For the past several years I have contributed a lot of money to a lot of candidates (often at the maximum level). With the beginning of the current election season, the inevitable invitations to various legislative, gubernatorial and party fundraisers have started to appear again (by mail, email, Facebook, calls and in some cases even txt).
Given the profound level of my disappointment with the budget decisions taken by the Governor and legislature these last two years (see, e.g., #AKbudget| Round 3 of “The FY 2015 end game (and its not looking good …), Apr. 14, 2014), I have decided to adopt some new criteria for supporting candidates this election cycle.
To be honest, I have grown tired of supporting candidates who say with earnest face “I am a fiscal conservative and will do whatever it takes to make certain the budget stays at sustainable levels,” and then, when it comes time to match those words with action, vote with everyone else, in the case of the last two years, for the two biggest budget deficits in Alaska’s history.
I have thought hard about what criteria to apply and have settled on the following. I will support and contribute to candidates who commit, by posting on their campaign website, to the following position (using whatever words they choose having equal effect):
I will not vote for [or in the case of a gubernatorial candidate, sign] a combined operating and capital budget that will result in spending higher than the sustainable spending levels determined using the criteria established by the Institute of Social and Economic Research or a similar approach, unless, consistent with Art. 9, Sec. 8 of the Constitution, a higher spending level is required for the purpose of “repelling invasion, suppressing insurrection, defending the State in war, [or] meeting natural disasters ….”
And [note to readers, here comes the tricky part], I will not join a legislative caucus if under the rules of that caucus I become committed to voting for a budget which is not required, at the time I join the caucus, to meet the same criteria.
Why the second part? Well this past Legislature some candidates who had said earnestly to me and others at various times during their campaigns that they were “committed fiscal conservatives” later excused their budget votes, when push came to shove, by saying that the rules of the Majority Caucus to which they belonged required them to vote for whatever budget was sent to the floor by the respective Finance Committee.
In essence, after making their statements about their personal intent, they subcontracted out their vote to others. They then excused their failure to match words with action based on the subsequent actions of the subcontractors.
The additional language is my way of protecting against being fooled a second time. Certainly I understand the power of forming in a caucus and don’t oppose that effort, but going forward I want to make certain that being in the caucus doesn’t result in frustrating the entire basis for providing support to their campaign in the first place.
I fully expect some to say, “well, we have brought down spending the last two years and are committed to continue to do so,” and suggest that is good enough.
It isn’t; in fact, it doesn’t even come close to being good enough.
As I have explained elsewhere, even with the reductions in spending over the last two years, the state is no closer to achieving a sustainable spending level than when the budget was at $7 billion. As the state has continued to spend above the sustainable level and depleted the state’s savings accounts — or what ISER refers to as the state’s “nest egg” — the sustainable level that the “nest egg” is capable of producing has also dropped.
In substantial part because of overspending in FY 2013 and 2014, the state’s sustainable spending level dropped from $5.5 billion for FY 2014, to $5.0 billion for FY 2015. Combined with a similar overspend in FY 2015 and a further reduction in the nest egg due to the transfer of $3 billion out of the Constitutional Budget Reserve to the PERS/TRS account, the best current estimate of the sustainable spending level for FY 2016 is $4.75 billion. Within a small margin, that (i.e., $4.75 billion) is roughly the same difference from the FY 2015 spending level of $6.17 billion as the sustainable spending level for FY 2014 of $5.5 billion was from the final spend of $7.2 billion.
In short, by taking a “gradual” approach to addressing the situation the Administration and legislature haven’t gained any ground at all. Instead, they are just endlessly chasing their tail.
To put it simply, the “sustainable spending” figure isn’t a static number that the Administration and legislature can “work toward” over time. Instead, it is a dynamic that is derived from the actual spending levels that the state adopts in previous years. As long as the state puts off actually adopting sustainable spending levels, the sustainable number will continue to fall lower and the state’s future fiscal situation will grow more precarious.
My guess is with these new criteria I won’t be writing as many checks as I have in past years. That’s not the purpose; I would happily write a check to a candidate in every district of the state if they committed to voting for sustainable budgets.
Moreover, I doubt this will help the level of frustration that I — and others — feel about the state’s current direction. In one form or another I am continually working with others evaluating various investment opportunities in Alaska. For reasons I have repeatedly explained, even if SB 21 survives the coming referendum the level of concern about Alaska’s direction is significant and growing with the passage of each legislative session that fails to address Alaska’s fundamental fiscal situation.
But at least I won’t be helping to fund the campaigns of candidates who say one thing and do another, and who in their own way, are helping to undermine Alaska’s future as much as those who oppose SB 21.
For my part I would suggest that others that feel the same as I do about the situation take a similar approach in deciding whether — and to whom — to make contributions during this coming election cycle. While the actions of one contributor may not make a difference, the actions of several might.
For my part, however, at least I have a satisfactory answer now when the next wave of emails, mailers, calls, FB messages and txts arrive at my doorstep.