- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

June 30, 2016

Ketchikan Daily News: Responsible realist

Gov. Bill Walker did what he had to.

It’s what the Legislature - at least the House - couldn’t do during an election year.

He addressed the $4-billion budget deficit.

He had stated - repeatedly - to save the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program, state leaders would need to limit payouts to $1,000 for at least the next three years. If that wasn’t done, then the program remained in peril as the state’s deficit would increase.

Because the state House didn’t heed Walker’s warning, unlike the Senate, Walker had to follow through on his own.

The Legislature had passed budgets without sufficient funds to pay for them.

In response Walker exercised his veto authority, and not only with the dividend program. He also reduced oil-tax credits by $400 million, cut administrative department spending by $38 million, took an additional $10 million away from the University of Alaska and $58.3 million from public education.

This isn’t what Gov. Walker wanted to do. But he’s a responsible realist. The Legislature didn’t adopt all of his deficit-reduction proposals during its regular and special session this year. It cut $400 million, but that represented a 10-percent solution. It left the other 90 percent to Walker.

The Senate individually and in a narrow, but bipartisan vote, endorsed Walker’s permanent fund program limit. The House didn’t even vote on it, using such excuses as it being an election year and not wanting to alienate voters, oil-tax credits hadn’t been cut enough, and state spending hadn’t been reduced sufficiently.

It’s done now. Walker did it all.

The Legislature is scheduled for a second special session this year, called by Gov. Walker to start July 11. Perhaps Walker’s action will prompt motion in that body, too.


June 30, 2016

Peninsula Clarion: PFD cut the least outrageous option

When Gov. Bill Walker announced his veto of a portion of the funds allocated for Alaska Permanent Fund dividend payouts Monday, the outrage was swift and strong.

But where was that outrage last month, when the Legislature passed a state operating budget funded almost entirely by a draw on the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve? Shouldn’t draining the state’s savings account have sparked a similar level of outrage, if not more so? For all the complaints we hear about the federal government saddling future generations with trillions in debt, you’d think the people of Alaska would be more critical of the lack of foresight that seems to be driving policy decisions - and more supportive of efforts to avoid draining the state’s reserves.

The preamble to the Alaska Constitution says it best: “We the people of Alaska, grateful to God and to those who founded our nation and pioneered this great land, in order to secure and transmit to succeeding generations our heritage of political, civil, and religious liberty within the Union of States, do ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Alaska.”

Alaskans seem to be more focused on securing things for ourselves right now, and have forgotten about transmitting those blessings - including a financially stable state government - to future generations.

For more than a year, we have known that the state’s fiscal situation is going to have an impact on every Alaska resident. Apparently, we didn’t really believe it. Yes, there was some outcry when roads weren’t plowed as fast as they have been in the past, but for the most part, Alaskans have proceeded as though it’s just business as usual.

Gov. Walker has taken steps he views as necessary to preserve the state’s savings for as long as possible. While we don’t always agree with his methods and would disagree with some of his veto decisions, we have yet to see another comprehensive fiscal plan that looks more than a year down the road.

The ball is now in the Legislature’s court, specifically the House of Representatives, where the plan for use of permanent fund earnings passed by the Senate died in the finance committee. Gov. Walker has called lawmakers into another special session, set to start July 11. They can enact a revenue plan, they can override the governor’s vetoes, or they can leave the whole thing as is for the next Legislature to deal with - when Alaska will have an even bigger problem and even fewer options available to deal with it.

Wouldn’t that be outrageous?


July 3, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Legislature should act on revenue measures in special session

During his campaign and throughout his term as governor so far, Gov. Bill Walker has frequently said he wasn’t governing to be re-elected. Last week, he proved it. With a spate of vetoes targeting almost every partisan sacred cow in the Alaska budget - education, oil tax credits, public broadcasting, transportation and even the wildly popular Alaska Permanent Fund dividend - Gov. Walker angered a broad swath of Alaskans. But if he suffers politically for his decision, it has nonetheless been a great service to the state. Not only does the governor’s action close this year’s budget by a substantial fraction, preserving fast-diminishing state savings, it also removes every realistic excuse legislators could have to avoid taking action on revenue measures that will put the state back on an even fiscal keel in future years.

It speaks to Alaskans’ mindset that the primary cause of dissension the governor faced after his vetoes was the approximately 50 percent reduction in the allocation to the annual dividend received by Alaskans. Though the Senate passed a measure that would have made a similar reduction as part of Gov. Walker’s permanent fund earning restructuring plan, Senate Bill 128, legislators in the House backed away from their effort to do so as Democrats demanded more oil tax credit cuts and Republicans wanted more reductions in state spending. In his vetoes, Gov. Walker took all three actions, making good on his promise to legislators that he would take all the blame for unpopular budget moves while letting them take credit for a more sustainable path.

In making the cuts he did, Gov. Walker removed all obstacles to debate of a longer-term fiscal solution for the state. As he has already reduced the dividend to $1,000 per recipient, legislators won’t suffer political fallout for doing so themselves if they pass permanent fund earnings reform. Members of the Republican-led majority caucus can’t make a realistic claim that the budget should receive greater cuts, as the governor cut hundreds of millions of dollars in spending beyond the reductions made in the budget legislators passed. Members of the Democratic minority caucus can’t proclaim not enough has been done to stem tax credit payouts to oil companies, as Gov. Walker has axed more than $400 million of the sum paid to producers this year.To be sure, there will be negative impacts from the governor’s action. While the dividend is free money for Alaskans, losing a portion of it will hurt the budgets of low-income families and those saving for college or fuel bills. Cuts to education and the university will have a negative effect on Alaska students. And some of the transportation projects put on hold, such as the Wendell Avenue bridge replacement, have been needed for years.

But if Alaska is to achieve balance in its budget, there will be accompanying pain as it reduces spending to a level the state can better afford. Gov. Walker has done the heavy lifting for legislators, potentially torpedoing his own prospects for re-election so members of the Legislature will have no worry about the effect of enacting revenue measures on their own chances in November.

The governor has had the courage to take the hit. Now it’s legislators’ turn to step up to the plate and deliver the revenue measures that will put the state on a course toward a balanced budget when their special session begins July 11.

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