Guest editorial by Wayne Pence. Pence is a UAF graduate who grew up in Anchorage, where he currently works for a local engineering firm. He says he’d “like to continue living in Alaska but am terrified it will not be affordable to do so long term because the governor is not making sustainable budget decisions.” To send in an editorial for consideration, contact Midnight Sun editor Matt Buxton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d like to say I remember a time when Republicans were fiscally conservative, but I honestly cannot.
I came of age during the time of the Great Recession and was lucky enough to have been born to parents who put me through college while the economy recovered. My parents are true fiscal conservatives: When times were hard, they didn’t blow their savings on allowance. They projected where they wanted to be in the future and made a financial plan to get there. When I was a kid, they made it clear my allowance was not my right: it was something they could afford, and I should appreciate it and give back in ways. Clean the bathrooms. Cook a meal. Contribute in some way. I did what I could with what I had.
For too long, many Alaskans’ only interaction with their state budget are they days they file for and receive the PFD. For some, this transaction was their birthright. I was not born in Alaska, and the yearly allowance this state provides still astonishes me. I admit, it’s a great way to juice the economy for a week, but aren’t there more prudent ways the state could use its oil-rush era inheritance? Sadly, the same people who claim Medicare is an “entitlement” are the first to cry foul play when anyone dare question a more utilitarian use of PFD funds, which are meant for all Alaskans.
Read that again: ALL Alaskans. Not just Alaskans currently alive, not just Alaskans out of State for 9 months a year, not even Alaskans born the day after the filing deadline. ALL ALASKANS.
In pursuit of individual greed, Alaskans seem to have forgotten future Alaskans are just as much a part of this inclusion as themselves. The PFD was meant to last.
The past 4 years, the Legislature has slowly drained the billions of dollars in the Constitutional Budget Reserve, and instead of solving the budget deficit in one bite they’ve chosen to make many meals out of it. Fine, progress is progress. I stomped my feet as Legislators fretted away our savings instead of creating new income via taxes or using the ocean of money that is the Permanent Fund. Now this resource is nearly gone and we still have no new income and are hardly closer to the mythical budget deficit of zero dollars.
I can only credit this situation to a failure in communication between and among Alaskans, as well a failure to contextualize our shared values. Some Alaskans say they “hate the government”, when they really hate government waste. Alaskans say they “cannot get ahead” when they appreciate the services the government provides that help them stay alive, given their circumstances. There is little pity for the addicted and unemployed, and the overemployed still cannot make ends meet with multiple jobs. Some people value total independence from government assistance, some could care less so long as their families survive.
Reminiscence from economies-past distort our perceptions concerning the merits of hard work. The simple truth is wages have not kept up with the evolving economy and the value of hard work has diminished accordingly. Ignoring this fact, blowhards, know-it-all’s, and Limbaughs have stoked cynicism and partisanship so that their audience perceives only two kinds of people in society: givers and takers; hard workers and bums; the rich and the poor. This simplistic model is not the way of things.
This failure in communication and the ongoing misperceptions has been juiced by AM radio hosts who insist anyone who works hard will be successful, and anyone who refuses to work hard every day must be a societal leech. The value and meaning of “success” has withered in the minds of some even as it has ballooned in others. Simply one meal a day and warm toes at night is a success to some, but for the others an inability to satisfy immediate impulses is absolute destitution.
Small people with large voices, who refuse to admit the American dream is dying, are holding back our society by promulgating the magic of diligence. Hard work will only get a person so far if they are unlucky or unwise, and the consequences of a bad decisions are punitive enough without the malice of the judicial system. The seductive idea of the self-self-made man is a myth; how many stories have you heard of an Outsider coming to Alaska to live off the grid? Usually, these stories end as tragedies as a result of arrogance and incompetence.
There is more to fiscal conservatism than a small budget deficit. Conservatives used understand how their values impact the future, instead of fretting over how the media will spin their simplistic models of small government to their constituents. Self-absorbed voters see their taxes decrease, along with our societal health, and value the former at the expense of the latter even as they complain about the problems of rampant crime and homelessness. Do they not see the direct connection between a healthy society and a life with meaning?
A transactional view of reality may lend credence to the idea that government is a pox upon society. America allows freedom of belief and of any safe perception is your birthright to hold. But in practice, the government is the largest employer in the country and a healthy, efficient government helps an economy thrive. The idea that the size of government is proportional to its efficacy is a misconception; an efficient government is the goal of both parties, they merely differ in what is perceived as useful and wasteful.
We have to accept some government fat is necessary to keep the organism alive, just as some corruption is inevitable when profits act as an incentive. No government employee would stick around if they knew their job would be cut as soon as it was unnecessary. For a governor to hack off whole limbs of the government body for the purpose of reducing fat is uninformed and arrogant, at best, and malicious and destructive at worst. I had high hopes when Governor Walker was elected; he ran on the idea of compromise and solutions, instead of mindless cuts and heartless hacks as an end-all solution. I hope Governor Dunleavy can learn to see the shortsightedness of his ideas.