On his way out, Begich left us with a big mess

October 24, 2009 

By now, only the obsessively partisan have yet to understand former Mayor Mark Begich deceived the public so he could push through labor union contracts he knew we couldn't afford. Most everyone now understands Begich was making good on a promise to his labor union boss supporters. It was so important to him to come through for his union supporters, he was willing to lie. As scandals go, there's not much foggy about this one.

But I fear what most have not yet come to understand is the deep impact Begich's deception will have on each and every person living in Anchorage.

The Sullivan administration estimates the four, five-year contracts Begich deceptively rushed through at the last minute of his second term will raise the cost of running Anchorage an additional $195 million over the life of the contracts.

It's not just the salary increases that drive up costs for taxpayers. These contracts lock in for five years sweetheart provisions like expensive cost-of-living increases, tuition reimbursement, a dramatic increase in health care and retirement contributions, and time off for paid leave. The contracts are loaded with workplace rules favorable to the employee and stacked against management. Sixty percent of the extra money these contracts cost taxpayers comes from nonsalary benefits.

But that's what happens when Mark Begich is in charge of our city. Labor union bosses get to sit on both sides of the negotiating table.

Let's put the cost of these "give away the farm" contracts in perspective. The current city budget proposed by Mayor Dan Sullivan comes in at somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 and a half-million. Begich just heaped an extra $200 million on top of that over the next five years. Percentagewise, it's a massive increase!

Remember, this $200 million doesn't hire an additional cop, fireman or snow plower. It doesn't buy as much as a single pencil, fill a tank of gas or pay for the watering of a single flower. No, this extra $200 million simply adds to the cost of paying the workers the city already has.

The extra $200 million comes at a time when the city is not only broke but running serious deficits. This of course is old news to Mr. Begich and his CFO. It's only new to the rest of us.

The big question now is how will we come up with the almost $200 million tab Mr. Begich left us with?

Mayor Sullivan will have to raise $200 million or drastically cut services. Can you imagine what a $200 million reduction in services would mean to our city over the next five years? Remember, that $200 million growth in expenses does not include all the other factors that raise the cost of city services, like inflation. We cannot cut our way out of the Begich mess. The deficits are just too steep. This is coming from a small-government, basic-essential-services, anti-raising-taxes kind of guy.

Mayor Sullivan is already slightly raising property taxes. He could raise them much more and the media and the "Socialist Six" on the Assembly will be pushing him hard to do so.

The mayor is proposing raising the cost of using public transportation by 10 percent. It will cost you more to use the city's swimming pools. Parking meter fees will soon go up. There's talk of cutting back library hours and park maintenance. Mayor Sullivan has already announced the city is laying off 120 workers and closing a fire station.

The bottom line is that, thanks to Mark Begich's deception and pushing through contracts to please his labor union bosses, it's about to get a lot more expensive to live in the city of Anchorage. And city services are going to shrink considerably.

Make no mistake about it, Mark Begich did more than pull a fast one over on the public. He left us with a mess. And unlike Mr. Begich's friend in the White House who is also prone to spend, spend, spend, we can't just print new money. That $200 million tab has to come from somewhere. And since businesses don't pay taxes, people do, you can guess who is on the hook for it.


Dan Fagan hosts a talk show on AM750, KFQD. You can reach him at faganreport@me.com.

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