Rearranging the Deck Chairs

The State of Alaska Economy. Don't worry. Senators Chenault and Kelly are in charge

The State of Alaska Economy. Don’t worry. Senators Chenault and Kelly are in charge

The phrase, “Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” is usually credited to Rogers Morton, President Gerald Ford’s campaign manager, after Ford had lost five of six 1976 primary elections. There’s some evidence that it was used even earlier, in 1972, when the New York Times wrote“Administrators [at Lincoln Center] are running around straightening out deck chairs while the Titanic goes down.” Over time, it’s become a cliché.

It was Stephen Colbert who refined the cliché:

Some people say changing the cabinet around is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. That’s not true; this administration isn’t sinking. In fact, this administration is soaring; if anything, it’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.

The Colbert version may be more apt for Alaska’s situation, as the Alaska Legislature quarrels over where to meet as the State’s economy goes down in flames.

As you likely know, we are facing a shut down on the state government. The Alaska Legislature has not fully funded the budget it adopted; Governor Walker sensibly and appropriately vetoed the failed budget. So on June 30, most of the non-critical functions of state government will be closed.

Before WC’s libertarian readers work themselves into a happy froth at the thought of a state government shutdown, consider this: after the federal government, the State of Alaska is the largest single employer in the state, providing more than 17,000 jobs. If the Legislature doesn’t get to the people’s business very quickly, those 17,000 plus jobs are going to vanish, leaving a gaping hole in the state economy. Because the salaries associated with those jobs are in Alaska, the economic multiplier associated with them is quite high. And note the debate isn’t whether it is right or wrong to have so many state jobs; the debate is over what will happen to the state’s economy if those jobs vanish all at once.

It won’t be a pretty sight.

And what is the Alaska Legislature doing in the face of this looming crisis? Arguing about there they should meet. Rearranging deck chairs on the Hindernberg.

Remember, too, this is really about the majority caucus having a hissy fit. Because it isn’t getting its way. It takes a three-quarters majority to draw funds from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. The majority caucuses don’t have the votes in the stat house. So the majority caucus has to deal with those Devil Democrats. Who have set a pric for their cooperation: more funding for education, passage of Erin’s Law, and passage of Medicaid expansion. Worthy goals, all three. Two have no fiscal consequences for the state at all: Erin’s Law and Medicaid expansion. The additional funding for education amounts of about $47 million. In a $5 billion dollar budget.

So the majority caucus – chiefly Senators Mike Chenault and Pete Kelly, co-chairs of the Senate Finance Committee – are crashing the state’s economy because they aren’t willing to spend less than 1% more on education. And a 10.1 billion Constitutional Budget Reserve. And rather than face those facts, they choose to argue about where to meet.

Shuffling deck chairs on the Hindernberg.


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