Because it’s Good For You

Eat Your

Brussels Sprouts

by

Chuck Legge

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!

It’s an Interesting Life

It’s an Interesting Life

by

Chuck Legge

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.