My Turn: The only risk is not taking one

Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2003

There seems to be a growing belief within the media, and a concurrent sense of alarm by the public, that Gov. Murkowski's recommendations on the future of the Permanent Fund in his State of the State address will put the fund at risk. Rather than listen to the spin created by the media, maybe we should revisit what the governor actually said.

Gov. Murkowski stated he wants to see some of the millions that non-Alaskan investors make by handling our accounts "come back to Alaska in charitable contributions." He recommended that the Permanent Fund board examine our contracts with these money managers to see what can be done to reduce their fees. Finally, he stated that he encouraged the board to begin a dialogue with the major companies, in which we invest millions of dollars, to "hear their ideas on how they can help create jobs in Alaska."

This is being touted as a risky operation. The "Prudent Investor Rule" will always be followed. The governor won't be "throwing his weight around" or jeopardizing our Permanent Fund by changing investments based on who will open up shop in Alaska. That is a sophomoric and shortsighted interpretation of the governor's attempt to get our investment managers to make our money work for us in new ways.

At the Governor's Ball in Juneau, the Safeway Corp., donated $105,000 to purchase a mobile mammogram unit to be used in Alaska. We all realize the importance of early detection of breast cancer in saving lives. Safeway's gift to Alaska was a great way to say thank you for our support of their company. Why is encouraging this wrong? The state of Alaska currently owns 181,562 shares of stock in Safeway, at a value of over $9 million. This is small potatoes compared to some of the stocks we own in Fortune 500 companies around the world.

Safeway stepped up to say, "Let's support Alaska because Alaska supports us." This act of "paying it forward" by corporations from around the world has been happening ever since the first 501(c)3 non-profits corporation was established in America. Today, we have over 4,900 non-profit organizations in Alaska.

Maybe we should start seeing the bigger picture. We own more than $73 million worth of stock in Viacom, $61 million in Verizon Communications, and a mere $204 million in Microsoft Corp. Alaska's Permanent Fund Corporation has done so well that our new governor wants to "think outside the can" to help it do even better for the people of Alaska. Take a look at the hundreds of companies worldwide that we own stock in. If we encourage even a few of them to believe in Alaska, just as we have believed in them, we could see some interesting results in communities across the state. There are hundreds of millions of dollars that go unrequested each year in the world of corporate giving.

These are just a few thoughts from a freshman legislator who, for a worthy Alaskan non-profit group that restores habitat and employs youth to promote stewardship in tomorrow's leaders, has developed relationships with corporations that Alaska owns stocks in. There is always more than one side to a story, and, sometimes, the only risk is not taking one.

Rep. Kelly Wolf is a Kenai Republican and Alaska resident since 1975. The views expressed here are his and are not necessarily the views of the Republican-led House majority.

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