My Turn: No need to exempt state workers from downsizing

Posted: Friday, February 21, 2003

Southeast Alaska communities lost 3,000 jobs as the timber industry folded in the last decade. That includes Juneau and its Silver Bay logging. The Forest Service in Alaska is down to 474 staffers in 2003 from 700 in 1993. That agency has been reorganized to have one forest supervisor instead of three.

The fishing industry also has suffered lost jobs and fishermen plus the shutdown of at least one major processor, Ward Cove Packing.

Now staffers in the Habitat Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, their anti-development friends and the anti-Murkowski editorial writers, are whining. Our new governor is eliminating 50 of Habitat's 85 positions and moving some of its duties to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to reduce duplication and expedite issuing permits. Should state agencies and staff be exempt from staff cuts when the main industries concerned with habitat drastically downsize?

Frank Murkowski has been governor for less than three months. Some journalists criticize him for not solving the state's fiscal problems yet and criticize him for what he has done. They ignore that one campaign promise was to reduce the budget gap by reducing the cost of government. He has started that by consolidating departments and reducing staff.

Habitat isn't the only agency facing a reduction or elimination. Murkowski started by eliminating the Office of Governmental Coordination and moving Coastal Zone Management from the governor's office to Resources. Legislators on the finance committees report that new commissioners see some liaison posts they can eliminate.

One editorial writer calls "Silly Talk, Sense and Nonsense" several of Murkowski's actions, including reducing Habitat in ADFG. And the editorial certainly is silly. Reorganizing the habitat permitting system does not open the way for degrading habitat. Section VIII, the Natural Resources Section, of the Alaska State Constitution is the mission statement for the Department of Natural Resources (and for ADFG and the Department of Environmental Conservation). That constitutional mandate and state law adequately protects habitat as well as all other Alaska natural resources.

Rep. Bill Williams, R-Saxman, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, says the lawmakers and the governor are getting along fine. Groups of lawmakers have visited the Governor's Mansion several times. Chief of Staff James Clark has met with the Republican legislative majority to keep lawmakers posted.

Williams says the state budget is never before the House until after Easter and goes over to the Senate about the end of April. So there is no reason to be concerned that the budget is still in the governor's office.

What this journalist finds encouraging is that Murkowski hasn't moved into Juneau with "guns blazing," as the old cliché goes

In addition to working out a new budget, reorganizing the state government for efficiency, and devising ways to turn around Alaska's economy, as he promised, the governor also must fill his cabinet and other posts. Williams says the governor is carefully interviewing every candidate for each position, not taking someone's word for a person's qualifications. It takes time but it will build a stronger team.

Williams is retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News.

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