(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: We cannot risk a house divided

Each legislator’s satisfaction should be in doing what’s right for Alaska.

  • By Frank Murkowski
  • Wednesday, July 28, 2021 2:30am
  • Opinion

“A house divided against itself cannot stand” — Abraham Lincoln June 16, 1858, Illinois Republican State Convention

The Alaska Legislature has been in session for almost six months and is scheduled for another Special Session on Aug. 2 . Instead of arguing political ideology, let’s concentrate on what is right and what is wrong, and focus on what is right for Alaska.

The debates are focused on three issues: First — a long-term solution to our budget shortfall; Second — an affordable level for the dividend; and third — the Governor’s effort to pass a Constitutional Amendment that would put the Permanent Fund Dividend and the Power Cost Equalization fund into the state Constitution. A special legislative committee has been tasked with reporting back to the full Legislature prior to the August special session with specific recommendations to resolve the present impasse.

The reality is that the state does not have enough money to simultaneously fund the services Alaskans want and need, pay a dividend based on the 1982 formula and avoid an increase in taxes. An increase in state funds can only come from one of four choices: reduce services; pay an affordable (non-1982 formula) dividend; impose new taxes; or grow the economy through natural resource development.

Services have been reduced over the last eight years as our population increased. So, it is doubtful how much additional reduction is realistically possible. Moreover, while budget reduction sounds good as a general proposition, Alaskans don’t want to reduce individual services such as education, health care or public safety. It is not a viable alternative.

That Alaskans do not want a tax imposition is seen in polling and in Alaskans’ overwhelming vote rejecting an increase in oil taxes in 2020.

The enshrinement of the Permanent Fund Dividend and Power Cost Equalization in the state Constitution puts that funding ahead of all other state needs such as education, health care, public safety and other necessities of life. I do not believe this proposal is in the best interest of all Alaskans.

Growing the economy through natural resource development takes time and is not a solution for this year. Nevertheless, for future revenues I would urge this administration to be more aggressive in developing natural resources on state and Alaska Mental Health Trust land — especially in mining. Just one regional example — a 1991 USGS study estimated the value of discovered minerals on the Tongass at $37.1 billion and the value of Undiscovered Minerals at $28.3 billion. Those totals were expressed in 1988 dollars. Obviously, the exploration that has taken place since 1991 and the escalation in metals prices has pushed these numbers upward.

The bottom line is that the likelihood that our eight-member Legislative committee will produce a resolution satisfactory to everyone is highly unlikely. Instead, the Legislature must come together in a nonpartisan manner and develop compromises based on what we can afford, using funds we know we have without spending future funds that only add debt or adversely impact the corpus of the Permanent Fund. Further, we should not be manipulated by commitments to pass out free money at a level we cannot afford.

Resolution of these issues requires statesmanship and principled decision-making, not partisan ranker which solves nothing. Each legislator’s satisfaction should be in doing what’s right for Alaska and leaving behind a better foundation for the next generation. That is their challenge.

Ask your legislator to reflect on his or her oath of office to uphold the interest and needs of all Alaskans, both urban and rural.

We cannot risk a house divided.

Frank Murkowski is a former U.S. senator and eighth governor of the state of Alaska.

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