Contributed by Faunus Doney
Supporters of Gov. Dunleavy’s budget and its priorities claim that they’re in favor of trimming waste and putting money back in the hands of Alaskans. So far, so good: I agree with cutting wasteful spending, and like most people I could use a few extra bucks.
But I can only agree with the governor’s budget for about if it takes to pour a glass of milk. Or to drive out by Havemeister’s Dairy.
Word’s gotten around that Havemeister’s might be put out of business by the cuts proposed in the governor’s budget. Not because it gets any handouts or government assistance. Because its milk needs to be inspected before it’s sold, and the proposed budget eliminates the state’s only dairy-inspector position. No inspection, no sales. No sales, no dairy.
Forget for a moment that Havemeister’s is Alaska’s only commercial dairy. Forget that it’s a vital link to Palmer’s past, a vibrant part of its present, and a promising anchor of its future. Forget, even, how lucky we are to be able to grab off the shelf milk that was produced by a neighbor.
Forget all that, and consider the waste involved.
For 25 cents per Alaskan, the cost of a single government program run by a single inspector, the governor is willing to kill not just a unique business. He’s willing to kill an entire industry that’s just getting started.
Two other dairies, one in Fairbanks, the other on Kodiak Island, are close to opening. So close that they’ve already asked to be inspected. That means huge investments in the facilities, livestock, and equipment needed to deliver commercially viable products.
All of that investment adds up to far more than Alaska will save by eliminating the job of Dairy Inspector. And it’s all in danger of being sent down the drain.
To me, that’s shortsighted. For what it’s worth, Wisconsin agrees. A license to produce milk in Wisconsin costs $30; even with nearly 9,000 dairy farms kicking in, this barely makes a dent in the dairy-inspection budget of a state that employs more than 25 people for that task alone. And still, Wisconsin manages to maintain a bit of a reputation for dairy production.
Wisconsin’s system has been stable for years, even throughout Scott Walker’s administration. They know, as Gov. Dunleavy seems not to, that some investments are best made centrally. Shifting money from public positions like Dairy Inspector to pay for increased PFDs makes sense only if the goal is to destroy entire industries. Otherwise, the only option left to us is to each save a quarter from our dividend checks, pool our resources, and hire… well, you get the idea. Take a closer look at the governor’s priorities, and more often than not, you’ll see solutions looking for problems.
And, despite all the talk about fiscal responsibility, you’ll find long-term waste. When Scott Walker’s fiscal policies make yours look pennywise and sound foolish, it’s time to hit the brakes.
That might be happening as I write this: plenty of folks throughout Mat-Su and beyond have spoken up for Alaska’s dairies, and there’s real hope that the inspector position will be saved once the dust settles in Juneau. But, as I drove my truck along some roads in Palmer that could use resurfacing, looming crisis got me to thinking more broadly about how we manage our public money and our civic priorities.
When the Navy needed coal, it built a railway to the coal fields north of Palmer and set people to work. That railway cost money. Public money. When the government wanted an established presence in the Valley, it sold homesteads at a loss. That cost money. And when the need for improved agriculture in Mat-Su met the needs of hundreds of hard-up families from the Iron Range, among them Arnold and Emma Havemeister, public money got them up to the Matanuska Colony.
Those investments were made during wartime, and in the depths of the Great Depression. They weren’t frivolous, and they weren’t handouts. They were serious investments in the hard work and stubborn genius of the forebears whose effort and character made Palmer such a special place to live.
It still is. And with continued hard work, care, and investment, it will be for generations to come.
Faunus M. Doney, BSc. DD EMT-P Palmer, Alaska: Proud Resident Twitter: Frontier_Faunus