Columns 2016

How Alaska’s Fiscal Conservatives in Juneau define themselves

It would be the ultimate irony if the Legislature ended up in Anchorage at the Taj Mahawker. In a time of fiscal crisis, they will be drawing down money we can’t afford to continue their goal of figuring out what other group of Alaskans they can put the screws to. They’ll do this while sitting in a building that they neither need nor deserve. These legislators claim to be fiscal conservatives while spending money the state doesn’t have because they can’t do their work on time. Yet they propose to penalize state workers who actually have to be punctual, work a full day and get their assignments done on schedule. They are not being fiscally conservative. They are being very bad human beings.

But that’s apparently fiscal conservatism Alaska style. Their motto is, “We got ours and we’re coming after yours.”

Nationally, Republicans tend to loudly declare that they are the party of fiscal constraint. They are the party that will keep government in check and out of your pocket. 

But here in Alaska, our version of fiscal conservatism looks a tad different. A Republican led legislature has dominated our statehouse for years now, spending the money as fast as it came in with seemingly little thought to the future. These vaunted fiscal conservatives never had an emergency plan for when the oil ran out or the price crashed. They never looked towards the future further than their next election bid. And if they needed to spend every cent as quickly as it came in to keep getting re-elected, then so be it.

When the crash hit, our fiscal conservatives responded by offering to buy a building for $32 million while cutting needed capital projects across the state. They are taking more and more state money as the session runs on and on but they are trying to cut the salaries of the people who actually make the government function. They are fiscal conservatives who were caught off guard (I’d say with their pants down but, well, you know) when the floor dropped out of our state’s budget. How does that happen to the party that claims it can be trusted with our money so much more than the other party? They not only didn’t have a plan B, they hadn’t ever really thought about one.

I grew up in what can easily be called a fiscally conservative household, as did probably most of the people reading this of a certain age.  Our homes were fiscally conservative because our parents were the Depression Generation and they knew full well how fast the bottom could fall out of your financial plans. Many of their childhoods were marked by uncertainty over when the next paycheck would come to pay the rent or buy groceries. Others grew up in fairly secure homes but saw the devastation of the Great Depression all around them. They grew up being careful with their money. They didn’t buy now and pay later. If they couldn’t pay now, they paid in installments. For many of our parents, their financial plan was to always have enough finances to buy the groceries and pay the heating bill.

Coming from a background like this, I find myself someone who is very uncomfortable with debt and tries to carry as little as possible. If I see something I want and know I can’t afford it, I sulk and wish I were rich and then do some extra work or cut some other expense out so I can eventually afford it. That’s fiscally conservative.

Somehow this train wreck in Juneau thinks otherwise. They live in that Hello Kitty world where everything is pink and pretty and never will be any other way. In their world, oil prices would never fall this low, and they certainly couldn’t imagine the price so low for so long. No, in their pretty pink world our non-renewable resources stretched on into eternity and we all rode unicorns to the state fair.

Making a financial plan for when the bottom falls out, making a financial plan in case tomorrow happens is what a true fiscal conservative would do first. Because he would then know exactly what kind of expenditures could be safely made today while ensuring a sound tomorrow through prudent planning.

But hey, that’s not how Alaskan fiscal conservatives define themselves.