Alaska Commons quotes you, Senator, and I have a few questions. First, here's the Commons' quote:
“I’m not someone who says we should have a government this size,” Senate Finance Co-chair Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks) began.
As a matter of fact, I’d like it to be smaller, but the fact is that, adjusted for inflation and population growth, I think last year was about the lowest spend we’d had going all the way back to 2003, which was the other low point.Because the Environmental Protection Agency and non-governmental organizations inhibit resource development, Kelly said, “The only choice we have now is to deliver some draconian cuts to the governor.”
That isn’t to say, “Oh great, we need to tax people.” That isn’t where I’m going with it. The point is that… we’re at the point where we have to view differently how we interact with the administration. One of the things that [Walker] has been so reluctant to support are unallocated reductions. I don’t blame him. What that does is it puts most of the onus onto the executive to figure ways to make government smaller. That’s the way any corporation’s going to work. That’s the way any board of directors — whether it’s a non-profit or a profit-seeking corporation — that’s the way they’re going to work. They’re going to say to the president, “We’re out of money. You’ve got to figure out how to manage this thing. Sorry. That’s your job.”
So what we’ve heard in the past — and I’m not trying to criticize. I think these kinds of backs and forth [sic] were appropriate in years past when we would do something like that, and the governor would say something like, “You’ve got to do your job.” No. The job of the executive is to manage the administration. That is not our job. We are not up to the task because we are a board of directors. That isn’t how a board of directors works. And I think we’re to the point now where we do have to eliminate programs. We probably have to hand the governor an unallocated [reduction]. My apologies. The unallocated that we put into the budget earlier had program reductions and reforms and those kinds of things to back that up. They’re still there… Those statute changes are working through the legislature, but it’s time now to say,
“Uh-oh. We’ve got to make this thing smaller.” And we’re not going to sit at this table and go through line by line and say, “You can lay off that guy and lay off that guy or reduce that program or stop matching those funds.” That is the job of the executive. And I think we just have to deliver a smaller budget, and we have to do it fairly quick because the air’s out of the tires as of that spring forecast.”
First, I would say that you and I have totally different views of the role of government and the role of business. But let's just start with things that don't stem from those differences.
"One of the things that [Walker] has been so reluctant to support are unallocated reductions. I don’t blame him. What that does is it puts most of the onus onto the executive to figure ways to make government smaller. That’s the way any corporation’s going to work. That’s the way any board of directors — whether it’s a non-profit or a profit-seeking corporation — that’s the way they’re going to work. They’re going to say to the president, 'We’re out of money. You’ve got to figure out how to manage this thing. Sorry. That’s your job.'”This is not my experience, Senator. Boards of directors are there, especially with non-profits, to help the organization succeed. They set policy. Often the Board members are expected to donate a significant sum and to assist in fundraising. Especially when times are rough. But you seem to have taken raising money off the table. Most members of boards want their organization to thrive and grow. You sound like you don't even like the government you're there to serve. Usually, when an organization is out of money, the board does everything it can to help the organization raise more money to achieve its mission. But you seem to be saying, well, it's tough times Gov, you're on your own.
"I think these kinds of backs and forth [sic] were appropriate in years past when we would do something like that, and the governor would say something like, “You’ve got to do your job.” No. The job of the executive is to manage the administration. That is not our job. We are not up to the task because we are a board of directors. That isn’t how a board of directors works. And I think we’re to the point now where we do have to eliminate programs. We probably have to hand the governor an unallocated [reduction]."Senator, first, I'd humbly disagree with your characterization that the legislature is a board of directors. Most non-profit boards don't get paid and like for-profit boards, they meet infrequently. The legislature has a constitutionally mandated role that is far more significant than a board of directors'. It's that branch of government (which is much more significant than a non-profit or for-profit organization) that is supposed to allocate funds for the government to use to operate. They're also supposed to raise new revenues when the government is running out of money.
The Alaska State Constitution says the legislature will pass laws and the governor will execute them. Let's just look at one section - Health, Education, and Welfare - of the Alaska Constitution:
1. Public Education The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State, and may provide for other public educational institutions. Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control. No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.The responsibility is vested in the legislature to provide, not the executive branch. Now, I understand that the legislature can delegate its authority to the executive branch. But you're not making that argument. You're just saying that it's not your job, when it appears that it actually is.
§ 2. State University The University of Alaska is hereby established as the state university and constituted a body corporate. It shall have title to all real and personal property now or hereafter set aside for or conveyed to it. Its property shall be administered and disposed of according to law.
