Alaska Editorial: State and Interior need goals for new year

The following editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

 

Each year, many of us use the occasion of the new year to enact changes in our own lives. The clean break from the events of the past makes it seem easier to turn over a new leaf, typically in the form of New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes we’re able to abide by the positive changes and goals we envision for ourselves, and sometimes the resolutions only last a matter of weeks before we lose focus and let them slip. They’re still helpful, however, as markers of progress we want to make and ways we want our lives to be different. This year, Alaska and the Interior could use some resolutions, too. Here are some to get started.

1. Make a plan to balance the budget

If the state had been keeping resolution lists during past years, this would be the third year that a budget plan would be at the top of the list. During the past two years, however, the Legislature has largely ignored budget-balancing plans pushed by Gov. Bill Walker and failed to advance any steps of its own that would close the multibillion-dollar deficit by a substantial percentage. Simply put, the state can’t afford such inaction for another year. This year, the Legislature must close the vast majority of that gap and have a plan to get the rest of the way next year, or the account that pays out Permanent Fund dividends will be severely affected. That means substantial revenue measures, not just cuts.

2. Make progress on the Interior Energy Project

This year begins with Interior residents feeling little closer — if at all — to the goal of affordable natural gas delivery for a broader segment of local residents. Though plenty of work has been going on behind the scenes, the departure of private partner Salix likely has some community members worried that the economics of the project are too daunting for gas delivery at the price goal of $15 per thousand cubic feet of gas, the equivalent of heating oil at roughly $2 per gallon. Residents have been lucky that heating oil prices have been low for the past two years (a minor silver lining of the same slump that has the state budget on the rocks), but hoping low prices continue is no kind of a strategy. State and local policymakers must do what they can to make sure we don’t arrive at our next winter no further along in gas development than we are today.

3. Combat alcohol and drug abuse and the problems they exacerbate

For decades, Alaska has struggled with high levels of alcohol and drug abuse, problems that not only have ill effects for those trapped in the throes of addiction but also many of those whose lives they touch. Alcohol and drug issues are strongly correlated with the state’s high rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, driving under the influence, fetal alcohol syndrome and many other heavy societal costs. That means expenses — typically borne by the public — for health care, trauma counseling, incarceration, special education and other services.

The list of resolutions the state and Interior could make this year is long, but those three items are a start. Every year offers us a new chance for a fresh start, and if we make meaningful progress on these three, our state and community would be in far better shape by the year’s end than it is today.

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