Gov. Tony Knowles has served notice that next year's state budget will have to go up just to meet existing obligations. In another time, that news might have prompted a knee-jerk cry of resistance -- a call to cut, no matter what. Now there is hope that discussion of state spending can focus on specifics rather than simplistic rhetoric.
Volatile oil prices, declining oil production and extra deposits in the Alaska Permanent Fund have forced 15 years of tough budget choices. Much of the government jungle that spreads from Juneau has been cleared.
Alaskans can take a more realistic and public-spirited view of the role government plays in our lives. Instead of a jungle needing clearance, state government today is something more like a lawn. A lawn can be an annoyance that you'd rather not have to deal with. Without proper care, it can grow out of control or wither and die. Properly tended, though, it can be an asset that's cause for pride and enhances the overall enterprise. Competent, efficient yet compassionate government is an essential building block of a civilized and prosperous Alaska.
As debate begins over the budget Gov. Knowles will propose for next year, the task at hand is more akin to gardening. Lawmakers will have to trim in some places while planting in others. The machetes have done their work. Bring out the seeds and the pruning shears.
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