Why is the Alaska legislature flirting with state shutdown?

By any measure, Alaska is currently on fragile fiscal ground. The best news for the state is that the number of COVID-19 cases tends to drop as vaccinations slowly rise, giving workers, Alaskans and tourists a reason to resume lives that are more like their normal days. ‘before the pandemic. But ask any business owner, and they’ll tell you their worries are far from over. As the economic engines of the United States and the world at large return to full capacity, there are widespread and unpredictable setbacks and bottlenecks in both the supply chain and the workforce. . Everywhere you look, prices are skyrocketing and Alaska, at the end of that supply chain, remains particularly vulnerable.

In addition, the state’s budgetary situation remains precarious. Even after spending nearly $ 16 billion in savings over the past half-decade, Alaska lawmakers are no closer to a sustainable budget plan, and could even take $ 1.5 billion more than the legal limit of the Permanent Fund this year, wasting future income for Alaskans in the name of a larger single check. To make matters worse, lawmakers are past the end of their regular session and are halfway through a month-long special session, with little sign of progress on adoption any budget, to say nothing of the one that balances without overloading our permanent fund. If the legislature fails to pull itself together and pass the budget by July 1, the state government will shut down. It would add unnecessary chaos to an already fragile economy, hamper Alaska’s exit from the pandemic, and cost millions and millions of dollars of money we can barely afford to waste.

There is a sort of simplistic call for a government shutdown for those who are skeptical of the value of government in the first place. It’s understandable that people can feel this, especially if their primary exposure to state government is watching lawmakers kick the road on budget matters every year, spending savings and cutting a lot of money. per diem money while doing it. But it’s important to remember that government affects many aspects of the services we depend on – education, public safety, health care, transportation – and as such, a government shutdown can disrupt all of those services, and many more. ‘others still. And at the end of the day, government shutdowns don’t save money.

The list of potential service disruptions due to a state government shutdown, historically, is long. They range from interruptions to the opening of commercial and sport fishing, delayed checks on Permanent Fund dividends, unused ferries, closed state parks and campgrounds, interrupted opioid treatment programs and a host of disrupted opioid treatment programs. ‘other elements. It is virtually certain that some aspects of Alaska’s continued efforts to end the pandemic would be jeopardized. A shutdown would also mean that the vast majority of state employees – including around 15,000 – would be out of work and at least temporarily unpaid. That would be a big blow to the amount of money flowing through Alaska’s economy, as state employees make up almost 5% of Alaska’s total workforce. Private companies that depend on the spending of these employees don’t need that kind of uncertainty now; they have more than enough to navigate as is. And at a time when unemployment is already far too high, we don’t need thousands of more of our neighbors to suddenly find themselves out of work.

There is still time for a budgetary consensus to emerge – more than three weeks. But if lawmakers are to develop a spending plan during this time, those discussions must take place now. And he’s been terribly calm in Juneau lately when it comes to progress on key sticking points, such as the Permanent Fund’s dividend amount and the total levy on fund income.

Budgeting on the brink is perhaps the worst way to craft a policy meant to be crafted in a regular session lasting several months. This mocks the public process, as the most important and costly parts of the state budget are decided behind closed doors – literally, as the public remains shut out of the state Capitol building despite the reopening of virtually all other government buildings – in committee conference, then passed in an abrupt vote with no real opportunity for voters to participate. It’s also a process that essentially ensures that the problem will repeat itself quickly: if you wait to work out a household spending plan until the utility company is about to shut off your heat, you’re not going to. not make a budget that puts you on a solid foundation for the long haul – you’re going to do just enough to avoid the immediate crisis and carry the problem over to the next billing cycle. The legislature has barely avoided disconnection notices for almost a decade, and that is not fair to Alaskans.

Let your lawmakers know that you expect them to do their job in the coming weeks. A stop this year would be unacceptable.

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