It's time to quit talking and act on financial plan

Posted: Sunday, June 20, 2004

As legislators prepare for the special session, which begins Tuesday, they should carefully consider some points made by Gov. Frank Murkowski in a speech to a central Kenai Peninsula audience last week:

1. There is no better campaign issue than that of being part of the solution to that state's budget shortfall;

2. What happens during the special session may not be the final solution, but some solution needs to be sought now rather than later;

3. Alaskans are ready to fix this problem so the state can move on with its future.

Legislators and the Murkowski administration need to work together to make this week count. They need to put aside partisan politics, turf issues, any idea that there is only one right solution and anything else that will stand in the way of moving a fiscal fix forward.

The worst thing that could happen would be that nothing gets done and the nay-sayers get fodder for their "See, I told you it would be a waste of time and money" rants.

Those Alaskans who support a change in the way the permanent fund is managed to a percent of market value, or POMV, approach that would allow a small portion of the fund to be used help pay for the cost of government, need to let their legislators know as much. They should not take it for granted that because the plan sounds logical, legislators will approve it. Our fear is elected officials hear mostly from those opposed to anything and everything and consequently get a skewed vision of what most Alaskans really think.

Those Alaskans who continue to insist that any change in how the permanent fund is managed is a raid on the fund should reconsider. The POMV proposal, which would manage the fund as an endowment, was not birthed by politicians; it originated with and has been encouraged by the trustees of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. for several years.

Since the fund's inception, the trustees have managed to stay above the political fray. The trustees have a sterling reputation when it comes to management of the fund, and they have not taken a position on how the annual payout of 5 percent of the permanent fund's value would be used under the POMV approach.

Alaskans opposed to the proposal because the fund isn't broken so there's no need to fix it are absolutely correct in their assessment of how the fund has been managed. In fact, one of the reasons Alaskans can support the POMV approach with confidence is because the trustees have nothing to gain and everything to lose by promoting changes that would not protect the fund and its dividend program. Why would they do anything to sully this unique state treasure that makes Alaska the envy of every state struggling to stretch too few dollars? Why would they do anything to hurt the dividend program, which they know has become an integral part of Alaskans' budgets and lifestyles? The answer is they wouldn't.

Without a fix to its chronic budget shortfall, there is no way Alaska can move forward into the future. No business or industry worth having wants to invest in a state whose financial future is so uncertain. The state will continue to be stuck unless Alaskans can agree on a fiscal fix.

That fix should contain a spending limit and a change in the management of the permanent fund to allow a 5 percent annual payout to be used for dividends and government including education and a community dividend program.

Other elements of the governor's proposal, including a constitutional guarantee for Alaskans' dividends, should be open for discussion. Alaskans don't need to be bribed with a constitutional guarantee for their dividends.

Alaskans have been debating a fiscal fix for a long time. Too long, in fact. This week's special session gives legislators the opportunity to stop talking and take some action.

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