And so 2018 begins. As Alaskans, we are forced to attempt optimism at the fact that our legislators will soon be heading back to Juneau to celebrate that with the opening of ANWR all our hopes and dreams are coming true. Another boom!
Well, not quite. Given that at a minimum we are looking at ten years, if not more, of permits, litigation, shifting political winds and wills, ANWR really isn’t the answer to our current pressing budget crisis. Call me pessimistic, but given that the Legislature did nothing to put Alaska on firm financial footing last year when ANWR was but a distant dream, I sincerely doubt they will be motivated to do it now that they see that golden goose on the horizon.
Here’s a quick question for you. How many legislative sessions, special or regular, did we have last year? Can’t remember. Don’t blame you. Except for the regular session, the others were stealth endeavors. Nothing got done except that legislators made a butt load more of our money while not solving the budget deficit. Seriously, at what point do we not just admit that we have a full time legislature. That way, the thousands of dollars they now earn for doing nothing for 90 days can be the thousands of dollars they earn for an entire year of doing nothing. At least spreading the session out while still paying them the same amount means they won’t be making more per hour than the oil executives most work for.
What we all need to remember is that when those budget figures get tossed about nonchalantly; when you hear politicians telling you that government is the problem, not the solution; when legislators refuse to face the reality that we can’t cut our way out of this deficit; when all this is thrown at you as the reason we can’t raise more money for services, remember that our largest mental hospital is our state prison system. Remember that when you live in an Arctic state, shelter from the cold is not optional if you live on the street. Remember that those children you so piously hold up as sacred need to be educated and education is not free. Remember that government can and does work.
Every time you drive your car with the expectation that the roads will be passable, the lights will work and road rules will be enforced, you are in the middle of a government that works. Every time you buy meat at the store, you buy it confidently because government regulates that product to keep it from poisoning you and your family. Every time we have a great salmon run on our magnificent rivers, you are reaping the benefits of a functioning government that is ensuring those runs will be there for generations to come.
So yes, government does work if you provide it with the tools needed to do its job. Or, you can go the way of some conservatives and starve it to death, then announce that you knew all along that government didn’t work.
When our legislators arrive in Juneau this year, they will be faced with many difficult problems stemming from revenues that do not meet expenditures. They will have a choice to make. They can continue to pretend we can just spend all our savings while doing nothing to help government agencies screaming for relief. Or they can decide that, in fact, government can do a lot of good things that allow people to live their lives safely and peacefully. They can decide that government needs to be funded enough to meet its statutory obligations (can you say API?). They can decide that rather than rant and rave about cutting government without ever actually pointing out the programs they want cut, they will somehow find the political courage to speak realistically and tell Alaskans just what they expect to cut to balance the budget.
That’s what our legislature can do. Sadly, I think what they will do is have another session in which nothing happens for the first 88 days except for closed door sessions that only people who greatly contributed to winning political campaigns will get to attend. You will get to stand outside the door while they decide your future. Then, they will burst forth with less than a week to go and announce they are shocked, shocked I say, that the session is almost over and they have done virtually nothing. They will then try to shove through a gazillion bills they actually haven’t completely read in the two remaining days so they can go home. I’m pretty sure that’s how spaghetti became the official state carb.