Candidate Leman should lead, follow, or get out of the way

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2001

"I don't think it has to be done this year. ... It will be incumbent on the next Legislature."

-- Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, speaking to the Juneau Empire about the implementation of a long-range fiscal plan in the 2002 legislative session.

With all due respect to Sen. Leman, bah humbug.

The longer Alaskans avoid the difficult choices involved in a long-range financial plan, the worst the pain is going to be. The longer we wait, the fewer options we will have.

Will it be easy during an election year? No.

On the other hand, if Alaskans make it clear they are tired of hearing about the state's budget gap and want the Legislature to take action, it might provide just the incentive legislator-candidates need to do something.

Unfortunately, comments like Sen. Leman's add to people's cynicism about the legislative process and undermine efforts to solve the state's budget woes.

If the Senate Majority Leader, who, by the way, also happens to be a candidate for lieutenant governor, doesn't think there's a need to come to grips with the state's budget crisis in the upcoming legislative session, why should the rest of us worry?

If it will be incumbent on the 2003 legislative body to fix the problem, what are the legislators going to do in the 2002 legislative session? Posture about how a plan is needed? Argue about more budget cuts? Debate the meaning of "don't touch my dividend"? Try to make themselves look good without doing anything so they can return to Juneau in 2003 for more of the same?

Wasn't the current crop of legislators elected primarily because of campaign promises to solve the state's budget problems?

Then, let those legislators do the job they were elected to do.

Deferring repairs on the state's financial structure is like deferring maintenance on any building -- more time is only going to make the problems worse and more difficult to fix. In the past three years -- or more -- of fairly steady discussion on the state's budget woes, has there been some striking new development that makes it wise for the state to wait? No.

In fact, if Sen. Leman's reasoning is carried to its logical conclusion, here's where it will lead:

n 2002: Election year. No need for legislators to act on budget crisis -- they have more important work, like getting re-elected.

n 2003: New crop of legislators. They need time to learn the ropes and study the budget problems anew. No action on budget plan.

n 2004: Oops. Constitutional Budget Reserve, which the state has been using to balance its budget, runs dry. Drastic action required immediately if not sooner.

A recent caller to a public radio show had an interesting perspective on legislators, the media and the state's budget problems. She encouraged those in the media to take a positive approach to the story. Instead of assuming, because 2002 is an election year, that nothing will be accomplished, she asked those covering the story to expect legislators to do the right thing.

She made an excellent point. Why shouldn't legislators do the right thing for the state? They were elected to office because Alaskans believed they had both the will and wisdom to do the right thing. And for most Alaskans, the right thing, the priority, is a sound financial plan for the state; and the sooner, the better.

In fact, legislators will have, or should have, a better chance of re-election if they have something to show for their time in office -- namely, a plan to erase the state's budget gap.

Sen. Leman's statement shows him to be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. He and other legislators who think a long-range financial plan is not achievable in the upcoming session should get out of the way and let other legislators do the work they were elected to do.

And as legislators prepare to head to Juneau in January, Alaskans should let them know we are in this crisis together and our expectation is that they will do the right thing for the state.

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