Friday, July 5, 2013

Short Takes| The split personality of Alaska R's ...

Yesterday afternoon I posted the July 2013 edition of my, now, monthly commentary in the Anchorage Business Monthly. The July piece is entitled "Missing the Point" and focuses on the claims by both the pro- and anti- SB21 sides that their approach saves Alaska's fiscal future and the other side's destroys it.  The piece explains that both sides are wrong, that what controls Alaska's fiscal future are spending, not revenue levels, and that neither side has addressed that point.

Despite the fact it was July 4th -- and this is the July 4th weekend -- by the afternoon I had received several emails and a few posts from Republicans supportive of SB 21 suggesting that I am wrong, and that Republicans do have a plan also for reducing spending which addresses Alaska's future.  A few more notes to me at my blog arrived this morning.

My response consistently has been that, if there is such a plan, it is deeply hidden and largely unfulfilled.

As I point out in the article, early in January, before the start of this year's legislative session, the University of Alaska-Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) published a study which started with the following sentence:  "In fiscal year 2014, Alaska’s state government can afford to spend about $5.5 billion."  That and previous pieces went on to explain that if approved spending continued to exceed that level, the impact would be felt by future generations of Alaskans, as oil production or prices decline below the levels required to sustain the costs of state government, through significantly reduced levels of government services, the need for state sales, property and income taxes or likely, a combination of both.

Despite that clear warning, in April the state's "Republican in Chief," Governor Sean Parnell, announced agreement with -- also Republican -- legislative leadership on a FY 2014 spending level of $6.8 billion, roughly 25% above the level identified by ISER.  More stunningly, in the same discussion the state's Republican in Chief also announced an agreed "fiscal plan" to maintain spending at that level for the next five years.  By that time Alaskans will be in the hole at least another $6.5 billion and, again as the January ISER study points out, well on their way to "a severe fiscal crunch soon after 2023, and with that fiscal crisis ... an  economic crash."

Certainly, Republicans talk a good game.  As one reader pointed out, in their "exit interviews" (the final press availabilities following adjournment) both the Senate and House leadership (Republicans all) talked vaguely about reduced spending.  The reader relied on that as "evidence" that the R's are on the right side of the issue.  

But that is just talk.  The reality is that the four largest budgets in Alaska's history have come during the four fiscal years controlled by the Parnell Administration.  And if the legislature goes along, Parnell's "fiscal plan" ensures that string will continue.  Unfortunately, it will come at the expense of future Alaska generations.

In 2012, some incumbent legislators lost and others came close to losing because voters perceived that they had lost touch with the best interests of Alaskans.  If my email is any indication, as voters become aware this coming election of the reality of the Republicans' actions -- in other words, of the "other side" of the Alaska R's personality -- it is likely to happen again.