Our three bedroom, ranch-style home was built in the 70s and even though it’s structurally sound, it’s time for some upgrades. It needs some insulation and several coats of paint. The foundation has shifted a bit and now there is daylight in our crawl space where there oughtn’t be daylight.
In addition to the repair and upgrade list, we have a lot of stuff. When we bought the house two decades ago, the previous owner left everything but his microwave and a suitcase full of clothes. Now we have some of his stuff, plus all of our stuff, and we’re stuffed to the gills. Our garages are full of outdated outdoor equipment, boxes of books and all the other odds and ends that we didn’t have room for in the house. Our closets are bulging with clothes we don’t wear and shoes and boots and jackets from winters past. In the last two years we’ve accumulated four freezers, and a host of other treasures (a coffee table, a 2.5’ x 6’ framed poster of Kachemak Bay, a stack of pallets and a set of french doors) we’ve brought home from the the transfer station we drive past twice a day, every day. Yeah, we’re Alaskan.
We know it’s time to clean up. We know it’s time to haul some of our treasures back up the road. Our house needs upgrades and fixes and we need to make it all run more efficiently, especially if we want to grow old here. The scope of it all is overwhelming. Somedays it feels like it would be easier to bulldoze the place or burn it to the ground. Somedays, especially when I’m tired or particularly discouraged, I have to ask myself if all the work is really worth it.
It would be easy to sell this place as is and let the next family that comes along fix it up, and we’ve considered that option. But for now we keep coming back to the fact that this house we’ve raised our kids in, these five acres that we’ve called home for twenty years, this life that we’ve created for ourselves on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness is something we treasure. Yes, it’s cluttered with stuff we’ve accumulated. Yes, it’s time to pay attention to the things that have been neglected. But there’s no question as to whether or not it’s worth our effort. This is our home.
There’s a part of me, the overwhelmed part, the small part that sometimes wants to walk away and start fresh, that understands where Governor Dunleavy and those who support his budget must be coming from. Alaska isn’t as flush as it once was, and the hard job of maintaining the standard of living Alaskans have become accustomed to is not an easy task. At times it must feel like balancing the budget and taking care of Alaskans is more than what’s possible. So maybe hiring someone to come in and ignore the people side of the equation seemed like the easiest, fastest solution to the state’s budget crisis.
Alaska is not a business though, and our governor should not try to solve its budgetary woes without taking its people into consideration. Governor Dunleavy is treating Alaska as though he’s the CEO of a corporation rather than the governor of our state. He’s balancing the budget to keep the interests of the oil companies ahead of the interests of the people.
Imagine our university system shuttering several of its campuses. Imagine not being able to take the ferry from one coastal community to the next. Imagine schools closing and teachers having to manage 35 or more students in a classroom. Imagine state social workers with double their caseloads. Imagine the hundreds of people who would lose their healthcare. Imagine the damage that could be done to fisheries without adequate environmental oversight. Imagine prisoners being sent to private facilities thousands of miles from their families. Imagine towns losing their emergency services. Imagine a great migration of Alaskans to the lower forty-eight because their prospects in Alaska have dried up. This is what Governor Dunleavy has to offer Alaskans. And he wants to do is as fast as possible.
“We’ll build up from zero,” he says, as if all the infrastructure and investment of the last fifty years of statehood aren’t worth considering. “I’ll veto any new taxes,” he says, in an effort to keep Alaska’s economy completely dependent on oil.
Slow down, I want to tell him. Let’s recognize that there’s more to living in Alaska than getting a check in the mail every October. Let’s consider all our revenue options before destroying this place that so many of us love. It may require restructuring the way we tax oil companies. It might mean a return to the pre-oil days when residents paid a state income tax. It may take some time.
We know we’re in trouble. The price of oil isn’t what it used to be and production is down. We know it’s time to pay attention to the expenditures that our formerly robust economy let us ignore. But it’s possible to create budgetary solutions that take all Alaskans into consideration–it has to be because the role of government is to serve the people. And it’s possible to move into the future while respecting our unique history and honoring the pioneers who made this state a modern, livable place. We’d be foolish not to.
If enacted, Governor Dunleavy’s proposal to zero out the budget and start from scratch would leave an unnecessary wake of collateral damage that could only be measured in losses for Alaskans. Five thousand fewer jobs, a skeleton university system, underfunded schools — all of which will lead to other disastrous outcomes. I hear there are a few elected officials in Juneau who have decided to work off of the 2019 base budget and disregard Dunleavy’s plan. I hope it’s true. I’ll be rooting for them and a three-quarters majority. A lot depends on that three-quarters majority.