- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials:

July 29, 2017

Ketchikan Daily News: Fourth go around

A fourth special legislative session this year would be prudent.

The state Legislature is well aware of Alaska’s financial situation. It started its regular session with the priority of dissolving the $2.5 billion budget deficit.

It took the regular session and three special sessions, largely because of this deficit, to come up with oil tax reform, an operating budget and, this week, a capital budget.

But, still, the deficit remains. No one really expected it to magically disappear. It takes time to scale down government programs and services, as well as make adjustments to increase revenue. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

The long-distance run should continue in 2017. The Legislature has momentum in its favor. It’s also the year before an election.

Once the election year starts, legislators will be distracted by it. It will be more difficult for them to come to bipartisan solutions in chambers when presenting their differences to voters outside the hallowed walls.

And any delays only increase the challenge of eliminating the deficit. State reserves will be about gone before the election ballots are counted in November 2018.

Addressing the deficit will take bipartisanship. The Senate and House votes on the capital budget split, 15-4 and 27-13 respectively, with Republicans in control of the Senate and Democrats of the House.

It will be at Gov. Bill Walker’s discretion to call a fourth special session.

The fourth session would be devised to make gains against the deficit.

No legislator goes home from Juneau and forgets about the deficit; nor have Alaskans forgotten about it. It’s still very much a factor in Alaska’s economy.

If the economy is to thrive, then the state has to have its finances in order.

The sooner the better.

___

July 31, 2017

Peninsula Clarion: When it comes to legislation, the process is important

While we agree that the Affordable Care Act needs reform, we also believe that it needs to be done the right way, and we commend Sen. Lisa Murkowski for her actions in the U.S. Senate.

For those who have been out fishing all week and missed the news, Sen. Murkowski broke with Senate Republicans this week, first in voting against opening debate on bills to repeal or replace Obamacare to varying degrees. Despite being the subject of less than complimentary tweets from President Donald Trump, she also voted against all three proposals, including the “skinny” repeal, which failed when Sen. John McCain dramatically gave it a thumbs down in the early hours of Friday morning.

Sen. Murkowski has always been clear that Obamacare needs to be fixed - but she’s also always been clear in her belief that any legislation, especially a bill as far-reaching as health care reform, needs to go through the proper process. That means Senate committees have the opportunity to thoroughly vet a piece of legislation and offer amendments before it goes to the full Senate for debate, consideration of more amendments and, eventually, a vote.

With the legislation considered this past week, that was not the case. The GOP proposals were crafted behind closed doors by a small group of Senators.

Murkowski’s stance on the Senate process has been consistent. When Democrats controlled the chamber, she was a frequent critic of the way in which legislation was drafted. When Republicans gained a majority, she promised a return to the normal rules of order, and has frequently set an example by working with members of both parties on legislation important to Alaska.

Sen. Murkowski has received criticism from those who believe she should march in lock step with her party, ironic in a state that celebrates leaders with an independent streak.

Quite frankly, repeal solely for the sake of repeal is a solution that only makes the problem worse. There is plenty in the Affordable Care Act that needs to be improved - but there’s also parts that have helped many Alaskans.

In a statement released Friday, Sen. Murkowski said she would continue to work to improve the law.

“I voted no on the health care proposal last night because both sides must do better on process and substance,” Murkowski. “The Affordable Care Act remains a flawed law that I am committed to reforming with a structure that works better for all Americans. But to do that, the Senate must fully devote itself to an effort to improve the health care system in this country, reduce costs, increase access, and deliver the quality of care that our families want and deserve.”

We don’t believe for a minute that health care reform is a dead issue. With each failure comes a new opportunity, and the Senate now has a chance to craft a piece of legislation that does more than score a political victory - a bill that actually fixes a problem.

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July 30, 2017

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: For Alaska’s sake, lawmakers must act on revenue before year’s end

Hold up there, legislators, your work isn’t done yet.

The most expeditious special session in recent memory began and ended Thursday, as lawmakers gathered in Juneau to pass a capital budget that had already been worked out by caucus leaders. Although some grandstanding about the state budget occurred - in the form of floor speeches and conceptual amendments - the spending plan passed without much drama. It was a heartening reminder of what kind of sensible progress is possible when legislators are willing to deal with one another, as well as a sad commentary on the fact that they usually aren’t.

Of the three major legislative items that have seen passage this year - the operating and capital budgets, as well as revisions to the state’s oil tax credit system - all have come as the result of bipartisan negotiations between the Legislature’s majority caucuses in the House and Senate. All have been solid pieces of legislation, balancing fiscal responsibility with preserving the state’s services as much as is possible in a difficult financial position. In short, when it’s been absolutely necessary for the Legislature to act, its members have done so. But only when absolutely necessary.

The pieces of legislation that have been passed have taken too long to emerge, and, as a result, there have been far too few of them. Part of this delay surely stems from the fact that the House and Senate are led by caucuses with different visions for the state, but there’s no reason the two bodies can’t come together on items of common agreement - as they have, eventually, on each of the major items passed so far.

After three years, the deficit that appeared in the state’s finances is still yawning wide, eating billions of dollars in state savings. The House and Senate have adjourned, but their leaders and Gov. Bill Walker must see the necessity of returning to session before year’s end to deal with revenue solutions - if not a full, comprehensive package that will balance the budget entirely, then at least a restructuring of permanent fund earnings that will show Alaskans they didn’t give up half the amount of their dividend checks for nothing. The earnings restructure wouldn’t entirely close the state’s roughly $2.5 billion budget gap, but it would stanch the bleeding and show Alaskans progress is being made toward a sustainable solution so that our children can enjoy the same kind of Alaska we have.

If legislators can’t find the spines to pass an earnings restructure this year, after all, there’s little hope they will do so in 2018. Next year, every seat in the House (as well as the governor and one-third of the Senate) will be up for election and wary of making hard choices about revenue for the state. Pandering will be high and bipartisan compromise low. It’s time to act.

If legislators fail to make substantive progress in setting the state on a stable fiscal track, voters should have no qualms about removing them from office in 2018. Those elected in 2016, after all, came into office with this issue firmly ensconced as the state’s No. 1 priority, and there can be no excuse for not having made better progress on closing the fiscal gap than has been the case so far.

It’s time for a fourth special session.


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