The budget debate in Juneau this year focuses on questions of how big government should be, how much it should cost and who should pay for it. This has dominated our discussions for months, centering debates on government systems and numbers.
But the real debate is not about systems or numbers. It's about us, the Alaska people, and the kind of future we want for the state we call home.
Alaska is now firmly in recession, with over 9,000 jobs lost over the past year. Each one of those lost jobs supported a family, paid for groceries in local stores, funded charitable organizations and financed local schools. Take the opportunity to talk to some of your local shop owners and ask how business has been. What I've heard is concern, worry and frustration, as the engines to our neighborhood businesses sputter to make ends meet, forced to lay off workers and make deep cuts in their spending.
We need more jobs, more Alaskans with those jobs.
Jobs aren't created because we want them. People who own businesses create jobs, through investment and taking risks: the small neighborhood eatery, the niche shoe store, the mine in rural Alaska, the commercial fishing boat, and the family-owned sports lodge.
Every one of these businesses are job creation centers, opening the opportunity to someone for their first job, their career, their professional passion, their reason to remain in Alaska. Alaska businesses grow our economy, grow opportunities for work, and grow the quality of life in our towns. Strong local economies support government services we all agree are necessary: good roads, police and fire protection, and schools.
Some legislators propose an income tax, raising existing taxes, and continued growth in government spending. Their proposals conflicts with reality: Alaska's government is not Alaska's economy, but bad government policies can and do harm the economy.
Some express dislike, even disdain, for businesses that employ thousands of our fellow Alaskans. That animosity clouds the source of our prosperity, of what made the last two generations of families and businesses in our state an astounding success.
The Senate opposes an income tax on families and struggling business owners in this recession. Every dollar taken out of our communities to fund government programs is another dollar not funding a small-business Alaska job.
Alaska families and businesses made hard choices these last two years, cutting wherever possible, and putting themselves under a hard spending cap. The Senate supports a spending cap for government budgets.
We have some of the highest-funded yet underperforming schools in the United States. We have a public university system that remains a large part of our budget, yet students still can't transfer basic credits between campuses. We have some of the highest health care costs in the country, yet government programs still get duplicate funding for duplicate programs. We must transform our government, which won't happen without a spending cap putting pressure on operations to force change.
Alaska's state savings, used wisely, guarantees a dividend for Alaskans and a stable, sustainable government budget without new taxes. The Senate supports wise use of our savings to solve our budget gap and protecting Alaskans' dividends.
Importantly, the Senate supports overhauling Alaska's government budget without harming our state's families, businesses and jobs.
With a stable and sustainable government budget in place, Alaska businesses can invest in their communities. Families can rest assured that the plan is focused on them and their future. Investments creating family-supporting jobs can be made with confidence.
We all want our state's families, businesses and jobs strong and vibrant. That's a future I'm proud to support.
Sen. Cathy Giessel is chair of the Senate Resources Committee and represents District N in Anchorage (Northeast Anchorage, Anchorage Hillside, Indian, Bird, Girdwood and Portage).
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