At what point do the people of Alaska realize the motives of state politicians for the last 40 years?
During that time, both parties and houses of government have spent and were re-elected because they had no fiscal restraints. Resource money flowed and the electorate was placated/bribed to overlook the future by the affluence of the time and the largess of our elected officials.
We have invested in countless studies that never produced anything. The Legislature invested tens of millions of dollars in projects for “Alaska’s future” that have yet to yield any tangible results.
Recently, the Senate passed a “budget” to the House that included a full Permanent Fund Dividend, as calculated since inception. No payback for the last few years, but what was intended from the beginning.
Gov. Jay Hammond first proposed the most radical idea in human governance — that what the land offered was owned, not by the developers and government, but to all long-term residents of the state. This seemed a no brainer at the time as money was plentiful and there was no end in sight.
As members of the electorate at that time, my friends and I saw an amazing opportunity to keep some of Alaska’s newfound wealth out of the hands of people who needed to spend it to keep their jobs.
The original proposal was to give $50 per year to everyone based on their length of residency in Alaska, thus rewarding “sourdoughs” who had lived and survived in the state enduring conditions and remoteness that no modern-day Alaskan can imagine (a winter in Anchorage or Fairbanks or the rain of Southeast without modern clothing, no live TV). That proposal was deemed “unconstitutional.”
Now, due to our ignorance, generosity and greed, we the people have created infrastructure in bush communities requiring maintenance, upkeep and expertise that no longer can be funded at past levels. Having worked in a position to superficially evaluate the living conditions in rural Alaska, the impact of the PFD is not luxury but necessity.
Oil is four to five times higher and electricity affordable only due to current subsidies. Those Alaskans use the PFD for heat, medical treatments and maintenance, repair or replacement of items used for subsistence, not a trip south or for luxury items. A road or a new bridge in Anchorage, or a new highly paid advisory panel or committee to study something, does them little good.
Without the original intent, there would be no fund to raid and Alaska would be broke.
The state House of Representatives is there to represent the people, according to the state constitution. A majority of Alaskans wish to invest that money in a better manner than the state government seems capable, whether in the stock market, saving for college, retirement or stimulating the economy.
At one point, I read that a 3 or 4 percent reduction across the board for several years would solve the budget shortfall and balance the budget. That came and went like the sun in Southeast. It is too easy to change the rules and raid the only thing the state has created that benefits all Alaskans.
Making difficult choices seems to be something which modern politicians seem incapable. Once the government has their hands on the PFD account, it is only a matter of time until they spend it all and we are left with nothing.
Until we the people of Alaska recognize the financial hole created by our votes, past and present, it will only deepen until we demand state government to stop spending. Without that, it is and will continue to be, to paraphrase a line from “Full Metal Jacket,” a manure sandwich and we all have to take a big bite.
• Mike McCurley lives in Juneau.