June 3, 2013 (Issue 5)
What Happened?! (Part 1)
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Alaska Legislature basically does two things: we write new laws and we write the budget. I'm writing a couple of newsletters to help make sense of the recently concluded legislative session, and will focus on just the budget for now: What did those yahoos over in Juneau do with your money?!
There's Good News and Bad News
The good news: The State of Alaska has dubloons aplenty. We've stashed $17.1 billion in our rainy-day accounts; we've tucked away a tidy $46 billion in the Permanent Fund; and just this year we expect to collect $6 billion in revenue from our publicly owned oil resource.
These are the profound financial perks of living in what Wally Hickel famously called an "owner state." If gratitude is a way of life, we should be living it every day.
The last five years have been particularly kind. These were the glory years of multi-billion dollar surpluses and capital budgets that would inspire insecurity in Santa Claus himself.
|John Deere: the official sponsor of legislative stress-relief.
Here's the bad news: The glory years are gone. Done. And likely never to return. Oil prices are lower; there's less and less oil in the pipeline; and the State budget continues to grow. This is unwelcome yet inescapable arithmetic.
The legislature failed to balance the budget this year (not even close: we ran a $291 million budget deficit), and it's a foregone conclusion that we'll write a budget with red ink next year, especially once we have to account for the huge tax cut the legislature just gave the oil companies.
The Deficit Diet
Perhaps the best indicator of our brave new financial world is the capital budget. It's a whisper of what it was. Consider the following:
Last year's capital budget was $3.4 billion. This year's capital budget was $2.3 billion.
Those numbers mean more knowing how the budget process works: Every year the Governor writes a budget and he gives it to the legislature. We, the legislature, add to (and occasionally strike items from) the Governor's budget to produce a budget that is more or less the final deal.
Last year, the Governor submitted a $2.3 billion capital budget to the Legislature. The final budget was $3.4 billion. The Legislature added (approximately) $1.1 billion in capital projects.
|Hydaburg at dusk on Memorial Day, from a recent visit to the communities on Prince of Wales. Fitting beauty to honor the day.
This year, the Governor submitted a $1.9 billion capital budget to the Legislature. The final budget was $2.3 billion. The Legislature added (approximately) $0.4 billion in capital projects.
$1.1 billion to $0.4 billion: that's nearly a three-fold decrease in legislative appropriations year-over-year. And the $400 million in goodies legislators stuffed into this year's budget is going to seem lavish in future years. We're going on diet. It's not the South Beach or the Atkins; it's called deficit spending, and we're slimming down in a hurry.
Thar Be Treasure!
So, how much booty did District 34 get in the capital budget?
There are 40 legislative districts in Alaska. According to the Alaska Budget Report, District 34 – that's us! – got the third highest amount of money of the 40 districts in Alaska. There are a lot of things I wish were in there that are not, but all things relative, $71 million is not shabby.
Now, consider this word of the day: Self-aggrandizement: The act or practice of enhancing or exaggerating one's own importance, power, or reputation. Legislators talking about money is almost a definition of self-aggrandizement. And it's tempting! Tantalizing!
But the straight and honest truth is always the best policy. We got $71 million for a number of reasons: Foremost, Governor Parnell submitted a capital budget to the legislature that treated rural Southeast very fairly. Senator Stedman worked hard on the capital budget. So did I. And we worked with others. I guess you could call this aggrandizing collaboration, and it's the way things should work.
Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins
State Capitol, Room 426
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