Much of the Alaska Legislature’s heavy lifting this session will occur in the Senate Finance Committee, which already has started work toward developing the state operating budget for the next fiscal year.
The task has grown increasingly difficult. Alaska’s budget woes are profound, compounded by a governor interested more in gamesmanship than leadership.
But Alaska is fortunate in one thing — Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, is on the job as co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Stedman, who has served in the Senate since 2003, has a financial background and has served as co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee from 2007 to 2012, and again beginning in 2019. He pays attention, does his homework, and commands the respect of his peers as having an unparalleled understanding of the state budgeting process.
This has been evident during the Senate Finance Committee meetings that have occurred since the legislative session began last month. Administration representatives presenting the governor’s proposed budget have learned than the Senate Finance Committee co-chairman understands what the governor is proposing and the likely results if the Legislature approves. They know Stedman knows that the governor’s budget proposals don’t add up.
“It’s not going to be endless dividends for everybody with no taxes in the world of a utopia because it doesn’t exist,” Stedman said during a recent Senate Committee meeting, as quoted by Matt Buxton. “We’ve got to deliver services, deliver a dividend and not deplete the state’s fiscal position for future generations. That’s the balance we have to achieve at the table. But until we see concepts at this table that are reasonably attainable, it would be, in my opinion, foolish to go down that road assuming they’re going to materialize.”
The quote neatly summarizes why Stedman continues to be the best legislator for the job. Budget proposals and the budget process should be based in reality — the decision-making will be difficult enough without having to wade through fiscal fantasies. Stedman is correct in making that clear now, up front, before much time is wasted. And, although making that clear doesn’t make him popular in some quarters, his willingness to do so is another reason that he’s in the right place. Stedman is accustomed to the pressures that surround the budget process.
We’ve said similar things about Stedman in the past. The start of this legislative session reaffirms the belief that Alaska is fortunate to have Stedman on the job.