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Note from Rep. Les Gara
Note from Rep. Les Gara  
Government Shutdown: Why It Shouldn’t Happen
Note from Rep. Les Gara

May 30, 2017

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Want to Volunteer To Help A Child?

You can be a Volunteer Mentor to help a child, through a program we worked with foster care advocates to start, at Big Brothers, Big Sisters.  Just call433-4691. Have the time to do more?  Alaska has a major shortage of foster and adoptive parents, and you can help change a life by doing that.  To ask about foster parenting or adopting a child out of foster care call 1-800-478-7307.  And, of course, we are always asking people to donate tax deductible new or used (good condition only) laptops for current and recent foster youth.  You can contact us if you'd like to do that.

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Dear Neighbors:

I do not believe there will be a government shutdown.  Making that prediction true requires that 60 legislators act as statesmen and stateswomen, and that they base their votes on facts, not the fiction some politicians use for a good TV soundbite.

Let me be clear about a few things, and why the Senate and House have not agreed on a budget.  I believe strongly that public education matters.  Extending a hand to people struggling with disabilities and to seniors in need matters.  I could sign off on a budget that harms student achievement, children and seniors, pass it tomorrow, and go enjoy my summer.  But doing that to kids, seniors and those seeking an education to reach their potential, in my view, isn’t doing my job.  Failing to educate and train Alaskans in this state so they can work and raise families here isn’t fluff.  Those things matter.  They are worth battling for.

Good people on both sides can find a solution that puts Alaska on solid footing well before a July 1 government shutdown.

Like many other legislators and the Governor, I’ll say if I were running things, there would be no danger of a July 1 Government Shutdown.  The reality is we have to get all sides to agree to a budget and a revenue plan to deal with Alaska’s $2.7 billion deficit in face of the fact that prior leaders have spent through over 80% of our savings (I’ve fought for a revenue plan).  Alaska’s deficit is over $3 billion if we ever fund a needed construction and road and transportation budget again, which would bring Alaskans needed construction jobs. 

Why No House-Senate Budget Agreement?

Senate Republican Education, Senior Cuts, Oil Company Subsidies vs. A Bi-Partisan House Plan that Protects Seniors, Education & Fixes Our Deficit

I don’t believe in ducking my head in the sand when facing difficult problems. It’s not too late for you to send your views in through our on-line poll:

You have the right to know my views, and to know the facts.  And to give me fair feedback after considering these facts, and how I think we can fairly solve Alaska’s financial problems.    

Our bi-partisan House Majority Coalition has passed a full budget with rational cuts (totaling $80 million) weeks ago.  The Republican-led Senate countered with deep cuts to education, the University, and basic senior, disability and children’s services.  They passed what the Governor is correct to call an incomplete revenue plan that leaves continuing deficits, and allows no ability to afford a modest, job-creating construction, road and maintenance budget.  You deserve better than austerity, a cold shoulder to seniors and kids, and growing classroom sizes. 

If we signed off on their budget today you’d have this:

—  $65 million in damaging cuts to public education, or roughly 500-700 more laid off teachers, counsellors, nurses and support staff.

—  $21 million in cuts to a University that’s already suffered roughly $50 million in cuts that have deleted degree programs and caused Alaska to lose some of our best professors

—  The elimination of all state-sponsored pre-k

—  Damaging cuts to those we should never turn a back on: disabled Alaskans, Pioneer Homes, Seniors with health needsAlaska’s 3,000 abused and neglected children, and young offenders we want to turn away from a life of crime, but who will become career criminals with a short-funded juvenile justice system.

Cutting waste is one thing. These things are not waste. 

With $3.4 billion in budget cuts already since 2013, no person who knows Alaska’s budget can say with a straight face that a $3 billion deficit can be solved by more cuts.  Saying you can solve this budget crisis through more deep, harmful cuts is both irresponsible political sound-biting, and bad fiction.  And taking money out of the economy, and away from workers and grants, takes money away from restaurants, businesses, and the private sector.  Want deep budget cuts?  Then you have to admit what all credible economists say – every $100 million more in cuts at this point (some Republican Senators propose $750 million more in damaging cuts over the next 3 years) kills 1,000 – 1,500 private and public sector job losses. 

Want a long recession?  That’s how you’ll get one.

With a roughly $3 billion budget deficit, and dwindling savings, my bi-partisan Alaska House Majority Coalition has asked for a fair share for our oil as part of a revenue plan. The Senate, instead, wants to further cut our almost non-existent oil production tax, and pay $1.4 billion in oil company subsidies over the next 10 years.  They have added $360 million in oil subsidy payments to oil companies in their budgets this year.  That’s vastly excessive spending on the wrong priorities.  

In my view, children and seniors don’t take a back seat to oil companies that know, by plain and clear wording in our statutes, they are not entitled to $360 million in government subsidy payments this year. 

My Coalition also thinks exempting over 6,000 corporations and businesses from Alaska’s corporate tax makes no sense. Higher profit corporations and businesses, and wealthier Alaskans, would have chipped in through a school tax on income that focused on having people (including business and corporation owners) with higher incomes help fund our basic services.

The Senate’s only plan is to cut the Dividend to $1,000, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars a year in deficits.  We think a $1,000 dividend hits poorer Alaskans and seniors too hard, isn’t balanced, and ask much from those who have little, while asking little from those who have great wealth.  My Coalition proposes increasing the Dividend from last year’s $1,022 to $1,250, and growing it after that, knowing a Dividend cut hits seniors and lower income Alaskans the hardest. 

A plan has to be fair to all, not just to those with great privilege, or with loud voices in Juneau.

Legislators volunteered to come to Juneau to take tough votes in the face of three years of the worst budget crises Alaska has ever seen.  I don’t blame anyone that 80% of our oil revenue has disappeared.  It’s gone mostly because of sinking oil prices and oil tax revenue.  It’s gone partly because of a weak oil tax and subsidy law my House Coalition has passed legislation to fix (but fixing that alone won’t come close to solving a $3 billion deficit).

I’m here to work.  I’m here to reach principled consensus.  And I’m here to tell you, as of this writing, that I think we will solve this in a way that returns hundreds of teachers back to work.  I want good teachers to toss away those pink slips they received last week.  And I want to avoid a government shutdown.

Your job is to write Senators and House members and say what you want from us.  You voices matter.

I look forward to hearing from you.

My Best,

[signed] Les Gara

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