During the past week, since the governor announced his reckless vetoes, memories of my childhood have filled my thoughts.
I am a child of the 1980s, when Alaska faced an unprecedented economic crisis that deeply affected my life and every other Alaskan. After the wild pipeline days with the boundless optimism Alaskans felt, the price of oil dropped to $9 per barrel and dragged us into recession.
I was in high school at the height of the recession and remember watching friend after friend leave the state so their parents could find work. My own parents divorced, and we were left with an underwater mortgage. Almost overnight, we went from being solidly middle class to living in a tiny apartment with cockroaches. I got a job at Wendy’s working the drive-through window to pay for school clothes and things that children should take for granted.
The impacts could be seen everywhere. The Fifth Avenue Mall had just been built but sat mostly empty for decades. Small businesses closed and people walked away from homes they could no longer afford.
Between 1985 and 1987, Alaska lost more than 20,000 jobs, more than 40% of our banks failed, the housing market collapsed — leaving 14,000 homes empty in Anchorage alone — and by the end of the decade, there was an out-migration of 44,000 people.
But it wasn’t just the drop in oil prices that put our economy in tailspin. Drastic cuts in government spending took the rug out from underneath the already shaky economy. And it took our state more than a decade to fully recover. It wasn’t until the 2000s that Fifth Avenue Mall was full again.
My actions today are informed by this history. I want as many Alaskans as possible to enjoy our beautiful state without the stress of seeing our home become a shell of what it should be. I want my three children to be able to live and raise their children in Alaska.
We must learn from past mistakes and act differently this time.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy likes to say Alaska is open for business. He sure has a funny way of showing it. Over the last few months, Governor Dunleavy has single-handedly shocked our economy and business climate.
In February, he introduced a budget with $1.6 billion in cuts and attempts to suck revenue away from local communities. That budget demonstrated a lack of business sense and a fundamental ignorance of basic economics.
Businesses cannot thrive when shocked by sudden economic changes. No economy grows when abruptly starved for resources. Businesses and economies grow when they have underlying stability.
The Legislature took that into consideration when we worked across party lines to pass a budget that protects essential services and public assets like our university, K-12 education, public safety, and our court system, while also making significant, carefully measured reductions. The Legislature cut the budget this year by about $200 million, which follows $838 million in cuts over the past five years. These were real cuts, but they were made in a scalpel-like and deliberate fashion.
Now, the governor has responded by vetoing so much from the University of Alaska budget that programs will close and tuition could double. His vetoes take millions from our court and justice systems, reduce critical funding for domestic violence and homeless shelters, and slash millions from the Village Public Safety Officer program just days after U.S. Attorney General Barr declared a public safety crisis in rural Alaska. He’s vetoed the entire Senior Benefit program for our most financially vulnerable elders and cut school bond debt reimbursement, increasing local taxes across Alaska.
All of this is unnecessary. We can have a strong economy, healthy communities and a bright future for our state. All it takes is lawmakers finding the courage to do the right thing for our seniors, children, young adults, communities, and businesses.
Write your representative and senator to let them know you have their backs. Let them know we need leaders right now, maybe more than ever. Let them know you need them to go to Juneau and override these reckless vetoes.
We must stand up for the people like Heather Toland, who testified through tears Tuesday night at the Anchorage legislative building that she is terrified to lose her senior benefits without any notice. We must stand up for the young people who want to attend college in Alaska but may be forced to go Outside: 80% of those who go to college Outside never come home. We must stand up for the families experiencing domestic violence and homelessness.
We must stand up for Alaska.
Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, is a third-generation Alaskan who proudly represents East Anchorage in the State House. She hopes her children will be able to raise their children in Alaska too.
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