AJOC EDITORIAL: The ‘What, me worry?’ Legislature

By the time House and Senate members return to Juneau after Memorial Day weekend, they will have burned through 14 days of a 30-day special session without much, if anything, to show for it.

Two days later, pink slips will go out to virtually every state worker with the possible exception of troopers, corrections officers and Pioneer Home employees.

If only they could be sent to the 60 legislators as well.

Both bodies have passed operating budgets as well as bills to use Permanent Fund earnings and end the state’s cashable oil tax credit program.

That should be a plenty good starting point, but conference committees haven’t met on the budget or Permanent Fund bills, and the Senate hasn’t even named conferees to the oil tax credit bill.

Alfred E. Neuman would be proud.

What, me worry?

Both sides are blaming the other, and both sides are right for a change.

The Senate did indeed pass its budget and Permanent Fund bills with time to spare while the House took the full 90 original days to pass an income tax that had no shot in the Senate and was rightly shot down on May 12.

The House also took the full 90 days to send the Senate a bill ending the cashable oil tax credit program for which the state liability will top $1 billion by the end of the 2018 fiscal year.

Income and oil taxes are the obsession of the House this year despite the fact the economy is in recession and bleeding thousands of taxpayers annually, largely from the beleaguered oil sector that has led the job losses numbering in the thousands.

Members of the House have far exceeded their mandate on oil tax policy by not only ending the credit program, but getting way over their skis by proposing to double and triple production tax rates at prices between $55 and $75.

The House proposals are nonstarters for the Senate; likewise the House leaders say it is a nonstarter for them to pass a budget that doesn’t raises taxes on “the wealthy” and “the biggest corporations in the world” despite the fact that middle class earners will be bearing the brunt of the cost through either less takehome pay or no takehome pay.

There’s been plenty of press conferences staking out these positions, but rhetoric isn’t work and it won’t get the job done.

If the Senate really wanted to put pressure on the House it would be demanding conference committee meetings daily.

Show up to a committee room and sit there without them if you have to make the point, but adjourning for two weeks without even naming conference committee members to the oil credit bill shreds the Senate leaders’ credibility on the issue of time management.

Room for compromise can be found if the Senate will ease up on a few of its deeper budget cuts and the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend and if the House would drop its ridiculous attempts to tax everything that moves when the economy is hurting.

A good place to start would be splitting the baby on the $288 million in the Statutory Budget Reserve that the Senate has allocated to start paying down oil tax credits that Gov. Bill Walker has been allowing to pile up for the last two years by vetoing $630 million worth.

Take half of that and restore some education funding for the House Democrats and it would go a long way toward meeting the differences in the operating budgets.

The Senate likely has a winning hand with the public by standing firm on refusing to pass an income tax but they can’t believe they will win the argument on nearly $300 million in oil tax credits while cutting the PFD and education funding.

All of this could have been done in the first two weeks of the special session, or at least a healthy start before leaving for the holiday weekend that nobody in Juneau has rightfully earned.

Now we are likely headed toward another special session that could cross the end of the fiscal year and put the state in a place where no one wants to be.

Yet the Legislature whistles along past the graveyard.

What, me worry?

Andrew Jensen can be reached at andrew.jensen@alaskajournal.com.

Updated: 
05/24/2017 - 12:49pm

Comments