Does Senate President Kevin Meyer really want to right-size state government or super-downsize it? That’s a matter of opinion, and as he wrote last week, everyone will have their own. So the question is which ones will influence the Senate majority?
Meyer’s defines the process of right-sizing as finding “the least amount of government Alaskans are willing to live with and the most government Alaskans are willing to pay for.” That might be an easy task if we were a state as small as Rhode Island or as geographically uniform as Kansas. But we’re not.
For example, for those of us living in Southeast, the Alaska Marine Highway System fits well within the least government we want. But is it something that residents from Anchorage and interior areas of the state areas are willing to pay for?
Similarly, the state’s Heating Assistance Program is vital to some and sacrificial to others.
There’ll also be significant disagreements across the demographic spectrum. Younger transplants don’t value state senior assistance programs the same as seniors or their offspring. People with school-age children are more likely to place a higher priority on education than those without.
That’s why the debate over which state services to cut is the mirror image of new tax proposals. For both, sharing the burden is the fairest approach that simultaneously galvanizes the greatest resistance to making any productive changes.
So who will Meyer and Co. listen to?
If last’s year’s battle over Medicaid expansion is any indication, it’s likely his caucus is more concerned with the national conservative agenda set by outsiders than anything Alaskans have to say.
Consider the case of SB 174. It’s a bill that would allow anyone who can legally possess a firearm to carry it concealed anywhere on a University of Alaska campus.
This is essentially the same as SB 176 sponsored by Sen. John Coghill two years ago. The driver behind that bill was Hans Rodvik, a political science major at the University of Alaska Anchorage. When Rodvik introduced the bill on the Senate floor he said he and like-minded members of College Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty and the Political Science Association analyzed issues they could work on together. “After getting accepted into the legislative internship and being placed with Senator Coghill,” he explained, “I took it upon myself to work on this issue” that the group had focused on while in school.
I read through the Legislature’s Supporting Documents file and found just a single two-year-old incident of an Alaskan challenging to the university’s firearm policy. But there was a sizable collection of opinions from national gun rights organizations. So while I admire any young person dedicated to our democratic processes, it seems this was mostly an academic exercise. That’s probably why the bill died quietly after referrals to the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees.
Within the legislative document file for new version of the bill is one titled Supporting News Articles. In that is a Feb. 5, 2016 story about an FBI arrest of a Michigan resident who allegedly supported ISIS and was planning to attack a church. Is this why Kelly resurrected it three days later. Because there’s nothing else in the entire file that indicates any Alaskan raised a new concern.
It’s worth noting that the Supporting News Articles document mostly contains pro-gun opinions written by national figures. Several are by John R. Lott Jr. and his Crime Prevention Research Center. He’s the author of the 1997 book “More Guns, Less Crime” who was widely discredited after admitting he used a false online identity to defend his work against serious criticisms.
This year’s version of SB 89 offers another example. When Sen. Mike Dunleavy introduced it last year it was only intended to protect a parent’s right to direct the education of their child. Now it’s been amended to prohibit public schools from contracting with abortion services providers for sex education materials. That change is related to the Planned Parenthood video scam that erupted on the national stage last summer, not anything that happened in Alaska.
Like Kelly and Dunleavy, Meyer’s goal to right-size government may have support of Alaskans. But they’re all mostly paying homage to the political agenda of outsiders. In this case it’s anti-tax champion Grover Norquist who wants to reduce government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” That’s why I doubt any of them are seriously interested in listening to an Alaskan with a different opinion.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.