News-Miner opinion: Compromise can be tough for some elected officials. But it can be done. And for the betterment of Alaska it needs to be done now by the Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy to resolve this damaging budget standoff.
Alaskans know of compromise and have admired it as it was embodied by the late Sen. Ted Stevens, who was known as much for being good at compromise as he was for being cantankerous on the way to achieving it.
“Bipartisanship is natural for him,” said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa in a May 2007 tribute to Sen. Stevens on the Senate floor when Sen. Stevens became the longest-serving Republican senator. “He understands that the art of compromise is critical to getting things done.”
The various factions in our current budget morass have their positions and are pressured by their supporters to maintain them. Negotiations in this impasse will fail if those involved think more of their personal political survival than of what is best for the state.
Compromising can only occur if all parties are negotiating in good faith — and that means not making unreasonable demands knowing that they will be rejected.
Alaskans — not all, of course, but certainly a great number — are outraged by the governor’s veto of more than $400 million from the state budget. The cuts go deep and range from the mammoth 41% cut in state funding of the University of Alaska to much smaller vetoes that will harm the work of nonprofit social services programs in many of our communities.
Alaskans are suffering. This is too much, too fast.
What does a compromise in this instance consist of? It starts with a willingness to put all subjects on the table for discussion, including additional revenue, a reduced Alaska Permanent Fund dividend and an earnest discussion of what services the state can reduce or eliminate without disrupting our recovering economy. It includes a recognition by the governor that the Legislature is a co-equal branch of government and a recognition by the Legislature’s majority that the governor is an equal player in setting direction for the state.
It also includes a recognition by the governor and all legislators that the Alaska public has a voice that should be heard.
Gov. Dunleavy himself, in a March 2018 column published in the Daily News-Miner while he was a candidate, said, “I will be transparent, include Alaskans in my decision-making, pursue policies for the public good and be accountable.”
Those are good words, but they need to be more than just words. And they should apply to the Legislature’s negotiators also.
How should policy-making be conducted in the Alaska capital? That 2007 tribute by Sen. Grassley to Sen. Stevens offers a guide.
“Senator Stevens’ approach to policy-making is guided by Rotary International’s Four-Way Test, a copy of which is framed on his desk in the Senate Chamber,” Sen. Grassley said. “The test reads: ‘Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?’”
As Alaska’s leaders work through their budget disagreement, which is disrupting and hurting this great state of ours, let us hope they heed those words and come to a quick and fair resolution this weekend or in the days that follow.