Columns 2016

Put on your big boy and girl pants and face the current fiscal reality

I don’t know how it is in your family, but when I complain to my relatives in the lower 48 that I’m ONLY getting $1000 from the state instead of $2000 I am somehow owed, I get a less than sympathetic response. This might be because they live in reality where, if you want government services, you pay for them. Alaskans have seemingly forgotten how this actually works.

For a group of people that likes to complain about government overreach, certain Alaskans are screaming awfully loudly about something that is, in essence, a free government gift. And please spare me the line about this being the owner state and that money being ours. Yes, it is our money. But it’s from a fund intended to keep state services afloat when needed, services that benefit all Alaskans. So long as our Do-Nothing legislature continues its silent vigil of prayer for a new boom so they won’t have to face fiscal reality, it’s needed.

In the rest of this country, people pay for their roads, schools, police and fire from their own pockets. Most people in the lower 48 view this as the price to pay for living someplace that has those services. They may bitch and moan about how much their taxes are, but I doubt any of them would expect those services to be available for free.

So you can well imagine what an image Alaska presents to the rest of this country when we are seen as whining babies because we “only” got $1000 from the state.

Alaskans like to complain about government, all and any of it. We like to complain about freeloaders who want handouts from government in the form of various welfare programs some find distasteful. But with a totally straight face, those same people will defend their right to the largest amount of free money they can get in the form of a PFD check without ever once catching the irony. And it is free money. None of us actually worked for it.

I believe the argument most often used is that the Permanent Fund belongs to all Alaskans and all Alaskans should benefit from it. While the PFD distribution is a wonderful idea for sharing, it is not the only purpose of this investment. This fund was meant to help Alaska pay for government when the oil tap closed. While the tap may still be open and oil may still be flowing, between the drop in the price of oil and the Alaska Legislature’s penchant for funding megaprojects that line the pockets of their buddies, the state budget is in dire straights. If this money is truly meant for all Alaskans, then using it to keep government services going throughout this state is a use of that money that does, in fact, benefit all Alaskans.

I don’t see a way for the state to emerge from this fiscal debacle with the current legislative makeup. Their big plan for securing Alaska’s future finances seems to be awfully dependent on lighting candles and chanting while praying for another boom. This is not a method found in any book on economics as a solution to a financial problem. But it seems to be the one they’ve latched onto.

So if we can’t count on our legislators to put on their big boys and girls pants and do the adult thing for our budget; and if we can’t count on oil suddenly jumping up to over $100/barrel; and if every economist who has looked at the problem has emphatically stated that Alaska cannot simply “cut” its way out of this problem; then maybe, just maybe, we need to pull up our own big boys and girls pants and accept the adult responsibility of paying for those services we expect government to provide.

Alaskans were once proud of their fierce independence, their ability to overcome all hardships and thrive, their self-sufficiency the only virtue they needed. Now we seem to have become a state full of people unable to live without an annual government handout, unwilling to pay for the services we use from road maintenance to policing.

Whatever happened to us? How did we become so dependent on this check that we don’t know how to survive without it? Might be time for us to stop sucking so hard on government teets and pay for the privilege of living in this amazing state.