A Note from Representative Les Gara, Dec. 13
Guv's Budget: No Raise For Kids & A Proposed Governor Pay Raise??
What’s bad for the goose is bad for the gander. Or better put, you can’t ask for yourself what you don’t give to others.
Yesterday the Governor introduced his budget. Smart cuts and efficiencies are needed in light of the $2 billion drop in Alaska revenue projected for next year. And with the Governor’s new oil tax law – which will guarantee multi-billion dollar deficits long into the future, a budget, even a reduced one, should have a vision.
There are some things I think are visionless in the budget, and blind to Alaska’s future. There are some things I agree with.
Children Shortchanged - Again
I will try to work with the Governor to fix what doesn’t work, including his fourth year of proposed teacher and educational cuts that has put Anchorage into a $24 million school budget hole, and will cause teacher and staff cuts across Alaska, again.
That's not giving kids opportunity, or a chance to achieve their goals. It’s jeopardizing success, in the job market, and in life for a whole generation.
Status Quo on Child Abuse and Neglect: Wrong Way to Go
An abused child is far more likely to have criminal, mental health, and other problems succeeding in life than a child treated with dignity. That’s what all the evidence shows.
The Governor, again, has not implemented his own study, commissioned in 2011, on how to fix the damage caused on our foster care system to children, and the epidemic of undiscovered child abuse and neglect. That study should be implemented before the Governor gets a proposed pay raise. I’m not taking one. He shouldn’t. Here is a link to an article on the state’s child abuse and neglect study I recently wrote, and that should be implemented, not shelved in dust.
Uneducated Spin: Less Classroom Funding is not a Funding “Increase”
The Governor spins education funding to say he’s put in massive funding increases. Hmmm. Here’s the fallacy of that claim.
The Legislature has in fact added funds that are not allowed to go into the classroom or to hire teachers, staff, or help with classroom curriculum. Those added funds were appropriated by legislators to shore up the multi-billion retirement system shortfall that past legislators and governors created. Those retirement trust funds cannot legally be spent on teachers or classroom needs; and funds for bussing because of increasing transportation costs have gone up, so we have added funding for that. But funds allowed for hiring staff and setting curriculum have stagnated and remained flat the past 4 years, causing over 600 teacher and staff cuts the past 3 years, with more to come under his current proposal, which proposes the same $5,680 per student amount of classroom funding as 4 years ago.
Governor Says Increase to His $145,000 per year Salary Would Be "Reasonable". Nope.
Today I and Rep. Scott Kawasaki announced we are introducing legislation to block a salary increase for the Governor, and roughly extra $8,000 per year in additional salary increases for each of his 14 commissioners. That’s on top of the commissioner salary increases the Legislature passed by legislation this year. Commissioners earn a fair salary of roughly $140,000 per year.
While I can think of one or two commissioners who work exceptionally hard and might deserve an extra pay raise, and would consider that, commissioners have already been granted pay raises by legislation for this coming year, and an additional 7% in proposed raises isn’t justified given the budget shortfall we face.
Commissioners and the Governor are currently paid more than triple the average Alaska salary. Until we get our fiscal house in order, we cannot afford an extra $120,000 in total Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Commissioner raises.
The state has a Salary Commission. Their recommendations, which the Governor has called “reasonable,” are subject to a decision by the Legislature and in order to block the recommendations we have to disapprove of them within 60 days of the start of session. The bill we have filed would do that.
Energy Project Cuts Bad; Smaller Capital Budget Good & “The More Alaska Poverty Act”
In 2012 the Legislature continued a law putting $50 million per year into needed renewable energy projects across the state, to help reduce Alaska’s high energy costs. I was a co-sponsor of that legislation, and succeeded, with Sen. Lyman Hoffman, at adding an extra $50 million to that law to move projects to completion a few years ago.
Building projects to lower energy costs, and using Alaska’s vast potential for renewable energy as the cost of natural gas, diesel and oil rise, makes $ense. But the Governor has annually underfunded that law, and this year has authorized only $20 million for renewable energy projects under this statute. That is penny wise and pound foolish.
Underfunding energy projects just transfers the burden to citizens who will suffer through high heating costs, and the high cost to keep the lights on, which are especially high in smaller communities where winter heating bills can exceed $1,000 per month.
I do agree with the Governor’s smaller capital budget, as spending $3 billion as we have in prior years of legislator’s district projects, and city projects big communities like Anchorage have asked the state to pay for, is not sustainable. And I agree with the cut from $90 million to $10 million this year on the questionable Susitna Dam study. We can’t study ourselves into poverty.
We should hold off on that project until we see if we can complete a deal on a large diameter gasline that brings Alaskans lower cost natural gas, and allows for substantial exports to earn Alaska revenue for this resource.
A slimmer capital budget is necessary unless the state is to run out of its $17 billion in savings. Those savings were built mostly under our prior oil tax law (ACES), which the Governor replaced this year with what he has dubbed “MAPA”, and I see as the “More Alaska Poverty Act.”
Finally, you know my view that the oil tax law passed last year is a big problem for the state. But here’s an additional problem with it, which guarantees continued deficits.
Under a reformed version of ACES that I and others proposed last year (which taxed lower than ACES; and added incentives for Alaska investment in heavy oil and other oil production only if that money was spent in Alaska), we’d be fine. At high prices, our proposal, though not as aggressively as ACES, would have allowed Alaskans to fairly share in the billions in Alaska profits Exxon, Conoco and BP take at very high oil price spikes, which we’ve seen in recent years. At high prices we’d erase deficits, and have surpluses to offset some of the deficits at low oil prices.
The new law has no real windfall profits share. So we’ll have deficit spending at high prices, and bigger deficits at low prices. Unless SB 21 is changed at the ballot in August, we will face a future of massive deficits, cuts to children’s’ and senior services, and cuts to opportunity. We’ll run through our savings in less than a decade.
Well, that’s it for now.
Hoping for happier things to come during this Christmas Season, that you had a Happy Chanukah, and that all have a happy holiday season.