AJOC EDITORIAL: A hot mess in Juneau
There is an internet meme dedicated to major fails captioned by a simple declaration: “You had one job.”
A more fitting summation of this legislative session is difficult to think of as dysfunction has devolved into farce. The House and Senate adjourned April 27 after passing a papered-over budget that doesn’t fully fund the next fiscal year only to be immediately called back into a special session by Gov. Bill Walker the following day.
The Legislature’s leadership, as it has for most of the session, ignored Walker and promptly gaveled out into recess as it sought a two-week break and to move the special session to Anchorage. Major remodeling at the capitol is scheduled to start in May.
With Alaska in the most precarious budget times since the 1980s oil price crash devastated the state economy, the utter failure of leadership by the governor and the Legislature in response to the current crisis is pathetic.
Walker’s performance has been a case study in ineptness and naïveté since taking office Dec. 1 after an election in which nearly 52 percent of voters cast ballots for somebody other than him.
A result that did not carry a majority of the votes in his favor should not have been interpreted as a mandate, but that is just how Walker has approached his job by trying to govern through proclamations, press conferences, publicity stunts and newspaper op-eds.
Rather than hit the ground running Dec. 1, Walker was late submitting budget documents and still hasn’t gotten up to speed on the Alaska LNG Project while going off on his own tangent for a state-led gasline that has no shot at earning support in the Legislature. He refused for two months to introduce a bill to expand Medicaid and in general was completely disengaged from the day-to-day work of passing his legislative priorities.
Walker seems to believe that declaring Medicaid expansion a “must-have” will somehow magically make it happen without doing the nitty-gritty of negotiating with legislators who are skeptical about costs and want real reforms of the unsustainable program implemented in concert with expanding the eligibility rolls.
The legislative leadership, particularly in the House, could have gotten around Walker’s bumbling if it had been able to work out compromises with its Democrat counterparts in the minority. But it, too, failed to do so.
There is a reason a super-majority of votes are needed to draw on the Constitutional Budget Reserve. For one thing, it is a serious action that should not be undertaken lightly, and secondly to prevent the majority from steamrolling the minority.
Minority rights are a keystone of the legislative process at both the state and federal level, and the Democrats in the House were well within their power and their duty to the people who elected them to exercise that leverage.
But much like Walker refused to recognize the reality that he would have to work with the leadership in both houses, the House Majority similarly failed to broker a deal with Democrats whose votes it needed to pass a fully-funded budget for the next fiscal year.
A special session focused solely on Medicaid expansion and reform always appeared likely, but the makeshift budget funded by raiding other state accounts to get around Democrats’ demands could have been avoided by reaching an accord on education funding and passing “Erin’s Law,” neither of which should have been impassable obstacles to cutting a deal.
The governor and the Legislature had one job this session above all others: deal with the budget crisis. By not even passing a fully-funded budget, nobody in Juneau earns even a passing grade.
It is “Fs” all around.