Brennan: They might really do it this time
By Tom Brennan |
Let’s hope somebody blinks — and soon. Right now it looks like our state leaders really will kill the puppies at midnight if they don’t get what they want, and nobody seems certain what that is.
Surely they won’t actually shut down the Alaska Marine Highway System or close the Sheldon Jackson Museum, but you never know. These are very strange times. And such measures are at least nominally on the table.
Let’s hope the powers that be turn away from such drastic measures but something big needs to happen in order to balance Alaska’s state budget. My guess is that the issues will be resolved by cutting back on Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed Permanent Fund dividend checks, in a painful but familiar maneuver.
But you know matters in Juneau are indeed desperate when members of our Legislature even seem to be considering shutting down the state ferry system this fall. The same goes for selling one of our most historic museums to the private sector.
Since shrinking the size of the dividend checks seems to be the only way to resolve the funding issue without upending the lives of thousands of Alaskans, my guess is that’s the way things will go. After Dunleavy’s talk of paying back the shortchanging Alaskans got with Gov. Bill Walker’s dip into dividends, going short again this year would be especially painful, for the Governor as well as we Alaskans. But there doesn’t seem to be any viable option.
The greatest danger is probably that Dunleavy will see the shorted dividends as a personal affront and challenge to his leadership. But it will take nearly $2 billion to balance the state’s books this year and the only other ways to come up with that kind of money seem to be unacceptable ones like selling off historic state properties and shutting down the ferry system that so many Alaskans use on a regular basis.
One obvious problem is the aging of the ferry fleet. Most if not all of the state’s vessels have had years of service already. The ferry Tustamena is nearing the end of its operating life and is, its critics say, held together largely with baling wire. It appears there will be major changes in store for the Alaska Marine Highway System in the near future no matter how the decision goes on replacing the antiquated Tusty, which went into service in 1963. The Tustamena is the only mainline ferry connecting Southcentral Alaska with the Aleutian Chain. It calls at Kodiak, Seldovia, Port Lions and Homer. Though the Tustamena is showing its age, the vessel is well-used by seafood workers as well as residents of the Aleutians.
Governor Dunleavy’s capital budget also includes $25 million for a new visitor center at the south end of Denali State Park. The new facility is projected to bring in about $1 million a year in revenue.
Dunleavy is strongly opposed to an income tax so it seems unlikely that we will have to deal with that threat while he is in office. But making ends meet will be a difficult chore for the next few years, even with sharp-eyed maneuvers by the accounting people.