This editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:
Alaska legislators are elected to serve the whole state as well as their home districts.
Voters in Ketchikan and Southeast Alaska elected Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka and Rep. Peggy Wilson of Wrangell to represent not only the First City but all of Alaska.
In the same way, Alaska’s other 58 senators and representatives are responsible for the economic well-being of Alaska, which includes Ketchikan.
Not only Alaska, but the nation has come to a time of financial challenge, to say the least. The feds continued to spend while revenue decreased as a result of new laws and regulations limiting and discouraging stateside industry and rising personnel costs. In Alaska, oil production declines without new fields being developed. The state relies on oil for 90 percent of its revenue.
That leaves communities, such as Ketchikan, which history shows supports industry, concerned about their economic health. Even today Ketchikan remains a staunch advocate for business and jobs. That’s evident in its choice of Ketchikan Medical Center’s addition and alterations project as the community’s top priority for state capital funding this legislative session.
Ketchikan’s Legislative Liaison made its annual trek to Juneau this week to lobby for $20 million of the $58 million necessary for the project’s first phase. It’s a $76 million project.
Liaison representatives from the City of Ketchikan, Ketchikan Gateway Borough, the hospital and other economic entities learned while in the capital the purse strings for the capital budget would be pulled tighter than in recent years.
Obviously, whatever extra umph the co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee gains by that title also is no more for Ketchikan with Sen. Stedman replaced after several years in that seat. But Stedman never hoarded for Ketchikan, and it’s expected the new chairs will not for their districts, either. They, as a result of their positions, perhaps more than any other senators hold the best interests of the whole state in their hands. Handling each district as well as fiscally possible increases their credibility and helps them to retain such powerful positions and pursue higher ones. They know it.
The state needs to be healthy in all of its communities. Ketchikan is striving to maintain and improve its health. KMC is its largest private employer, and it must be able to upgrade its facility to accommodate the modern technology physicians and other health care professionals need to provide cost-effective and successful patient treatment. Health care costs increase when patients leave the community for care.
The city’s funding request for the hospital isn’t comparable to buying a new outfit out of a catalog when the old one will do for a while yet. It’s a matter of buying meat and vegetables to stay strong and be able to do a reasonable job in Alaska — in this case, provide health care at home and limit sending Alaskans, their jobs and their health care dollars to other states.
Ketchikan and southern Southeast need the care and jobs provided by the hospital. If the liaison trip achieved nothing else, funding for that project would make the lobbying a worthwhile effort and community expense.
That is said recognizing that the state has financial challenges. In order to be open for business, agencies must be staffed and provide services. At the same time, efficiencies are necessary, which means while the capital budget might be smaller than usual, so should the operating budget.
Any necessary tightening should be in both budgets and spread throughout the state — as the funding of projects should be dispensed from one end of Alaska to the other.