I wanted to express my general feeling of appreciation for the existence of the University of Alaska. The apparent feeling in Juneau today is that our first priority is not to support education, it is not to maintain the means of retraining our adults for a changing economy by investing in our university system and public schools, but rather that it is to maintain the welfare-like payment of our permanent fund dividend, and ensure that income taxes never touch those who earn wages here, even if the wages earned are for only part of the year and only end up spent in winter homes Outside.
Many of our legislators are in very difficult positions because of our silence as constituents. Having been part of the UA Road Show, I had the chance in Juneau to speak with Rep. Jeannette James. I firmly believe that she wants to do the right thing by the university, that much like the states of Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana did in the tough days of capped oil wells in the 1980s, Alaska should be funding its educational institutions today. However, she was quick to point out that the voters of those states were much more willing to fund their institutions of higher learning than the voters of our state. And given the battles over the dividend in the past few years, Rep. James and other legislators are well within reason to think that, if no one raises a voice to say otherwise.
If Alaska voters stay silent, the University of Alaska will face the need to reverse the growth of the past few years. Without the $16.9 million requested increase to the university budget, programs will be cut in order to fund law-mandated cost-of-living increases, tuition will skyrocket without any added benefit to our university students, and as a result, we will continue to lose our smartest children, the ones we need most to stay, to colleges and universities Outside, to institutions that aren't as capable of addressing the problems of our state as the University of Alaska.
I know most of you prefer as voters to invest in this great land's future, but your silence will only result in budget priorities that will diminish what could be a brighter tomorrow. Fellow voters, we need to speak up in a voice that can't be ignored. Whatever needs to be done, our first priority must remain as a state to support our educational institutions. If it means capping the dividend or raising new revenue sources or removing funds from the tourism advertising budget to meet our lean-and-mean educational needs, then that has to be made crystal clear to our representatives and senators in Juneau. I am fully confident that they will act in favor of education if voters overwhelmingly speak out. Without your stand, we only have the future of the state to lose.
Ben M. Angel