Contributed by Wes Keller
Undesignated, restricted, natural resource wealth (PF Earnings) was never intended to automatically become State budget revenue!
Unfortunately, this year’s spending spree (the budget process in Juneau) seems no different than other years. We have a Governor who has clearly expressed he will do his part if we can get our legislators in line. This annual budget melodrama (“Hunger Tales”) is getting very old. More Alaskans are now aware we need to “go on a [spending] diet”, so it is time to act! We are again watching the flood of special interest advocates rushing to Juneau to plead for more. We are watching the same old, time-tested, machinations that have unfortunately proven to be effective for keeping the feeding trough full!
The disappointing truth is: Alaskans evidently do not really want to cut budget over-spending! ...At least not so far! Our votes, or lack thereof, have created and empowered the prevailing spending policies of the State of Alaska. “We the People” have elected and enabled our over-spending culture! To deny culpability is to deny our constitutional power – the very power we need to fix the problem. It is hollow to whine about being duped by lying politicians when we benefit and tolerate overspending because we like it. Spending just happens, almost automatically, while most Alaskans passively watch! We tolerate because “all boats rise” on the State spending tide” – right? In truth, the electorate has been getting exactly what it can’t resist – a rich diet of nanny over-spending.
The exaggerated “hunger” we feel is particularly frustrating this year because of growing awareness of how high government spending is threatening our PFDs! This is in spite of the fact the Permanent Fund earnings were never meant to be brazenly used as “grocery monies” (revenue) in the political budget pantry! In fact, the clear intent of the PF was to avoid this very thing! If the legislature continues the pretense/presumption, billions of new dollars are added as fair game for the budgetary plots and schemes that created our problem. It adds to the “hog’s share” we originally surrendered in our constitution – the generous, unrestricted, 80% portion of our natural resource income in lieu of taxes. If “budget politics” becomes the new norm for the security of our PF earnings, it will not end well! Additional billions will be swallowed up to pay for even more unwanted government services, un-budgeted pensions, and bond debt liability. We need to authorize a real “spending diet” before we destroy ourselves!
The damage control needed this year is to get very specific, immediately, about where the Legislature is to get the money it spends! We have this option so long as the Constitution of Alaska stands. “We the People” must legally amend the Constitution to make it very clear PF earnings are for PFDs, and not for budget revenue! If more revenue is really needed beyond what has already been authorized, we must clarify the ONLY way the legislature can get it must be by a vote of approval by the people for any new taxes! The time-tested way to raise revenue is for legislators to be clever enough to pass tax laws while retaining enough vote support for re-election... the perfect spending restraint. If revenue cannot be raised under these terms because of resistance to taxes, spending must be less than whatever can be collected. (Duh!!!) Remember, “We the People” have already generously contributed in the Constitution, and unwittingly removed a check and balance. Legislators should be very cautious, because taking PFDs without further tax legislation should be FAR more infuriating than tax legislation. Legislators would be very wise to authorize a statewide vote to clarify use of PF earnings!
SJR 4, SJR 5, and SJR 6, requested by Governor Dunleavy, would allow Alaskans to vote to amend the constitution to enshrine the needed clarifications! We would be choosing to limit legislative spending, to require a state-wide vote for all new taxes, and to clarify the “hands off” policy regarding PF earnings intended for PFDs! http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Home/BillsandLaw This self-disciplined action may be the only hope we have this side of bankruptcy and shame! We need a strict, clear appropriation limit (a diet) in the Constitution itself! (The one in the Constitution now is a failed “joke”). The legislature can and will continue to play with legislation to try to reach similar goals, but their track record has destroyed public hope and trust.
Please engage in the legislative process to pass SJRs 4, 5, and 6. Without broad, quality engagement there is little reason to be optimistic for our economic future! Be forewarned: Selling a healthy diet in a market where it is a lot easier to sell junk food is not a cake-walk! You will likely be called ANTI-child, education, health care, poor and elderly. The spenders’ unapparent, but conflicted, interests! Unfortunately, the only way to economic health is to reduce the caloric input, which is never an attractive option until we just do it.