Bad Bill of the Week: Digging into the Operating Budget

This week’s Bad Bill of the Week may seem like a slightly unorthodox choice, because it’s something the Legislature HAS to pass. But with it, comes the bulk of state spending.

Headlamp spent the better part of last weekend attending the Anchorage Caucus and various constituent meetings held by legislators. The mantra we heard again and again was “there’s no more to cut.” Headlamp simply does not agree. For this to be accurate, one would have to assume that state government spending was at reasonable levels when this process began. But in reality, our per capita spending in Alaska, accounting for all types of spending, was $14,121.39 in FY 2017; which was far above the national average of $5,777 in FY 2015.

For this reason, our Bad Bill of the Week is HB 57 – the House Appropriations Bill for the Operating Budget. We think it goes without saying that Headlamp doesn’t believe this spending bill will solve our financial situation or strengthen the private sector.

The Operating Budget is just what it sounds like: the legislation which funds the operating expenses of state government. When one considers that Headlamp continues to preach the need to find efficiencies, privatize services and cut more expenses on a state level, it should come as no surprise this is our Bad Bill of the Week.

The Governor sent the House and Senate an operating budget with a price tag (accounting for all funds and expenditures) of $9,587,701,500. HB 57 currently sits in the House Finance Committee. Throughout the budget sub-committee process the House Majority passed dozens of amendments and increased the size of the operating budget by over $127 million! The state’s operating budget, which includes agency funding, debt service, payment of oil and gas tax credits, PFD payments etc. now sits at $9,714,838,500. Headlamp has no doubt that certain legislators will defend such increases as necessary and good. Headlamp’s opinion is certainly different. Which is why, when it comes to the budget, we believe legislators should be asking what expenses and programs are “mission critical”?

Mission Critical, a group comprised of concerned citizens, has taken it upon themselves to do the work the Legislature has failed to do. They have broken down the budget by Department and analyzed what spending is critical to each Department’s mission, what services could be privatized, what is a function of another Department and what could be eliminated.

Growing the operating budget, as the House Majority is doing with HB 57, doesn’t solve our financial situation, and it certainly doesn’t strengthen the private sector. Loyal Headlamp readers know we’re steadfast in our support of the private sector and in making Alaska an attractive place to do business. Until we get our fiscal house in order, elected officials will continue trying to balance the budget on the backs of businesses through increased taxes (as in the case of HB 111). Headlamp does not believe that’s right or acceptable.

Because it grows the size of government and increases spending, HB 57 is our Bad Bill of the Week.

Over the next three days the House Finance Committee is taking public testimony on HB 57. We encourage our readers to participate, and let legislators know they must reduce government to a sustainable size before turning to taxes.

In the meantime, we’ll continue looking for leaders to make the tough decisions to reduce spending and reform our state government.