It’s an Interesting Life
Just short of a year ago when I was let go by the new management at the Frontiersman, I swore to myself I would never have anything to do with that paper again. Of course they apparently wanted nothing more to do with this cartoonist, so that was a pretty easy vow to stick with. But an April 16th editorial titled “Channeling Jimmy Stewart on the PFD” has made me decide to temporarily suspend my oath.
In that editorial the paper references one of my all time favorite movies “It’s a Wonderful Life”. If you’re among the half dozen or so people on the planet that hasn’t seen this movie, see it. And bring tissue. In the movie George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, makes a plea to the townspeople. It seems that George, owner of the local building and loan and all around good guy (he is Jimmy Stewart after all), is on the hook for an $8 thousand deposit. It was supposed to have been made by his Uncle Billy, Thomas Mitchell, into the bank owned by the avaricious Henry Potter, Lionel Barrymore, but was misplaced when Billy unknowingly gives it to Potter in a folded newspaper. Potter, who has wanted control of the building and loan for years, sees an opportunity and holds Georges feet to the fire for the payment George thinks is missing.
So in the scene recalled by the Frontiersman, Jimmy Stewart is trying to convince the townspeople that giving control of the building and loan to Potter in exchange for their commonly held interest in said building and loan is a bad idea. The editorial then goes on to compare this to Alaska state government’s recent dalliance with our PFD. At first glance the comparison is pretty solid. Don’t give up your long term interest in a commonly held asset because of a temporary fiscal problem. In other words, keep your pudgy government fingers off my PFD.
The editorial also draws a distinct line between government and the people of the state. It casts government as a separate and competing entity who’s purpose is the accumulation of wealth and power at the expense of the rest of us. This is a commonly held view of how things are.
Also mentioned is our $15 billion reserve fund. This serves as a way to downplay the immediacy of the several billion dollar deficit problem the state faces.
The reality is this: In 2015 we had a $5 billion budget with a $4 billion hole in it. That’s 80 percent and that qualifies as a crisis whether you’re George Bailey or Henry Potter. We have managed to almost halve that number this year by a combination of cuts, a slight uptick in oil prices, and, yes, tapping the PFD.
Understand that I don’t relish the idea of carving a thousand plus dollars out of my PFD. I mean come on. I’m a liberal so I love the idea of private oil wealth being redistributed to the proletariat. Can I get “nostrovia!” comrade.
Governor Walker’s plan was to approach this problem in three steps They were restructuring oil taxes, implementing a state income tax, and using a portion of the permanent fund. How many political third rails is this guy willing to dance on?
Since oil taxes and an income tax have to go through the legislature, the easiest step to do was using a portion of the PFD. Easy in the same way that stepping off a cliff is easy. The political repercussions were about what you’d expect from people who have come to expect and depend on a healthy check in October.
Again, don’t get me wrong. I love my PFD and I don’t love filling out my tax return. Unfortunately I also like roads, schools, a national defense, etc.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once wrote: “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society…”. That comes to the underlying tone of the Frontiersman editorial. The perceived competition between government and the people. This attitude is one of the most destructive elements in today’s politics.
Government is you. It is an extension of the people. It addresses commonly held values like education and security. You are the government. The people in office are there because of you, so stop blaming some faceless, bloodless entity. Look in the mirror.
As for the government’s use of the PFD, I think the author of the Frontiersman piece kinda missed one of the main points of the movie. In the end Jimmy Stewart is bailed out by all the people of the town donating what they can to cover the debt. Insert PFD/taxes here. The people of Bedford Falls understand that George Bailey’s building and loan is a means to their prosperity. He and his institution are a vital part of what makes the town what it is.
That is the situation we are facing. If we want to have a function state government we are going to have to pay for it. Do I look forward to giving up a portion of my PFD? No. Do I look forward to paying more taxes? No. Do I look forward to oil companies paying more for doing business in Alaska? Actually, I kind of do look forward to that one, but with this legislature, I’m not holding my breath.