§ 3. Board of Regents The University of Alaska shall be governed by a board of regents. The regents shall be appointed by the governor, subject to confirmation by a majority of the members of the legislature in joint session. The board shall, in accordance with law, formulate policy and appoint the president of the university. He shall be the executive officer of the board.
§ 4. Public Health The legislature shall provide for the promotion and protection of public health.
§ 5. Public Welfare The legislature shall provide for public welfare.
And, excuse me, but I have one more question on this part of your quote. If it was "appropriate in years past" as you've said, then why is it inappropriate now? What exactly changed? I realize in the past, when the legislature was spending lots of money, and even last year before oil prices plummeted, the legislators could take credit for the spending of money on projects. Now that there isn't enough money, and people are going to get hurt by the cuts, I can understand that you might rather put all the blame on the governor. How else can you explain your change in attitude?
Especially, since you and the rest of majority legislature have picked things the governor can NOT cut, like tax credits on the oil companies, and continuing funding for mega projects like the Knik Arm Bridge. (Even after the federal DOT rejected their loan requests for a seventh time because of faulty projections of revenues). So, from my perspective, you aren't exactly keeping hands off. You seem, instead to be protecting things you want to keep, but then telling the governor he has to be the one who, because there's no money left, has to cut schools and to programs that assist the disabled and the elderly, etc.
Instead of working hard, like the boards of directors in your analogy, to raise more money when a key revenue source dries up, you are explicitly telling the governor, he's not allowed to raise more money.
"Because the Environmental Protection Agency and non-governmental organizations inhibit resource development, Kelly said, 'The only choice we have now is to deliver some draconian cuts to the governor.'”So, Sen. Kelly are you saying, "We could have raised more money and kept the same size government if we kept exploiting Alaska's non-renewable resources, but the EPA and environmentalists won't let us?" I know that is the line that the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity have been peddling. That would also explain why the legislature is continuing with its half a million dollar appeal of the expansion of medicaid in Alaska. But while Shell did claim EPA regulation caused them to leave Alaska, we all know the real reason was that they didn't strike oil and because the price of oil crashed. And our revenue shortfall isn't because of regulation either, it's also because the price of oil crashed. After all, you and your colleagues gave the oil companies a huge credit recently, which is now part of our budget problems. Please explain to me what I'm missing.
But, Senator, this last quote seems to suggest that if the price of oil hadn't crashed, we wouldn't have to cut the budget. If that's true, then your real objection isn't so much big government, but paying for government the way every other state does - through taxes, instead of the oil windfall we've been enjoying for 40 years.
And since you refer to developing natural resources - which our state constitution encourages we do in a thoughtful way - I'd also like to point out that the inhibiting factor for the development of our most important renewable resource - our people - is the legislature. For the majority cutting schools seems to cause much less angst than cutting oil company subsidies and mega-projects.
One last point, Senator. You talk about draconian cuts, as do many people. I'd like to point out what that term originally meant. From Merriam-Webster:
"Draconian comes from Draco, the name of a 7th-century B.C. Athenian legislator who created a written code of law. Draco's code was intended to clarify preexistent laws, but its severity is what made it really memorable. In Draco's code, even minor offenses were punishable by death, and failure to pay one's debts could result in slavery. Draconian, as a result, became associated with things cruel or harsh."There's more to the quote. It says that nowadays people use the term to refer to things as trivial as parking fines going up, so in that sense, your usage isn't out of the ordinary. It's like like calling a school principal who enforces a dress code a Nazi. It's hyperbole. It often comes from someone who knows the word, but isn't really familiar with its origin and the horror that really happened.
I noticed, Senator, from your website, that you got a Bachelor's degree in Management from Liberty University, which touts itself as the world's largest Christian university as well as the nation's largest online university. And since you graduated while you were serving in the legislature, I can understand the convenience of an online degree. The university's website also tells us
"Learn, develop, and grow at Liberty so you can impact your culture as a Champion for Christ."Since you got your degree in management, I'd be curious what you studied about government and how government is fundamentally different from private sector management.
I'm also curious, Senator, how you reconcile being a Champion for Christ with making draconian cuts that will undoubtedly make life much more difficult for Alaska's poorest people?
And maybe some day we can meet for lunch and you and I can discuss all these things. I'm sure you have lots of stories you can tell me and that perhaps I might have some insights you haven't heard before.