor wants two constitutional amendments to be voted on. The first caps state spending, which the public is likely to strongly embrace if it ever gets the opportunity. The second is in regard to the Alaska Permanent Fund. It would limit withdrawals from the fund to 5 percent of its five-year average value, making $1.3 billion available each year to pay dividends and for state government operations. The House agreed to earmark $573 million for state government and $64 million for local governments. The Senate? Zip. Zero. Nothing. It didn't do a thing.

Then the price of oil skyrocketed, and legislators relaxed on a cloud of new revenue. With Alaska's budget about 85-percent dependent on oil revenues and prices high, the deficit shrank. But it didn't disappear, and it's foolish to think that high oil prices will whittle it away and the financial future will be secure for generations to come. It doesn't work that way; prices go up and prices go down.

Alaska doesn't want to be in financial difficulties when it goes down again. The way to prevent that is to come up with a plan and follow it now. Then Alaska might be able to maintain itself without further painful cuts.

With a banker in the governor's seat, it is the best time to figure out state finances. And this banker governor isn't even forcing it on Alaskans; he's just asking the Legislature to allow Alaskans to vote. He'll accept the outcome. That lawmakers cannot do the same makes the public wonder what their political game is. And the perception of a game breeds mistrust.

We don't understand the politicians' lack of action, but we believe in a governor trying to overcome a budget deficit when he trusts voting Alaskans to make the final decision.

When legislators return to special session, they should show they do the same. After all, we elect them. If they don't trust us, that doesn't say much for them or their political maturity.

Ketchikan Daily News

May 26

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