As the New Year approaches and I get in that reflective mode, I can’t help but notice the uptick in good news stories. I am pleased to discover that good things have been happening at the local and state level and even at the national level (albeit to a lesser extent). But it is at the global level that the good news is most notable.
Starting locally, I would like to acknowledge the return of Delta Air Lines to Juneau. Having competition, even if on a seasonal basis, is good. And although Alaska Airlines is much appreciated: Welcome back Delta Air Lines!
On the state level, Gov. Sean Parnell is to be lauded for stepping up to deal with the unfunded liability of the public employees (PERS) and teacher’s (TRS) retirement system. On Dec. 5, Gov. Parnell proposed making a $3 billion payment toward the $12 billion unfunded pension liability. State law requires that the unfunded liability be paid down each year; adding $629 million a year to the operating budget. While this is a heavy hit already to the operating budget, it will only get worse.
“Soon, the operating budget would be required to contribute more than $1 billion annually to this one line-item. If left unaddressed, the annual state pension contribution will increasingly burden the state and hamper our ability to meet the people’s constitutional priorities,” Parnell said in a press release announcing the proposal.
The Governor’s proposal to pay $3 billion now and to extend the pay schedule three years longer will ultimately save the state $2.1 billion over the long term. Thank you Gov. Parnell for proposing a much needed payment to the principal; a move that will help Alaska avoid the type of pension disasters that have hit other states.
Then on Dec. 20, President Barack Obama actually signed a budget that avoids another government shutdown and unwinds some $63 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that would’ve harmed our recovering economy. This is the result of a budget deal hammered out by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc). As noted by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was one of 12 Republican Senators voting for the budget, “It is a bipartisan agreement, a step forward for the legislative process, and provides more certainty for the economy.” While this budget deal falls far short of the “grand bargain” (increasing revenues, addressing entitlement programs and reducing federal deficit), it is the first taste of budgetary bipartisanship in years and more importantly a much needed baby step toward returning some level of functionality to Congress.
Now that Dec. 21 is here and we move from a period of increasing darkness to a time of increasing daylight, my reflections expand to a larger scale and it is the positive impact of Pope Francis that comes immediately to mind. From his humble style to his disarming words, Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air. Instead of revving up the divisive culture wars, he is shifting the global discussion toward issues that build on the common, caring values of humanity.
“For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest church to confronting its deepest needs, and for balancing judgment with mercy, Pope Francis is Time’s 2013 Person of the Year,” Time said in its announcement. Time’s cover story noted, “In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church — the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world — above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors.”
Pope Francis is taking the Catholic Church toward the light of service; toward helping the world’s poor.
While at all levels of service from local to global, many unsolved problems remain, and often time the work left to be done seems daunting, it’s important to step back and embrace the good around us.
• Troll is a long-time Alaskan with more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal policy and energy policy. She resides in Douglas. She serves on the Juneau Assembly. The views expressed above are her own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of other assembly members.