GUEST COMMENTARY: Fiscal crisis is a pivotal moment in Alaska’s history
This moment in Alaska’s history is pivotal in determining what our future as a state will look like. The sudden drop in oil prices and the broken promises of increased oil production in return for excessive tax cuts and credits have resulted in a nearly $3.5 billion budget gap that must be closed. Alaska is required by law to produce a balanced budget. However, a budget is more than just numbers on a page. It should reflect the basic values of the people.
We value Alaska’s children and their opportunity for success. That’s why we are committed to supporting Alaska’s schools and hard-working teachers. It is unfair to short-change our future generations by cutting public education based on the fluctuating price of a commodity like oil.
We value a strong economy with abundant job and business opportunities. That’s why we are committed to protecting Alaska’s economy from the harm that can come by cutting vital services. It’s hard to open your business or get to work on time if the roads are not plowed.
Now, with the low price of oil and declining production, it is more important than ever that we act rationally to keep from triggering a downward spiral and economic disaster. A “cuts only” strategy would gut critical services and jeopardize our future.
We are committed to asking the tough questions and acting in the best interest of all Alaskans. By working together, we can solve our state’s fiscal crisis and build an economy that works for all of us.
Alaskans have faced and successfully addressed challenging situations in the past. We constructed one of the world’s largest pipelines, fostered the finest fisheries in the world, united together to rebuild our communities devastated by the Good Friday earthquake, and overcame the Great Alaska Recession in the 1980s.
We must tighten our belts, realize efficiencies in how we deliver state services, and make wise investments in our future. If we expect to build a sustainable future for current and future generations of Alaskans we cannot afford to lay off thousands of employees, starve public schools, cut back public safety, and stop developing our resources.
For too long, Alaska’s political leaders, and powerful special interests have looked out for themselves, their wealthy friends, and big corporations rather than looking out for average Alaskans. The extravagant Anchorage Legislative Information Office, frivolous anti-Medicaid expansion lawsuit, high-priced travel, and infeasible mega projects are examples of wasteful spending that needs to stop.
For most of us, incomes haven’t kept up with the cost of living. Hardworking Alaskans should be able to afford to heat their homes, pay their bills, see a doctor when they are sick, educate their children, and take care of their families. We must develop a budget that puts Alaskans first, rather than makes it harder for average Alaskans.
Alaskans rightfully deserve their fair share from our incredible resource wealth. In fact, our Constitution requires that our resources be managed for the maximum benefit of all Alaskans. Oil companies should not be the only ones held harmless as we seek to build a sustainable budget and future. It’s wrong that we currently pay out millions more in oil tax credits than we receive in production taxes. It’s also wrong that the current oil tax structure is so flawed that Alaska will never again benefit from budget surpluses when oil prices inevitably rise again.
We know that working together, having a dialogue, and listening with an open mind is the best way to solve our fiscal problems and move Alaska forward. The current fiscal environment demands that we thoughtfully evaluate all responsible options as we consider how to develop a sustainable budget. We must not ignore our responsibility because an election is coming up. Cuts to our budget alone will not be adequate to solve our fiscal problem.
There is no single solution to this challenging situation but we are committed to protecting Alaskans’ interests, supporting a strong economy and promoting safe and healthy communities. We will evaluate all options through the lens of these questions: How does it affect average Alaskans, will it result in a stable economy and is it the least harmful path forward?
As Alaskans, we are all in this together. We stand ready to work with the Governor and our legislative colleagues to address these challenges and move Alaska forward. By working together, we can solve our state’s fiscal crisis and build an economy that works for all of us.
The authors are Democrat representatives from districts in Fairbanks (Kawasaki), Juneau (Kito) and Anchorage (Josephson and Drummond).