Senator touts spending cap to chamber

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2001

Reining in governmental spending was the theme of Wednesday's Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

No cap is the same as "a blank check to government," said Sen. Jerry Ward, whose district encompasses South Anchorage, Nikiski, Kenai and parts of Kalifornsky Beach. Having a cap would "force government to prioritize."

Although he believes public safety, education and transportation would be on everybody's priority list, Ward said, "what we need to do is decide which portions of government we'll pay for. Government will spend as much as they can unless there are limits."

Saying a limit should exist on state spending in the same way individual checkbooks are limited, Ward stressed that government "has to live within its means."

The senator, who recently relocated from Anchorage to Nikiski, said a limit was adopted by voters in 1981 but has proven ineffective. Believing "people clearly want restraints on government," Ward joined eight other senators in co-sponsoring a resolution to place a constitutional limit on appropriations and spending.

According to the sponsor statement, Senate Joint Resolution 23 would amend the state constitution "by lowering the existing appropriation limit to better reflect Alaska's current revenue picture. Passage of SJR 23 would ensure a limit on the growth of state government and force the state to further reasonably reduce non-essential state spending."

The resolution passed the Senate and now awaits approval by the House of Representatives during the second half of Alaska's 22nd Legislature. It places a $3.1 billion limit on appropriations based on last year's budget, taking inflation and population into consideration. If passed by the House, the proposed constitutional amendment would go before voters during the next general election.

"Without a meaningful constitutional amendment in place that limits the amount of state general fund expenditures, there is absolutely no guarantee that the state will reduce spending," the sponsor statement read. "SJR 23 would limit state spending and is a key component of Alaska's long-term fiscal health."

Talks about raising revenues are good discussions, but they put the cart before the horse, Ward said.

"First, limit the size of government," he said.

Linking privatization to control of governmental spending, Ward championed privatization for offering opportunities to do the same work as government but having a price tag less than or equal to that spent by government.

"It is the next logical step because it brings in the competition that we need," Ward said. "Whenever you bring in privatization, I think it's a good and healthy thing."

Ward also touched on subsistence, calling it a priority, but urged caution against letting it create separate classes of people.

"If someone eats fish and game, that has priority over someone who catches it for profit. Subsistence is a right of everybody," said Ward, who announced that he had already filled his freezer with fish for the season.

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