I remember when Ted Stevens would put on his Hulk tie and do battle for Alaska. He fought hard, and so did generations of leaders who put Alaska first. They would be appalled at what is happening to their dream. The Great Land is in peril. The women and men who built and bequeathed Alaska were tough, fair, and smart; they had wisdom and common sense. We need to draw on that spirit today since the adversity we face betrays our legacy and jeopardizes our future.
We are in a painful and frightening moment because the vetoes aim at the heart of our legacy, and at the people of Alaska.
At our best, Alaskans shared clear vision, even when our visions conflicted, and we respected our neighbors. Pride of being in this place together took priority over partisanship. Sadly, our politics have shriveled. A coarseness corrodes our identity as Alaskans and threatens the civil discourse required for a functional democracy. The way out of this bog is to be big, to be bold, and to find common ground. As former Gov. Wally Hickel warned, “There is no vision, no hope, no future, no agenda for Alaska ... if your only cause is to cut the budget.” I refuse to believe that Alaska can be judged solely by the size of our dividend. That measure is not the way of greatness. It is just the measure of our price.
We are so much better than this, and so much bigger. There is moral deficit in slashing budgets that disproportionately target our elders and our most vulnerable. There is neither strength nor self-determination in devastating our university, our pre-K, our doctors and nurses and teachers in training. There is callousness in stripping Power Cost Equalization from rural Alaska. There is hypocrisy in pulling state bond-debt reimbursement for resident taxpayers while protecting oil industry tax credits. Too much of the cry is about “my” dividend, but not enough about “our” schools, “our” roads, “our” Alaska. These vetoes are shattering the promise of what it means to be an Alaskan. The things being broken were costly to create and will be more expensive to replace. Ultimately, budget veto choices reflect values, and it is time to fight for the values that define us.
Alaska is being given a false choice between cuts and a dividend. This pushes us down a path of instability and danger, pitting Alaskan against Alaskan. There are other paths, fiscal options that make Alaska stronger and competitive, able to meet the future on our own terms.
One sustainable fiscal option has old roots spread wide across the political spectrum. The POMV — Percent of Market Value model — uses approximately 5% of the Permanent Fund annually, protecting the remainder. 5% of the Fund’s current $60 billion value translates to $3 billion. Under one model, 45% of the 5% goes to the state (approximately $1.4 billion), 45% goes to the dividend (roughly a $2000 dividend and growing), and 10% for community dividends ($300 million, which allows local government to assume many state costs, such as bond-debt reimbursement, diversify local revenue and ease tax burdens on local taxpayers).
A second component of a fiscal plan would strengthen the Permanent Fund. There’s a lot of talk about what comes out of the Permanent Fund, but little about what goes in. The current requirement is that 25% of the royalty oil value goes into the Permanent Fund. It should be 100% — the theory of the Permanent Fund is that we are converting non-renewable resource wealth into renewable financial wealth, and if the theory makes sense for 25%, it makes more sense for 100%.
When future Alaskans look back on this time, I want to say that we fought to keep faith with the tradition of looking out for one another. History is watching. Now is the time to rise and show ourselves worthy heirs of Alaska.
Ethan Berkowitz is the mayor of Anchorage and a former state legislator.
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