Contributed by Wes Keller
News about the Alaska annual budget feeding frenzy causes most of us something between revulsion and angry frustration. Even if you are/have been engaged in the Juneau budgeting circus first hand, it is confusing and sobering to assimilate the countless bits and pieces of news we hear about the annual government overspending event. It is almost impossible to guess whether any particular person involved is acting as a noble public servant or is driven by self-interest. Frankly, I doubt if any of us knows for sure about our own motives regarding state spending! We all like the prosperity that springs from government over-spending!
Forget, for a moment, the hackneyed question, “What (who) are we going to cut?” Focus on the more fundamental question, “Why” do we chronically over-spend? The media is looking for anyone who will predict shortages and disaster from budget cuts because of common, morbid interest. It is uncomfortable to analyze “Why?” compared to speculating who will get the ax!
We underestimate the raw power of Alaska government’s “will to spend”. In Juneau, institutions ‘mine’ for State and Federal dollars using previous year’s money to hire lobbyists (or by using their employees)! Children, seniors, poor, and needy are flown in from all over the state, often at State expense, to appeal to heartstrings for funding. Legislators may squirm at this disingenuous element, but risk being labeled as anti-children, anti-woman, anti-elderly, anti-native... if they dare to challenge it. The labeling and related fights make far more interesting news than fixing the problem. The mantra for the budget circus should be, “All is fair in love, war, and budget negotiations (scrambling for revenue)!” I have come to believe our Alaska spending “habit” is far more like a “disease” than we care to admit, similar to Stage IV cancer or a powerful drug addiction.
WHY does Alaska have a visceral need to spend, spend, spend? Following are excuses I have heard and/or used. Please consider them and add to the list if you can... Maybe it’s not too late to reform Alaska’s spending habits:
- Federal “bait” money makes state spending irresistible (if the state agrees to spend a dollar, the feds promise tens, even hundreds of matching revenue dollars – in exchange, of course, for their control (regulations) of programs. Our State offices become more like federal outposts.
- General belief the government is infinitely rich and benevolent. To apply this excuse, you MUST believe lies and pretend man is intrinsically “good” so government will function as a loving “nanny”.
- Pseudo-compassion for children, elderly, orphans, widows, poor and abused. In reality, they are often used to appear as ‘poster-children’ to make it difficult to deny funding. In reality, organizers almost always have unacknowledged and undeclared serious potential conflicts of interest.
- Constitutional flaws. 1. Imbalance of powers which increases administrative influence and reduces electorate influence. The implication of this is huge! 2. The assignment of billions of “pre-tax” resource riches deposited directly into the State checking account. Alaskans tend to forget their ownership to the point they tolerate government presumption of ownership. (http://weskeller.com/cruel-joke/)
- Liberal “tax-and-spend” politicians, Democrats and Republicans-in-name-only (RINOs), who are greedy for power. It is commonly believed that once elected, politicians renege on campaign promises and join the feeding frenzy! Ask yourself, why do they get re-elected?
- Geographic isolation of the budget process. Juneau is essentially on a virtual “island” largely controlled by State employees, paid lobbyists, and contractors.
- Greedy government employees. This one is profoundly offensive to be sure. I have come to believe MOST, sleep very well at night because they do their assigned jobs with diligence and integrity. Some, however, get paid for plotting to get more state revenue! The most successful “miners” sincerely believe in their particular mission.
- Unions (particularly public employee unions). Government jobs have become the favored and best jobs. Given salary, benefits, and short tenure time, a government job has become a career preference.
- Biased Media. This seems to be a universal phenomenon.
- Lazy, incompetent population. Some Alaskans seem to believe if the government fails to provide aid, many would surely die. They are driven by the fear they may be unable to care for themselves.
If any or all of these factors are true, we have the tools to fix it! The People of Alaska are the state “sovereigns” regarding every item on the list. With the authority vested in us (under the Sovereignty of our Creator), we can maintain Alaska state government “by” (and “for”) the people, or, we will “own” the consequences. We need to support Governor Dunleavy’s efforts to have an honestly balanced budget and somehow change our spending habits. Frankly, I doubt we have the will do it! The big spenders will never rest or quit until they destroy us by cleaning out our Permanent Fund earnings!