Once Alaska was home to the toughest, most adaptable people on the planet. And then the white folk showed up.
Since then it’s been pretty much all downhill, starting with the barely audible flow of a meandering river that braids into gurgling riffles that become roaring rapids until finally all that water turns into a massive waterfall of whine.
Some residents of the north now think Alaska is going to “die” because Gov. Mike Dunleavy cut about $400 million of the approximately $4.4 billion of state spending the Legislature approved for fiscal year 2020.
That’s a cut of about 10 percent. It’s a big cut, a painful cut, and a particularly difficult cut for the University of Alaska which took a $130 million hit – by far the biggest loss suffered by any state entity.
Of course, it’s never going to recover. How could it when it’s dead?
Now here’s some free advice if you believe this nonsense: Leave.
Leave now. Abandon the rotting carcass of Alaska while you can. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass. The state has grown a surplus of whiners and wimps.
Go. You won’t be missed in the least.
Meanwhile, if you decide you’re going to stay, shut up and get to work.
This is what Alaskans used to do. This is what was called “the Alaska spirit.”
If you think the cuts are going to hamstring state government, as some do, go find yourself a good candidate to run against Dunleavy in the next election and start organizing a base of support to get her or him elected.
Some free advice on that, though.
Broad-based support is what wins elections, and you don’t build it by calling everyone who disagrees with you in the least dirty names.
There are likely to be a fair-sized number of Alaskans living in the zone between “Dunleavy went too far” and the “Legislature didn’t go far enough.”
The state led the nation in per capita state and local government spending last year at $20,688 per person, according to USA Today. That’s a pretty amazing figure considering the state per capita income is only $35,065, according to the U.S. Census.
Let’s all give thanks that a significant amount of state spending comes in the form of shared federal revenues.
Then let’s consider why we spend so much – about twice what the liberal state of Minnesota spends – and no, it’s not those “shipping costs” because of the state’s remoteness.
The reason is that we have the second most public-sector jobs in the nation. Only Wyoming – another state that got wealthy off hydrocarbon resource wealth and grew government without much thought to costs – has more, and it’s not far ahead.
Almost a quarter of the workers in Wyoming – 24.9 percent – hold government jobs. Alaska is at 24.6 percent. California, for comparison sake, is at 15.2.
As the fifth largest economy in the world, California is lucky to boast a lot of private sector jobs. Alaska has a high percentage of public-sector jobs in part because there hasn’t been much business growth despite relatively low taxes on businesses and workers.
How can the state have relatively low taxes on businesses and workers and yet spend so much money? Thank taxes on the oil industry which still carries the revenue load along with the feds.
But wait, it may be against the law to thank the oil industry in the 49th state where it’s largely viewed as the evil entity that sees to it “our” oil somehow gets out of the ground and moves it to where it is valuable.
Now, if you’re one of those who happen to agree with cuts, you can shut up, too. It’s not a time to gloat. Maybe instead you could talk to some of your fellow Alaskans upset about the vetoes and decide where or how you might join forces to truly help Alaskans in need.
“Are you, personally, going to take in a homeless person?” a Facebook friend posted today in debating the budget cuts with another. “Or administer medication to a dying Hospice patient. Or let an abused woman and her kids hang out in your home while you’re at work because the Clare House can’t stay open for the day anymore? Or teach college classes on economics, marketing, music, biology, business, law, etc.? Or provide public media services across the state? Or shell out case to a low-income family whose kids breaks his/her ankle? No, of course you’re not. Neither am I. And that’s precisely why we need these programs administered via our government.”
The message is badly garbled, but the intentions are good. And the reality is that a lot of the things mentioned above actually can be done without government.
The response here shouldn’t be of course not; it should be of course we can.
You might not want to take in an abused woman and her family – though I’ve known those who have done so – but you can make a contribution to Clare House to keep the doors or open or start a Clair House GoFundMe and lobby friends and neighbors to contribute.
You can also make a donation to public media which is actively engaged in soliciting money all the time. (Or make a contribution here; I can guarantee you I’m producing more news copy for less money than any of the reporters at public media. One can measure the volume. I’ll leave it to you to judge the quality.)
The University of Alaska could use some help, too. If you’ve got a lot of money, how about setting up a GoFundMe to match contributions from others up to some certain level? (Full disclosure: I’m a UA-Fairbanks alum; my other half works for the university system; and I think the school (at least in Fairbanks) does some extremely high-quality research.)
It’s nice when the government does things for us, but there are things we can do ourselves.
Some of us are old enough to remember the words of President John F. Kennedy at his inaugural address in 1961 when he famously advised Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Every since oil started flowing from Prudhoe Bay, Alaskans – rich and poor – have been doing pretty much the opposite. They’ve done a lot of asking of the state and very little doing for it.
Well here’s an opportunity to give back.
Think about this, maybe you could start a business and put some Alaskans to work. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate push back?
Wouldn’t it be good to say, “the governor put these state workers out of work, and I put them back to work. Now they’re managing websites in 47 states and 15 different countries.”
The budget war is over. The state has a governor who instead of talking about budget cuts actually made significant reductions. The veto failed. It’s all history.
If you don’t like it, vote him out in 2022, or line up the votes to elect a legislature that will grow the budget and have the votes to override any veto. This is how democracy works.
But the whining needs to stop. Unless you got here before the oil money started flowing, you have no clue as to what the real Alaska was like. The gross state product (GSP), a measure of economic productivity, was shy of $9 billion in this state in 1973. Unemployment was in the double digits.
The lifespan of Alaska Natives living in the Arctic was about 20 years shorter than it is today. The subsistence lifestyle existed because in some places people had no choice but to live off the land, which is a hard, hard way to live.
Fairbanks was still a small town, and Anchorage wasn’t much more than that. Juneau was something of a dump.
Love oil or hate it, the oil industry lifted the state economy and everyone along with it.
State budget cuts are going to be painful. I feel for any state employee who loses a job. I watched too many journalists lose jobs in the past decade, and I’ve had friends in the oil patch with its up and down employment.
Losing a job is an unpleasant experience for most people because work tends to define our lives. Losing a job often isn’t just losing a job; it’s like having a part of your soul cut out.
And yes, there will be poor or sick people who suffer because of these cuts. That’s a difficult thing to accept but there is no system on earth in which some poor or sick people don’t suffer, and there never will be.
Life simply isn’t fair; and some people make their own problems no matter how much friends, family and government try to help them. Sometimes trying to help them even makes their problems worse.
The state budget, the federal budget, the Municipality of Anchorage budget, your personal budget isn’t about doing everything possible to help other people because we will never be able to afford to do enough on a state, local or personal level.
Budgets are about what we can afford. If you can afford it, if you’ve got the expendable income or the time, you now have an opportunity to help others.
Do it. It will be a lot more productive than whining about how government should do it (that issue has been decided) and a lot more neighborly than ranting at your neighbors about how government should do everything because some of them fundamentally believe government shouldn’t do everything.
A few might even believe government shouldn’t do anything. It doesn’t make them bad, let alone evil. It makes them people with a different point of view.