We are on the last day of the 90-day statutory session, and entering into the too-often chartered territory of the extended session. On the horizon are special sessions, so it begs the questions: “is this what I expected?” and: “is this necessary?”
I want to answer both those questions for you here.
As I write I am reflecting on the historic passage of a state education/income tax by the Alaska House. Not everyone agrees with an income tax. Some say no taxes and cut the budget. I believe cutting the budget is not the correct approach, and I do support an income tax. We are already seeing our economy grind to a halt because our private and public sectors are intrinsically linked. An income tax is the least harmful approach according to all economists to resolving our budget deficit. So that decision – having an income tax – is not one that should be taken lightly.
For that reason and for all the work that has gone into efforts at oil and gas tax reform and subsidy reduction, for how we approach the Permanent Fund and the Dividend, the House has really taken the correct approach: thoughtful, deliberative processes that have given opportunities for the public to weigh in, comment, and help them craft those bills. My body, the Senate under the leadership of the Republican Majority, has taken the opposite approach. They have avoided public hearings and public input or kept those hearings to a minimum on matters ranging from education to human rights, they have turned a blind eye to the need for a comprehensive approach to our fiscal problems and they have refused to recognize that these are not the decisions of a year, they are the decisions of a generation. The actions we take in this session will effect us for decades to come.
Because of the importance of these decisions, it cannot be business as usual.
So that is a roundabout way to answer both of these questions. Is an extended session necessary? Yes. Because hearing from you and thoughtful deliberation is critical and the House allowed for that. 90 days to determine twenty years is barely enough, 120 days at least allows that much more time for us to consider what we are doing, how we are doing it, and how it will effect us. I appreciate that and I think you do too.
Was the Session as I expected it? In some ways. I knew these were not easy decisions we were going to make and still will make. Hard decisions take time. We are heading in the right direction. In particular, your input has been essential to keeping us focused and on target. I look forward to hearing from you throughout the remainder of the session – no matter how long it takes – and throughout the year. Thank you for being a part of our process. It is truly appreciated.
UPDATE ON SB-72
Senate Bill 72 asks us to add sexual orientation and gender identity to our current anti-discrimination statutes and to empower the State Commission on Human Rights to insure the protection of those rights.
As with every attempt to expand rights to those who have experienced discrimination there are strong opinions on both sides. While there are many complex and heartfelt opinions, I believe we can all agree that any form of harassment, intimidation, and bullying is wrong. I believe we can agree that none of us would want to be denied employment, housing, or service in a restaurant, or the rental of a room in a hotel or motel. And we would and should be horrified and angered that our children would be subjected to bullying and harassment by both students and teachers or denied participation in extracurricular activities or academic programs. Yet this and other types of discrimination have all been reported here in Alaska by individuals merely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.