The Legislature has a shot at redemption with the capital budget

Something might be going on in there.The Alaska State Capitol building as photographed in 2010. (Photo by Kimberly Vardeman/Creative Commons)

The 180 days the Legislature spent in session this year produced the fewest bills in history, left major decisions on the table and pushed the state near a disastrous shutdown. Even without the state’s fast-dwindling savings in mind, this year would be considered a disaster.

Now, the Legislature is set to return to Juneau to gavel into a special session on Thursday to pass the capital budget. Both sides promise a deal is already made and the bill can be passed in a matter of days.

Let’s hope they’re right.

Alaska doesn’t have the time for political bickering to derail the issue. The Legislature will have five days to get the bill passed before the Aug. 1 deadline that Gov. Bill Walker and others say is necessary to avoid delays on next year’s projects.

The swift and smooth passage of the capital budget—even though it’s historically late—would restore an ounce of credibility to the Legislature.

As I’ve said before, the Alaska Legislature has a credibility problem when it comes to dealing with the fiscal crisis. The state has been careening toward a fiscal cliff for years and for all the talk out of Juneau, the state is still on course to fly over that cliff. Sure, the Legislature may have tapped the brakes here or there to delay the problem, but the problem is still very real.

The well-being of Alaska is at stake, and legislators have seemed content to retreat to their political safe havens. Democrats have pushed for reopening oil taxes and conservative Republicans have continued to push for a cuts-only approach to the fiscal situation. Neither is politically or financially feasible at this time, and the fighting does little to stabilize Alaska’s budgeting.

The Legislature’s work has been pushed so far past the acceptable deadline that it’s now less a matter of who’s political agenda will win as much as whether any agenda will be passed at all.

Alaska suffers under uncertainty, and uncertainty has been the only consistent thing from the Legislature. The passage of House Bill 111 was pushed to the final hour with the proceeding weeks marked by sniping news conferences and increasing doubt that anything could be salvaged. Ultimately, the final passage of House Bill 111 showed legislative leadership is capable of compromise on big, difficult and politically charged issues.

The passage of a capital budget without the political sideshow that has defined recent action would be a breath of fresh air. Hopefully, its passage will show legislative leadership is learning the importance of acting quickly when the state’s fiscal house is coming apart even quicker.

It doesn’t and won’t excuse the widespread failures that have brought the state to where it is, but it would show the Legislature is learning from its errors and, perhaps, is on a path to redemption. There are still significant and difficult decisions ahead for the state that will need much more than the attitudes of the first 180 days of session to solve.

In the words of the late Sen. Ted Stevens: “To hell with politics, just do what’s right for Alaska.”


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