Compass: Progress for Alaska requires change at the top

What sort of future will we all have after four more years of the Parnell administration? Short answer: a bleak one. On crucial economic issues -- oil taxes, public education and health care -- he is pointing Alaska in the wrong direction. Here are the facts.

The governor's most significant economic failure was forcing the state into billion dollar budget deficits by pushing an oil tax giveaway through the legislature. The giveaway imperils our ability to educate the next generation of Alaskans and imperils our ability to invest in critical needs like roads, ports and energy projects. Worse, the giveaway threatens to fulfill the dire warnings of Alaska's doubters. Fifty five years ago during the statehood debate they predicted that Alaska would never be able to stand on its own two feet economically.

They lost that debate due to the positive vision offered by Bob Bartlett, Ernest Gruening, Wally Hickel and Bill Egan. The contrast between the genius of our state's forebears and the cramped ideology offered by this administration could not be more stark. Those great early Alaskans fought for a constitution that secured for Alaska's future citizens a permanent share of our immense mineral resource wealth. Now their work is being steadily undermined. If Alaska does not reverse the giveaway next August, you can expect to see growing deficits until our savings are all spent.

Democrats in the legislature offered an alternative to the giveaway. We wrote a bill to modify oil taxes without giving away the farm. Incentives for the billions of barrels of North Slope heavy oil were offered, as were incentives for new oil fields and for new processing facilities. We even offered to reduce oil taxes at high prices. But our targeted tax cuts were not enough for the governor and for his former employer ConocoPhillips. (You know, don't you, that the governor worked for ConocoPhillips as a lobbyist?) When CP and BP and ExxonMobil demanded more and more concessions, Governor Parnell was willing to oblige them.

And it isn't just on oil taxes that we are being led astray. It's education too.

Several years ago I, along with a hundred other citizens, participated in multiple Anchorage School District budget overview sessions. At the recent meeting at Hanshew Middle School on this year's school budget crunch, the basic formula came back to me. Squeezing any school district budget ultimately leads to fewer teachers in the classroom. Push classroom sizes up, particularly in the lower grades, and you lose student performance. It's a straightforward equation.

For the past three years this administration has advocated for a level of education funding that is inadequate and that has led to cuts in classrooms around the state. Cuts in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Cuts in Juneau and Mat-Su. Cuts in rural Alaska.

Think of how short-sighted this policy is. Look at the center of every powerful economy in the world and what do you find? A powerful educational system that produces intelligent citizens ready to design, build and run their corner of the globe. A lasting commitment to our schools is not the 'ultimate giveaway' as this governor once called it. Education and economic development go hand in hand. Alaska must keep up or miss out.

It seems that every week this administration continues to harm our future. The governor's recent decision to turn away billions of federal dollars for health care will cost our state's economy 4000 jobs. Set aside the significant health benefits to Alaska's lower income workers. Set aside the thought of Ted Stevens spinning in his grave at the idea of rejecting federal aid to Alaska, aid he spent his career bringing home. Think of what 4000 more jobs would do for this state. Those jobs would help keep Alaskans working and keep our economy humming.

For these reasons and more I am running for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket and putting my full support behind Byron Mallott for governor. Without a change in leadership, Alaska's inherent promise will remain unrealized. Real change must happen so real progress can begin.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, has served in the state Senate since 2003.