Alaska's Constitution—don't trade it away with backroom deals

Gov. Mike Dunleavy doesn’t trust Alaskans who will be called upon 10 or 20 or 50 years from now to make crucial decisions about government. He wants to take those decisions out of their hands by amending the Alaska Constitution to restrict their options.

We are fresh from a campaign in which Dunleavy promised to not cut the ferry system, public schools, the University of Alaska, the Pioneer Homes and Power Cost Equalization. He wants Alaskans to excuse him for promising all of that because, as he said to KTUU, “we were told that the revenue picture was gonna be $75 a barrel oil.”

Now he wants to set tax levels, spending levels and service levels for many years to come, arguing the state must do this because people who get elected can’t be trusted.

He wants to base all future services on the price of oil and investment returns from the Permanent Fund. He doesn’t want new taxes and he doesn’t want higher oil taxes. He doesn’t want a discussion about tradeoffs, public services and what it means to have a representative government that functions.

I have more trust in the future than I have the Dunleavy/Koch Network administration.

Dunleavy says the framework for Alaska government needs to be amended to set state spending levels, taxation, public services and the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend for the long term.

He wants to strip citizens of their ability to enact taxes by initiative. He wants to make it nearly impossible to enact new taxes or to raise taxes, which would make it nearly impossible to increase state government services. Requiring that tax increases be approved by the Legislature and through a statewide vote, as Dunleavy proposes, is a way to make sure that government is less responsive to Alaskans in the future and less effective.

The Legislature has no business agreeing to any of Dunleavy’s amendments. He ought to focus on explaining his budget cuts to Alaskans without using the Koch Network as his lifeline.

None of us can say what challenges Alaskans will be faced with 20 years from now. We don’t know what the future will demand and what it will take to be a state with modern public services.

Our system is set up so that the 2019 edition of the Alaska Legislature and the current governor are not empowered to tell the 2039 Legislature and governor what they can or cannot do. No one in Juneau today can rightly say what ought to be spent that year on road maintenance, schools, public safety, the courts and what new needs will have arisen.

Dunleavy, who hasn’t been good at predicting the immediate future, would have us believe he knows what will be required of future legislators and residents of Alaska. He doesn’t.

It is difficult to amend the Alaska Constitution, which is a good thing. The two-step process is intended to make the rules of Alaska’s government less susceptible to the whims of fast-talking politicians who want radical changes.

This is one of those moments in Alaska history when a fast-talking politician, whose constitutional adviser has never made his dislike of the Constitution a secret, wants radical changes.

Amendments require voter approval, but they can only reach the ballot with a two-thirds vote in both the state House and Senate. Right now there are not enough votes in the Legislature to get the Dunleavy amendments on the ballot. We need to work to make sure it stays that way.

Dunleavy will try to buy off legislators by easing up on his budget cuts in exchange for support of his amendments. The governor has signaled his intentions to do this with his comments about vetoes.

The Alaska Constitution is too important to allow this kind of backroom deal. Alaskans need to be aware of this risk and tell their legislators that safeguards built into the most important document in state government should not be trading material.

(If you want to contribute financially to this reporting project, you can do so here through PayPal. Or mail it to me: Dermot Cole, Box 10673, Fairbanks, AK 99710-0673. Thank you.)

Dermot Cole7 Comments