It was way too easy for Gov. Sean Parnell to oppose increasing the federal debt ceiling and sign the “Cut, Cap and Balance” pledge. He doesn’t have to deliver the goods. All he has to do is sit back and watch the politicians in Washington squirm. And he has to hope that the budget ax doesn’t cut through his plan to “grow our economy” with a big lift from the Pentagon.
Since 2003, Congress has doubled the national defense budget. So the grab for military spending helps state governors hedge against significant federal budget cuts. Parnell is no exception. That’s why he established the Alaska Military Force Advocacy and Structure Team (AMFAST) back in December 2009. Their mission, he explains, is “to pursue a long lasting, mutually beneficial relationship between the State of Alaska and the United States Armed Forces.”
This is a surefire formula for bringing jobs to Alaska and helping federal dollars trickle their way into our bank accounts. But let’s not pretend free enterprise is at work here. The Pentagon budget is still federal spending. Think of it as a way to launder the taxpayers’ money so it can be neatly circulated back into the economy.
For example, take the defense contracts held by Chugach McKinley for base support and operations at Eareckson Air Station out near the end of Aleutian Chain. Since 2001, they’ve earned more than $100 million doing the work once performed by Air Force personnel.
Eareckson is less critical to national security than in the past. Once known as Shemya Air Force Base, it was a World War II staging area for bombers headed for Japan. In 1977 it became home to the COBRA DANE radar facility to track foreign launches of ballistic missiles. Now with the Cold War over, the COBRA DANE monitors the treaty-imposed reductions of strategic nuclear arms. And Eareckson has been reduced to an airstrip for refueling military aircraft flying to and from East Asia.
In Parnell’s view, Eareckson is part of that beneficial relationship he intends to nurture to keep our economy stable. It doesn’t matter to him that without its defense function Shemya would be a barren rock with no commercial value at all. He chooses to see jobs for Alaskans with a private company, not the fact that every Chugach McKinley employee on Shemya is paid with taxpayer dollars.
All told, Chugach McKinley has brought in more than $600 million in similar defense contracts, about one-third of which are Alaska based. And there are hundreds of millions more being earned by other Alaskan companies under the façade of private entrepreneurship.
Parnell and AMFAST are also looking for new crutches to help our economy limp into the future. One of their goals is to expand use of the Kodiak Launch Complex. And why not, when every rocket they’ve launched has brought Alaska a payload of federal funds.
Alaska Aerospace Corporation owns and operates the Kodiak facility. That’s a nice private sector name for a subsidiary of our state government. In an executive order signed last January, Parnell changed Alaska Aerospace’s parent “company.” They’re no longer under the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. He reassigned them to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs so they’ll “have better access to the federal military command structure and greater opportunity to attract military contracts.”
When it comes to national health care reform, Parnell warned us about the “shiny but poisonous apple of federal dollars that create federal dependency and control.” And Pentagon spending isn’t so shiny it’s got him fooled. He’s just ignoring it as a form of federal welfare because he doesn’t have a plan to replace the inevitable loss of defense dollars being washed into the hands of Alaskans.
Our governor isn’t a serious player in the debt ceiling debate. If he was, he’d be supporting Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), a fellow Republican who has proposed a deficit reduction plan that includes $1 trillion in military spending cuts. And he’s missing a simple fact that hasn’t eluded balanced budget conservatives like Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas).
“Congress will never balance the budget until we reject the concept of endless wars.”
• Moniak is a Juneau resident.