Posted April 10
Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:
April 6, 2017
Ketchikan Daily News: State regains control
Alaska will take that win.
On its way out the door of the White House, former President B.H. Obama's administration imposed new regulations on federal land in Alaska.
The regulations banned the use of specific predator control hunting methods on more than 76 million acres of federal land. The Fish and Wildlife had imposed the restrictions last year.
It banned bear baiting, hunting via aircraft and killing predator animals in their dens. Most of those practices already are prohibited in Alaska.
The main concern wasn't the regulations specifically, but that Alaska should be in control of its wildlife management.
That control is returned to Alaska through House Bill 69, the handiwork of Congressman Don Young. It passed both the House and Senate, and President Donald J. Trump signed it this week.
April 6, 2017
Peninsula Clarion: Deja vu all over again?
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre has been giving Power Point presentations in which he outlines the state's comprehensive plan to address its roughly $3 billion budget deficit. He then shows his audience a blank screen.
We're hopeful that the Legislature will have made some concrete progress toward a long-term solution when adjourns sometime after Easter, but we're also starting to wonder if we're caught in another "Groundhog Day" session (or Marmot Day, here in Alaska).
In the movie, Bill Murray's character relives Groundhog Day over and over until her figures out how to get things right.
In the Legislature, the House and Senate appear to be on yet another collision course over how to cover the budget gap. The Senate has sent a plan to the House that would restructure the way in which earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund are allocated, using a portion to fund state government. Permanent Fund dividends would be capped at $1,000 for the next three years, but should a spending cap be adhered to, the state budget would be balanced in the next six years.
However, the Senate has also proposed deep cuts, including a 5 percent cut to the formula used to provide funding for public schools.
The House's fiscal plan includes a restructuring of Permanent Fund earnings, though at a lower draw than the Senate plan. Rather than deep cuts, the House plan would make up the difference by reinstating a state income tax — a measure even some members of the House majority are beginning to balk at. The House plan also includes increased taxes on the oil and gas industry.
We've been down this road before; last year, the Senate passed a similar plan to use a portion of Permanent Fund earnings, but the measure never made it out of committee in the House.
So we're wondering, in the next couple of weeks or months or however long lawmakers need to complete this session's work, will there be room for compromise between the two bodies, or will Mayor Navarre's Power Point continue to include that blank screen? Will we see at least the beginnings of a solution this year, or will we wake up next session facing the same fiscal gap, no closer to a solution?
Lawmakers need to focus on the proposals they have in common — which happens to be use of Permanent Fund earnings — and then compromise on the other parts of the budget, from additional cuts to new revenue after that's done. Most lawmakers in Juneau acknowledge that a Permanent Fund earnings plan is the biggest part of the puzzle. But what they're doing now, adding proposals to a Permanent Fund earnings plan that the other side will find unpalatable and then digging in on an all-or-nothing approach, is only putting Alaska deeper in the hole.
And we're getting tired of reliving this over and over again.
April 9, 2017
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Whichever plan prevails, closing deficit is an absolute necessity
Our backs are against the wall. As the legislative session in Juneau approaches its 90th day, there remain deep divisions between the state House and Senate on budget issues, particularly the mechanism by which the deficit of nearly $3 billion should be closed. The answer to the budget question will have effects that reverberate in the state for years and decades to come — but there must be an answer. Alaska must have a plan to accomplish a balanced budget, and regardless of whose solution prevails, the majority of the state's deficit must be erased this year.
The primary difference between the House and Senate's budget plans is whether taxes are necessary. The majority caucuses in both chambers appear to agree that restructuring of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings is necessary to provide a stable funding stream for the state and help it to be less reliant on oil revenue. For its part, the Senate has already passed a restructuring plan for the second year in a row. This is a big step, as well as a necessary one. Unfortunately, earnings restructuring is far from a slam dunk, as the House has combined it with an income tax that Senate leaders are loath to even consider.
The question of whether an income tax is necessary is one worth asking and debating. Senate majority caucus members say it isn't, that their long-term plan for a balanced budget will draw more heavily on the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve but avoid the need for personal contributions to state coffers by residents. Their plan, however, counts on $750 million in cuts from a state operating budget already bled thin during the past two years. This year's cuts, likely to constitute a third of that $750 million, have already been called "devastating" for the university and K-12 education. They would eliminate the Alaska Performance Scholarship, a merit-based scholarship meant to decrease the outflow of gifted Alaskans for college education. They would cut about $7.6 million from local K-12 schools, meaning fewer teachers and larger class sizes — and possibly higher local property taxes, if the borough opted to stem some of those cuts at a municipal level. And given that education is one of the state's largest allocations of general fund spending, it's a safe bet that the cuts to follow next year and the year after would also hit K-12 and university classrooms hard.
The House solution, which couples earnings restructuring with the state's first personal income tax in decades, would be a surer bet to balance the budget, but it would require more burden for services be carried by individual Alaskans. Under the House budget plan, it wouldn't be as difficult to maintain state services such as education, transportation and public safety at their present levels. But members of the Senate have expressed strong reservations, saying it would be too easy to ratchet the income tax upward to cover spending increases instead of being fiscally responsible.
Regardless of which solution has greater support, passing either plan is vastly preferable to passing no plan at all. Alaska can't wait another year for a fiscal solution.