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Community Perspective

Don’t give away money during down economy

I do not approve of the budget that was submitted to the governor this past session. It cuts too much. A healthy state requires a healthy economy.

For over 22 years I worked on cleaning up contaminated sites left by mining, oil and gas extractive industries and second-tier businesses that improperly handled and disposed hazardous wastes into our soils and waters. Problem is, there are still way too many contaminated sites in Alaska leaching metals and persistent chemical products. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation lists 2,317 open contaminated sites. The majority of active sites are from releases of petroleum products. The federal Bureau of Land Management inventoried 219 known abandoned mine lands on public lands. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources inventoried 432 coal and noncoal abandoned historic mines in 1991. The noncoal inventory remains incomplete for state, private and Alaska Native lands. For way too long extractive industries have taken our resources and left a mess for future generations. The fox has stolen the golden egg and left a dead goose.

I bring these data up to emphasize that the governor’s push for expanding natural resource extraction, while admirable, will result in further costs to Alaska to monitor and clean up these sites for the protection of human health and the environment if not properly managed.

In 1977 when I first came to Alaska and the oil began to flow in the pipeline, we had a population of 370,000 with a fiscal 1978 budget of about $6.4 billion. Today there are twice as many of us, 737,000, and a smaller budget of about $5.5 billion. Ask any first grader and they can tell you the more you have, the more it costs. Alaska doesn’t have a spending problem, it has a revenue shortfall of over $5 billion. Revenue needs to be doubled in concert with our growing population, not cut in half.

Two obvious starting sources: oil and mining. Does anyone really think if you don’t give oil credits the companies will leave the state? BP’s quarterly profits exceed $5 billion. How about Fort Knox? They love to brag that they provide the highest salary to their employees. While the size and production rate of mineral extraction has exponentially grown, the rate of payment to the state relative to oil and gas has not kept pace and provides an insignificant proportion to the state’s economy relative to its production value.

How about all the new pickup trucks pulling camping trailers, boats and ATVs all over town? This doesn’t suggest a revenue problem. Unlike these discretionary expenses, government service dollars go to pay state employees, not to buy a bunch of widgets. Cutting services doesn’t only eliminate valuable programs that government is responsible for, it also eliminates jobs, which eliminates capital to our communities.

I loved giving bonuses to my employees when business was good. No company gives away money during a down economy, but this is precisely what the governor wants to do. A cost-benefit analysis will clearly demonstrate the governor’s foolish PFD payout will do more harm than good. Government’s primary role is to provide the services its citizens are not able to provide on their own. Approve House Bill 2001 and provide the revenue our education, arts, social services and public safety need to service the best interests of the state and its residents.

David McDowell lives in Fairbanks.

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