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OPINION: It's time for Legislature to reach a great Alaska compromise

June 15th, 2017 | Gov. Bill Walker Print this article   Email this article  

I am honored to serve along all the other good people of sound conviction elected to represent you here in Juneau? All of us face a truly historic challenge.

However, as we come together to solve our fiscal problems, it's clear that good intention and conviction are not going to be enough. Sometimes it is also necessary to find the courage to temper the passion of our own convictions, and to allow the convictions of others to play a role as well. This requires the art of compromise, something that when done prudently and respectfully, results in statesmanship.

The Legislature must rise to this challenge and finish this special session with meaningful reforms to address our fiscal challenges, and a responsible operating budget to protect Alaskans and our economy. Toward that end, I have recently submitted a compromise package of pre-existing fiscal concepts that gives everyone something, yet also asks everyone to leave something behind.

This compromise package is not my first choice? It is not what I have advocated for previously. But I, too, must compromise if this or something like it is what eventually passes. It is ultimately up to the legislative bodies to come to a compromise that works for them.

If we are to serve the best interest of our constituents at this critical time, we must not let perfect be the enemy of good. We can, and will, continue to work for what we believe in going forward; but the Legislature must also recognize that failing to pass a budget or to address the fiscal crisis is not acceptable.

My proposed compromise package includes Permanent Fund restructuring that provides clear rules for funding government that will protect future dividends. It includes a budget that incorporates $3.4 billion in cuts since 2013.

When adjusted for inflation and population, those reductions roll the budget back 1?years and the number of state employees back 15 years, while still protecting our current investments in education and public safety. This compromise would end the cash payouts to oil companies while preserving a form of incentive which guarantees that future investments can result in increased production.

It lays the foundation for a modest broad-based revenue measure that can help essential services keep pace with future economic growth. And it sends a clear message to the bond markets and to all who would do business in Alaska that we've finally taken our fiscal crisis seriously, and that our state is once again safe for investment.

While this compromise does not completely close the deficit, it does greatly narrow the gap and allow time for fine tuning later: after we see how oil prices and production play out, or how changes at the federal level might impact Alaska. Again, this plan is not perfect. But it might be the best option to pass both houses and begin to turn the state's economy around.

I encourage everyone — legislators and the general public alike — to embrace this spirit of compromise, acknowledging that nobody will be able to get everything they want.

We are currently the only state in the nation where residents do not help pay for the state services on which they depend. With our budget significantly reduced and oil revenues expected to be down over 75 percent for the foreseeable future, it's now time for all Alaskans to pull together to do what's right.

Please contact your legislators in both chambers to ask that they seek compromise, to resist any line-in-the-sand rhetoric, and to close a deal now. It's time. A brighter future depends on it.

Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, is the 11th governor of Alaska. He has served since 2014.


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