I hate brussels sprouts! They are little green spheres of guuhhhh! I hope I haven’t offended any brussels sprout lovers out there. Actually, no. If you love brussels sprouts you deserve to be offended. You’re probably healthy enough to deal with it anyway.
I suppose you’re wondering why I’m going on about dietary preferences. Well, it seems the Governor has just served up a big steaming bowl of round revulsion. On Friday he announced the 2017 PFD will be $1,100.00. He did so with very little fanfare, but he can’t fool me. He can hide them behind the pork chops, but I still recognize brussels sprouts when I see them.
So what’s wrong with an $1,100.00 windfall, you might ask? Actually nothing, until you realize that it could have been twice as much. That’s right folks. We could have had a PFD in the neighborhood of $2,200.00 instead of $1,100.00, and that’s a much fancier neighborhood.
So why is the governor making off with half our money? Apparently the downturn in oil prices has left a gaping hole in our state budget. Last year the gap between spending and what we had to spend was around 2.9 billion dollars. This year it’s a little less, about 2.5 billion. Ah progress. Now Alaska can’t dismiss that kind of debt with just its good looks. Have you taken a good look at us lately? We have to figure out a way to balance the books. The most expedient way to do this is to take money out of the state savings account, which is what we did last year and this year. In order to stretch that savings account a little further the governor also took part of the PFD. As it stands now, we don’t have enough money left in that savings account to make this tactic a three-peat.
Another way to do this is by cuts in spending (state services and infrastructure), taxes, and tapping the permanent fund. You know, brussels sprouts. So far, the people’s representatives in Juneau have not been able to bring themselves to eat their vegetables, and I can certainly sympathize with that. Personally I have a deep and abiding lust for peanut butter snickers. I mean what’s not to love? You have peanut butter. You have nougat covered chocolate. You have partially hydrogenated soybean oil. MMMMmmmm. Every bite guaranteed to give you that little stabbing pain of delight in the hinge of your jaw; and probably shorten your life by a few seconds.
Even though I have a special relationship with that confection from the Mars candy company; I realize I can’t live on nothing but peanut butter snickers. That’s not to say I haven’t given it a try, usually around Halloween, but it never works out. Apparently there aren’t that many vitamins or other life sustaining elements in that morsel of chocolatey brilliance. For that you need something in the leafy, green category. This is what Governor Walker has realized, and he’s serving it up to us sans peanut butter.
I guess someone has to be the adult in the state; so the governor has assumed that role. Like most adults he will get howls of protest around supper time from the kids at the table, when he puts out something that isn’t covered in cheese or chocolate. Hmmm, peanut butter snickers dipped in cheese. And, like most adults, he will take it in stride because he understands the necessity of doing stuff that’s good for you.
If he had his way we would also be paying higher taxes and making oil companies do the same. It doesn’t matter that Alaskans carry the lightest tax burden in the country; and that we get back far more federal dollars than we pay in taxes. What matters is we don’t want to eat our vegetables, and you can’t make us. You can’t make us! So there!
Actually they, state government, can make us, and they will have no choice come next year. We don’t have enough left in the budget reserve to cover the gap for next fiscal year. The time has come to stop depending on mega-oil to pay the bills and pony up the money ourselves. Cutting the PFD in half won’t be enough to close with the looming gap either. For those who say we can cut spending and solve the problem, I say try cutting your income in half and see how you make out.
A couple of years ago the difference in state debt and income was about 80 percent. Through cuts in services, infrastructure, and the PFD we have managed to bring it down to about 50 percent. That’s actually pretty good, but we’re still left with 50 percent. No amount of cutting is going to bring that number down to zero.
As Alaskans we like to think of ourselves as the embodiment of independence. Well, part of being independent is taking responsibility for yourself. Part of that responsibility means we, all of us, have to start paying for what we get.
So, for what it’s worth, here’s my advice to all of us including state legislators. If we want roads we can drive on and schools that educate our children, there’s really only one solution. Take a breath. Hold your nose. Here comes the train with boxcars full of brussels sprouts! Guuhhhh!