Columns 2016

If it walks like a duck and looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

Remember that old adage, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, there is a strong possibility that it IS a duck. You don’t need science or complicated mathematical analysis to figure that out. Most of us are mere common folk who do not wander the hallowed halls of Juneau pretending to some superior ability to complicate things that should be simple. We prefer the old KISS formula. Keep it simple, stupid.

All this comes to mind as I read the dueling reports coming out of Juneau over the relative merits of moving into the new LIO in Anchorage versus buying the building versus moving into a place the state already owns. While most of us are not financial geniuses, the simple truth is that anyone giving even a cursory glance at this debacle knows that the answer is to move to the Atwood Building and get out from under the financial burden that is the renovated LIO.

In case you don’t follow these shenanigans closely, you should. It’s our money being spent to house the Legislature in a building whose trash cans salute them as they walk by. The state had been paying $682,000 a year in rent for the building. After a negotiation that would make Donald Trump cringe, we get to pay $4 million a year for the renovated space. Now, in an even more byzantine gambit, the landlords have come up with a solution to that high rent that will cost the state only $37.9 million.

I do not deal in high finance. My idea of an expenditure that keeps me up at night is buying the more expensive espresso coffee maker. Cheapness is a family gene I cannot shake completely. If what we were getting was some truly amazing facility, it might have been something we could have considered back in the day before we blew all the money that came with this boom (see history of the Anchorage PAC). But those days are gone. We’ve reached the point where there are credible discussions occurring over whether or not to tap the Permanent Fund. Anyone who has been in Alaska over ten minutes knows that is one of the major signs of the Apocalypse.

I simply do not understand how anyone could, with a straight face, negotiate a lease that increased the annual cost to the state from $680,000 to $20 million even when we were flush. Seriously, guys. This is Alaska. We are supposed to have citizen legislators, not crowned royalty. If there was already a perfectly good building that legislators could have used, why was the deal even started? Aren’t we the state of fiscal conservatives… well, fiscal conservatives when it comes to either taxing ourselves or taking our PFD check away. We are fiscal liberals of the nth degree when it comes to spending oil company money.

But that tap has dwindled to a trickle. We are in a time when we are cutting programs that help abused women, dysfunctional families, children with learning disabilities and public safety. Yet our legislators continue to try to justify moving into the Taj Mahawker, whether as renters or owners, and that is just ridiculous. We are asking Alaskans to tighten their belts, to fill in the gaps now glaringly evident as services from the state are reduced in so many critical areas and, god forbid, pay taxes. Yet our legislators still think that this is a subject open for debate. It isn’t.  Most of us may not be financial geniuses but we sure in heck can recognize a bad deal when we see it.

No one is suggesting that our esteemed legislators live in squalor or a building apt to pancake during an earthquake. But if the Atwood Building is good enough for regular Alaskans who work for the state, I don’t understand how it’s not good enough for our legislators. As my mother would say with as much dignity as possible, when they exit the water closet, they leave behind the same stink as the rest of us.

If a regular person, as opposed to a legislator, decided to move into a million dollar mansion after losing his or her job and already being in debt, we’d call them something between crazy and criminal. Well, if the shoe fits…