Over the past decade, deep partisan divides have separated lawmakers at both federal and state levels on a number of issues. There is no better example than on fiscal matters.
Rather than confront the fundamental problems facing our nation, lawmakers at the federal level increasingly have resolved their differences by simply piling spending increases and tax cuts on top of each other. Over the past four years alone, national debt has risen by over $4 trillion, an increase of 20%. And that’s before COVID-19.
In Alaska, the amount borrowed from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, which is required to be paid back per our state constitution, and thus is debt burdening Alaskans, has grown from $2.9 billion at the end of Fiscal Year 2015, to $11.6 billion at the end of FY 2019, a fourfold increase.
Kicking the can down the road has left future generations with a dual burden. In addition to financing their future, those coming behind will also have to pay the debts run up by their elders.
Rather than passing on problems by papering over our divides we must work together to actually resolve them. Responses to COVID-19 have shown we can elevate agreement over partisanship. Although there have been exceptions, dealing with the pandemic has demonstrated some of the best in us, both nationally and in Alaska.
We’ve all been heartened by the front-line responders who have risked their own health to treat COVID-19 patients, the neighbors who have organized drive-by celebrations for birthdays, baby showers and other occasions in their communities, and the companies large and small who have stepped up, including an Alaskan firm that designed and made masks allowing hearing-impaired people to read lips and use facial cues to communicate.
Americans have come together to find real solutions and adapt to our common threat, evading the toxic partisan environment dominating the national political discussion. We have demonstrated the capacity to make changes in spite of what ideological or partisan differences we may have.
Now, the mission is to build on these experiences to emerge from this crisis more broadly united than when we entered it, setting us up to solve the wide range of challenges we face both at the national and state levels.
To help further that goal, many from across the country have come together to start , comprised of Americans united in shared concern over the divided state of our country and who believe that healing the divisions is both possible and our highest priority.
Alaskans have started joining together similarly to establish a FixUS-Alaska effort. You can find us at FixUs-Alaska pages both on Facebook and LinkedIn.
The solutions to what’s dividing us are not easy — partisan divides didn’t start overnight nor is there a silver bullet. But the first step in this effort is to ensure, going forward, that we discuss the issues confronting us at all governmental levels in a respectful and constructive manner. When tackling the hard issues, the best success is found in civil communication.
To help achieve that we have developed the FixUs Civility Pledge, a commitment to tone down the rhetoric and practices that have fueled our divisions and divert us from finding lasting solutions to critical issues. You can find a copy of the pledge, and a place to sign it yourself at FixUsNow.org, the national website.
We have signed the pledge and will be asking others, including candidates at both federal and state levels, to do the same in the coming weeks. In Alaska, we will keep a running list of the candidates that have done so on both our Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
The COVID-19 experience has demonstrated we can find solutions in our Alaskan communities to summit our common problems by working together. This is a lesson that our representatives in Juneau and Washington, DC must heed.
• Ellen King is Alaska Grown, a new mother and engaged community member focused on promoting fiscal responsibility and healthy dialog among local and national neighbors, Brad Keithley is managing director of Alaskans for Sustainable Budgets, an Alaska-focused fiscal policy watchdog effort. King and Keithley serve as the volunteer organizers of FixUS – Alaska. Mike Murphy is chief of staff for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and director of FixUS, a group of Americans united in shared concern over the divided state of our country.