“The bottom line here is, we’re out of money and we’re out of time.” This was how Jeremy Price, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Mike Dunleavy, framed the budget debate. The bottom line, we are told, is money. Perhaps this is true in businesses, but not in government. The calls to run the government “like a business” are off base because the bottom line in business is profit, but the bottom line in government is people.
If a business is losing money, it can lay off employees and reduce the services it provides. If we run the government like a business, we miss the fact that government can’t do the same. We certainly can’t “lay off” our citizens and behave as if they are no longer within our purview. Whether we have a surplus or a deficit, we are still fellow Alaskans, with the shared goal of establishing justice and promoting the general welfare. Whether or not it’s profitable, we’re all in this together.
The argument for the governor’s proposed budget says that we cannot afford to care for the vulnerable, because it would cost us our prosperity, as if the two are diametrically opposed forces. But this dichotomy is misguided, because the very purpose of prosperity is to provide care for our youth, elders and others in need. This is the basic truth that we miss when we seek to run the government like a business, and falsely believe that our bottom line is the state’s money, instead of the wellbeing of the state’s people.
When we see that people are the purpose for prosperity, it becomes a priority to preserve clean air and water, even if that means sacrificing some moneymaking opportunities. With people as our bottom line, it becomes a priority to protect our elders, and to ensure that programs like the Pioneer Home can continue to provide dignity and care for our senior citizens. We recognize that educating our children is a bottom line unto itself, paying far greater and more permanent dividends than any fund ever could.
A better way to look at it may be to say we need to run the government like a family. When a family is in debt, they don’t make draconian cuts to their children’s education or their grandparents’ medicine. They make cuts responsibly, while still opening doors for their children’s futures and treating their elders with respect; and they find new sources of income. All of this requires sacrifice, effort and giving from our hearts as well as our wallets - as does everything that truly matters. But no amount of savings could make up for what we will lose if we fail to live up to that sacred covenant of care.
The wealthiest person in the world is an absolute failure if they do not care for those in need, just as the most prosperous state is a failed state if it does not care for its youth and elders. For what will it profit a state if we gain the world but lose our souls?
Rev. Matthew Schultz is on the steering committee for Christians for Equality. He lives in Anchorage.
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