The Buck Stops Where?


A Recreation of President Harry S. Truman's desk, with the late president posing there

A Recreation of President Harry S. Truman’s desk, with the late president posing there

The Anchorage Dispatch News has an article today by Nathaniel Herz, suggesting that the Republican-led majority coalition won’t be held responsible for the Legislature’s idiocy and futility since the regular session ended. Consultants like Taylor Bickford are quoted as suggesting that between now and the next general election in 2016 the voters will forget the folly.

In other words, the buck won’t stop there; the majority caucus, the leaders of both the House and the Senate, might not be held to account.

But consider: The majority coalition is playing Chicken with the Alaska economy.

Maybe folks have forgotten “Chicken.”

The game of chicken models two drivers, both headed for a single lane bridge from opposite directions. The first to swerve away yields the bridge to the other. If neither player swerves, the result is a costly deadlock in the middle of the bridge, or a potentially fatal head-on collision. It is presumed that the best thing for each driver is to stay straight while the other swerves (since the other is the “chicken” while a crash is avoided). Additionally, a crash is presumed to be the worst outcome for both players. This yields a situation where each player, in attempting to secure his best outcome, risks the worst.

The specifics do matter. The majority needs minority votes to make the three-quarters vote to draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. To get those minority caucus votes, they have to make concessions. The majority caucus is unwilling to make those concessions, even though the minority caucus’s proposed budget save $100 million more than the majority caucus’s stalled effort. The minority caucus wants really three things: (1) an Erin’s Law that hasn’t been gutted, (2) Medicaid expansion (which would pump a lot of federal money into Alaska’s suffering economy), and (3) less severe cuts to education funding.

There’s no economic reason for the majority caucus to oppose those demands. There’s no greater depletion of our emergency reserves; in fact, the minority caucus would cut just a little less deeply. The reasons the majority caucus offers are simply bogus, they are lies. On the other side, the minority caucus demands protect children, provide health insurance to the benefit of us all, and support the long term futur of Alaska by better educating our kids. Those are real, valid reasons to insist on your point.

The problem, then, is that the majority caucus has postured itself into a lose-lose position. If they don’t swerve, they crash the economy. If they do swerve, they see themselves as having “lost” and the minority caucus as having “won.” And they can’t stand it. It’s a matter of self-definition, of course, but that self-definition means they can’t swerve and avoid the crash. The consolation prize is that crash or not, they pocket the per diem.

The really bad part is the crash will likely take the Alaska economy down as well.

Will the voters remember? Yeah. Think back to the recession here in Alaska in 1984-1987. Because it won’t be hard to see where the buck stops.

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