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Mackie plan rocks state

Posted: Monday, January 24, 2000

The following editorial appeared in Sunday's Anchorage Daily News:

Sen. Jerry Mackie spoke in measured tones Tuesday, but his words had the decibel power of Jimi Hendrix.

They rocked the whole state.

Sen. Mackie offered legislation that would break up the Alaska Permanent Fund. Half the $27 billion fund would be used to pay for state government, now and in the future. The other half would be divided among Alaskans - about $25,000 for each man, woman and child.

The response was immediate. Some Alaskans thought Sen. Mackie was Santa Claus who had just come down their chimney with a sack full of cash. Others scorned him as a madman or a con man. Still others read the news stories and said, more or less, sure this is crazy ... but I sure could use the money.

Sen. Mackie may not have an idea that everybody embraces, but he certainly got everyone's attention. That's the value of his proposal: It will force the Legislature and Alaskans to think about how to fund state government and about the future of the Permanent Fund.

Until Sen. Mackie spoke up, the Legislature was preparing to handle the budget the same way it has in most of the recent sessions. Cut spending here and there, mouth bromides about the need for smarter, more efficient government, flee any discussion of taxes and dip into the Constitutional Budget Reserve to fill any shortfalls.

Those who think Sen. Mackie is wacky can't just sit back and condemn him. They need to tell Alaskans what they would do to put the state's financial house in order. And they have to do so based on the facts as they are. It's not enough to promise an end to government waste, fraud and abuse. It's not enough to speculate that future resource development will - someday - provide us with adequate new revenue.

Sen. Mackie's plan is not our plan. We have advocated a mixture of budget cuts where appropriate, a state income tax and a limited draw on the Permanent Fund to provide a reasonably stable financial future. Other taxes may be necessary in the future, too, as the state changes.

But Jerry Mackie has tapped a powerful emotional force: The dream of easy money is in the nation's air. Turn on your television set and what do you see? ''Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?'', ``Twenty One,'' ``Winning Lines'' and other game shows that promise instant riches. You also see an endless parade of wealthy celebrities as well as investors and businessmen who have hit the jackpot. The Mackie proposal - ``Who Wants $25,000?'' - is a child of its times.

The Mackie proposal is also a symptom of Alaskans struggling with their legacy. We are like a family in a fable that suddenly comes into money - and the members can't settle on how to handle their good fortune. Spend it? Save it? Try some of both? The family is divided. Rivalries and shouting matches follow. The screamers are all convinced they represent the best interests of the family.

The next chapter of the Alaska version of this story remains to be written. But Sen. Jerry Mackie of Craig has put himself in the center of the plot.



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