Alaska is rapidly heading toward an economic crisis of a magnitude never before experienced in the history of our state.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy is rightly committed to reducing state spending, increasing the efficiency of state government and balancing the state’s budget. These are noble and necessary objectives in making Alaska attractive to investors for resource development.
He is also trying to keep the administration’s commitment to pay a full dividend. But making a full dividend of $3,000 to Alaskans is made possible only by severely reducing or eliminating basic services that Alaskans need. Moreover, we have almost exhausted our Constitutional Budget Reserve and are now relying on the permanent fund earnings reserve account to pay a full dividend of $3,000. The permanent fund and its earnings reserve are crucial to funding a significant part of state services going forward.
Many Alaskans look upon the dividend as an entitlement, which, factually, is what it has become. One receives it because one lives here — without providing any service to the state to earn it. And, simply put, the issue before us today is which state programs must be cut or omitted to free up monies to pay a dividend of $3,000 per eligible Alaskan.
One can make the case that services such as the University of Alaska, as well as public education, health care, public safety, transportation, etc., are basic rights that provide the quality of life services that people need, expect and demand. Alaskans from all over the state are being heard loud and clear because these core services are threatened by draconian cuts.
There is no question the cost of state government must be reduced and some services curtailed, but the process must be carefully planned and explained. Neither the Legislature nor the administration has explained how these core services will function after the cuts or prepared Alaskans for the consequences of the abrupt termination of some programs.
Further, with the regional division evidenced by our legislators meeting in both Juneau and Wasilla, we are setting the stage for serious ramifications from this divisive action, which could be long-lasting. We don’t need division, we need unification.
We have the obligations as Alaskans to work with our governor and legislators toward a common goal. This can only be done by compromising and maintaining core programs rather than decapitating them for the sole purpose of paying a full dividend. We can’t have both full dividends and full services anymore. We need the Legislature and the governor to step back and compromise to protect core services, the permanent fund and our economy.
Frank Murkowski served as Alaska governor from 2002-2006 and previously served as a U.S. senator. He is a Republican.