Contributed by Beth Fread
News Flash! Alaska is in a recession and according to the Alaska Legislative Finance Division’s 7/9/16 publication, Alaska Revenues and Expenditures FY07-17, the combined permanent fund earnings and constitutional budget reserves have $12.5 billion in them (http://www.legfin.akleg.gov/).
So, when our legislative leadership (the newly minted legislative coalition) and the governor say that Alaska’s savings will be gone this year it can only mean one of two things: 1) They are planning to implement the ultimate permanent fund raid through legislative action similar to Senate Bill 128. 2) They plan on spending about $13.7 billion this year. Are you happy about that? If not, call or email your legislators and test the waters. Remember, FY17’s budget was $4.2 billion.
The permanent fund is currently structured to replenish the earnings reserve annually from the permanent fund earnings so that those funds are available for necessary governmental functions. The new bills the coalition promises to bring before this session’s legislature would end that savings account and send those earnings directly into governmental coffers. That’s why we call it the ultimate permanent fund raid.
We’ve read that Rep. Gara sees a dim and dark future unless Alaska keeps on spending more money than it brings in and starts reaching into our homes to finance government in the form of additional taxes, fees and fines (revenues). His bleak and terrible future includes getting rid of educational and public safety workers.
Reality Check: We don’t need to fire people to stop over-spending. To keep the ‘boots on the ground’ folks, he says we’ll have to fire teachers, emergency services and police. There are other employee cost reduction methods that Alaska has successfully implemented in past financially challenging times.
First, there’s the 37.5 hour work week. Then we remove all of the empty positions that have been open for more than nine months and not hire anyone to fill them. We could also ask the unions to do what they offered to do in the 80s, which was a voluntary payroll and merit increase freeze for three years. Another 80’s trick that worked was implementing a Retirement Incentive Program (RIP) that takes high-scale employees off the payroll and fills the lower end of those scales with newly educated college graduates. We also need to tell the governor to stop hiring his friends and colleagues at $500,000 a year. There are still more solutions, but you have to care, search and share to find them.
As Rep. Gara states, “Smaller class sizes generally result in better student outcomes. But when your educational system is gold-plated and your educational system’s national standing is in the bottom 10, you’re not successful, regardless of your class sizes. More money has not helped. We need to start implementing results-oriented financial rewards for educational progress and stop rewarding failure.”
Right now Alaska has 54 school districts. A practical and K-12 educational system based cost-reduction plan would be to cut the number of school districts in half by organizing them regionally like Anchorage, Mat-Su, North Slope and North Star Boroughs. Some superintendents are also principals with offices in their schools. So, some people and more building costs would be reduced without directly impacting the classrooms. For those of you concerned about litigation, Molly Hooch was about being educated near a student’s home, not about where administration was housed.
Finally, we cannot at this time, afford a gas line for the world. We can afford to harvest the gas available to our communities in their backyards (like Glenallen) for their own use. It is time to ask the governor to stop his pipeline project. If you agree, you need to contact the governor, the legislature and your friends to have them reach out with this message as well.