My contributions to this space have been sporadic in recent weeks because I was on a 6,000-mile road trip with my daughter Anne, who completed nursing school in Arizona and didn’t mind taking along a passenger/relief driver in the effort to return her Subaru and her possessions to Alaska.
We took a roundabout route with a stop along the way in Chicago for a family wedding. I checked in from time to time on the budget stalemate in Alaska, concluding that residents of every state we visited would find it hard to define what is happening in Alaska as a financial crisis.
The self-inflicted emergency is that the state with the lowest taxes in the U.S. is struggling to decide whether to give its residents $1 billion or $2 billion this year and if basic services such as education and health care should be properly funded or gutted.
The governor and the Legislature could easily solve this matter by agreeing to a compromise that balances state services with higher taxes, some new taxes and a reasonable cut in the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. What stops them from doing so is the habit of looking at these items as if they were unconnected and a refusal to look at the big picture.
I’m not sure what it will take to broaden the discussion to include a real fiscal plan for Alaska, but I was glad to see the leaders of the House and Senate agree this week that the special session should be in Juneau, with meetings in Anchorage.
The state will save money with that approach and will improve access to all Alaskans, including those in Wasilla. It’s a step in the right direction.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy held a news conference June 14 in which he said public access by Alaskans is the reason he wanted legislators to meet in Wasilla.
No one was fooled by that bogus claim. He wanted the special session in Wasilla because he thought that would be the best way to get as many agitated people as possible in the rooms to yell at lawmakers, people willing to believe the Dunleavy fantasy about the dividend and shut out everything else.
“Within five hours of driving you have about 500,000-plus people that can drive to the Mat-Su, from Kenai, to Fairbanks, to the eastern Interior and come to Mat-Su and be able to voice their opinion as to what they think regarding the PFD program, the full PFD, “ Dunleavy said last week. “So this gives Alaskans an opportunity.”
Dunleavy chose the opportunity to be ridiculous. The idea that Wasilla Middle School is the ideal location for statewide public access is based on the most narrow view possible. Dunleavy followed this up Monday with the statement accusing legislators of “thwarting the law and the voice of the Alaskan people.”
That is complete nonsense. According to Standing Tall, the only way to listen to the voice of Alaskans is to force legislators into Wasilla Middle School where the public won’t have electronic access statewide.
The people who are agitated, along with everyone else in Alaska, will have a better opportunity to make their voices heard using the electronic resources in Juneau and Anchorage that are available to all Alaskans but are missing from Dunleavy’s inaccessible Wasilla plan.
The Alaska Constitution says a special session may be called by the governor or by two-thirds of legislators. The constitution says nothing about picking the location. The Legislature will be complying with the constitution by meeting in Juneau.
“Although we are one vote short of the 40-vote threshold to call ourselves into our own special session agenda, the majority of legislators in both bodies considers it our right to determine the location and venue best equipped to conduct business on the governor’s special session call, while providing the most access to as many Alaskans possible,” said Senate President Cathy Giessel and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon.
“Funding the 2019 Permanent Fund dividend is critical to Alaskans. However, the long-term issues about the sustainability and future of the permanent fund must also be addressed. Unfortunately, the governor’s special session proclamation restricts discussion solely to the amount of this year’s PFD.”
“Importantly, the governor’s proclamation also fails to include the Fiscal Year 2020 capital budget. If the capital budget is not finalized in July, Alaska’s private sector industries could be devastated by forfeiting nearly $1 billion in federal highway and aviation projects because required state matching dollars were not provided.”
Saving hundreds of thousands of dollars and providing statewide electronic access are the best reasons why lawmakers should meet in Juneau and Anchorage. Giessel and Edgmon are also correct in calling for the capital budget to be placed on the agenda for the July 8 session.
Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaskan, an author of several history books, and a former Daily News-Miner staff columnist who now writes an occasional column on Alaska politics and history. His email address is email@example.com.