LEGISLATURE IS NOT THE PROBLEM
In the end, Governor Bill Walker was just unable to make his case with the people of Alaska on his Permanent Fund restructuring bill, SB 128.
Walker is a man who is used to bulldozing his way to a yes and, for the most part, he has gotten his way since becoming governor in December of 2014.
- He expanded Medicaid without the Legislature’s approval.
- He coaxed out of the Legislature an OK to purchase TransCanada’s portion of the Alaska gasline project – AK-LNG.
- He maneuvered the budgets he wanted out of legislators — against the better judgment of many of them.
- He fired one Alaska Gasline Development Corp. president and hired another for nearly 1-1/2 times the cost; and fired nearly the entire AGDC board, replacing them with his own compliant people.
But when it came to Senate Bill 128, he could not sell it to the citizenry. That’s his problem — the people who are governed by their own consent simply told him no. He’s not used to that.
Part of his failure on SB128 is that he keeps spending money like a sailor on leave in Shanghai’s red light district: $1.2 million for Rigdon Boykin, the same amount for Radoslav Shipkoff — gasline “experts” for a project that has nowhere to go. His new president of AGDC makes over $500,000 and is an outsider from Houston.
It seems that every chainsaw Walker buys is gold-plated. With all this spending, he then presented a plan to strip $1,000 from every Alaskan, restructure the Permanent Fund and associated trust funds, and use the earnings more smartly in the future.
Egging him on was Alice Rogoff, owner and publisher of the state’s largest daily newspaper, the Alaska Dispatch News. Alice’s family knows a lot about sovereign funds, and she met with the governor on numerous occasions to persuade him in the restructure. Just this week, she opined on the pages of her newspaper that now is the time to pass SB 128. “I want to highlight the basic arithmetic of “saving the Permanent Fund,” and why we need Alaska’s lawmakers to do it now,” she wrote.
And she might be right. The math suggests a restructuring of the fund would be a good plan. Doing it now gives it a chance of working.
But Alaskans have been watching, and they can also do the math. The state budget is still too big, and they know it.
Take a look at the state payroll year over year:
Personal services, as it is known, has been reduced by less than 2 percent: 1.9 percent to be exact. That’s because, in part, very few state jobs have been sacrificed, and for those 16,00-20,000 who remain in state service, merit and step increase just keep bulking up the budget, year after year. The governor has not rolled back these automatic wage increases that cost the state well over $70 million a year.
Take a look at the travel budget, keeping in mind that the governor announced a travel freeze:
Travel in FY2015 was $73.7 million. In FY 2017 it’s down to $68.7 million.
In the governor’s mind, that 6.8 percent cut is his travel freeze.
WALKER DIDN’T MAKE HIS CASE
The vote against SB 128 was amazingly bipartisan in House Finance this afternoon. No musk ox caucus was in play. Legislators voted their conscience — an observer could readily see it — and five voted to move it out of committee, while six said the legislation just wasn’t ready.
Alaskans are clearly — vocally — not ready to give their Permanent Fund dividends to this governor. Why? It’s like writing him a blank check.
Voters haven’t seen the budgetary discipline the governor promised. They aren’t convinced the tough calls have been made. This is a case of the People of Alaska speaking to their governor and telling him: “No.”