Tough in the legislature? That’s nothing compared to the ‘friendly skies’


Tough: Photo of fist through wall.


It’s tempting to join the fray this week and dive more deeply into the various budget scenarios being considered by the Legislature. But it’s way too early.

Photo of Win Gruening
Win Gruening

In their quest for a sustainable budget, the Republican-controlled Senate addressed $2 billion of the deficit by passing SB 26 calling for a lower Permanent Fund Dividend and incorporating a government spending cap.

The Senate is balking at any new broad-based taxes – relying instead on continued development of our natural resources and some belt tightening to see us through this period.

In contrast, furthering their quest to sustain ever-growing government dependence, the Democrat-controlled House Majority Coalition is calling for a much higher level of spending. Their plan includes a reduced PFD but no genuine government spending cap.

To support this higher spending, the House passed HB 111 and HB 115 restructuring oil tax credits and imposing a new personal income tax that would raise about $660 million annually beginning in 2019.

Currently, the two plans are $280 million apart. That’s a number that exceeds our entire state general fund appropriations in the early 70’s. Whittling that number down will take some serious negotiations.

Tensions are ramping up. The tough are talking, and the talk is tough.

Talking the toughest is Sen. Pete Kelly who unequivocally stated, “The only thing standing between Alaskans and an income tax is the Senate.”

Taking a contrary view is Renegade-Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux who stated emphatically, “I want to make this perfectly clear.  If the Senate thinks we’re going to get out of here with just a (Permanent Fund bill), they’ve got another think coming.”


So, the discussions continue. We’ve passed Day 90. Day 120 will come and go, special sessions will be called, discussions will drag on and eventually someone will blink. Whether one side or the other gives or they both do remains to be seen. Then we’ll have something more to talk about.


Meanwhile, as legislators debated “To Tax or Not to Tax”, storm troopers from the Chicago airport police hauled a passenger off an airplane after he refused to give up his seat for a “dead-heading” United Airlines crew member.

The passenger, Dr. David Dao, was battered and bloodied during the incident and is threatening to sue United Airlines and the City of Chicago for damages.

This incident, replayed over social media thousands of times, has some unique aspects to it. Some may be inclined to join the “tar and feather” mob and rejoice in bashing airlines generally and United Airlines specifically. Certainly, there is some reason to do that.

Yet there are some interesting observations to be gained from this debacle.

The airline initially offered to pay $800 to anyone willing to give up his seat. When no one volunteered, they selected four passengers to de-board. Three of them left without incident, but Dr. Dao resisted.

In refusing to increase the $800 offer, United Airlines moved away from the free market system and was only left with using force. Force is required, it seems, when using solutions outside the free market. (Note to legislators: This is why an unwillingness to trust the free enterprise system results in unnecessary measures being proposed).

United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz, compounded the mistake by initially attempting to justify his company’s actions instead of sincerely taking responsibility. This first public pronouncement from the airline “apologized” for having to “re-accommodate” the passenger. Public outrage followed. Later apologies were too little, too late.

Munoz should have immediately admitted the airline’s mistake, promised a review of the incident to include whatever action was necessary to fix the problem and compensated the passenger for the way he was treated.

On the other hand, while we really don’t know all the details, it appears Dr. Dao might have prevented the situation from escalating out of control. When a uniformed law enforcement officer asks you to comply with an order, you should do so. If you have a problem, it almost always can be ironed out later but resisting someone with a badge is generally not a good idea.

We don’t know if Dr. Dao behaved belligerently or not. But more and more our nation is becoming a collection of ever-offended victims demanding their right not to be offended.

Treating each other civilly and without rancor is a pre-condition to reaching any kind of understanding and agreement.

After all this, United and a whole host of other airlines have changed their policies regarding the “bumping” of passengers – particularly after boarding. That is a good thing.

No doubt United Airlines will be negotiating seriously with Dr. Dao to arrive at a mutually agreeable compromise.

I hope the House and Senate can do the same without drawing blood.

Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations.