My Turn: State fiscal planning should be realistic

Posted: Monday, October 21, 2002

A superficial review of Frank Murkowski's plan to balance the state budget by "jettisoning ineffective state programs and avoiding imposing a tax on hardworking Alaskans" seems reasonable enough, but only if we fail to look at the true meaning and subsequent consequences.

A closer analysis of the impact of eliminating a billion dollars of state-funded services shows that it can be achieved only through the abandoning of significant education services, health services to the needy and vulnerable, reducing public transportation support, cutting environmental protection, risking homeland security, risking food safety, and the forfeiting of numerous other services that have been established and enhanced through the young life of this state.

Many if not most of these services are dependent upon state match to a larger federal contribution. Loss of state support will be compounded through loss of those federal dollars. A review of all state services, at no insignificant cost of the analysis, will likely reveal some inefficiencies but definitely not a billion dollars worth.

I had the good fortune of being recruited back to Alaska in 1991 to function as the state of Alaska health director. I served in that capacity under two political administrations until my retirement in 2001. During a number of those years the single message from our legislative leadership was, "Reduce your budget and reduce your staff." We managed to meet the directives but not without significantly sacrificing health and related services to state residents during those restrictive periods.

Over the span of 10 years, we did ultimately manage to hire technically skilled and competent staff which allow Alaska to compete with other states in acquiring federal funding for health-related services. I am pleased that the buildup and continued improvement of state services has continued under the present administration and health leadership. Alaska's health infrastructure is now sound and competitive with most states.

There are a large number of state employees supported by the state budget. Before we decide to balance the budget through the elimination of these employees, remember that they are not only the ones delivering the valued state services but they are also our relatives, friend, and neighbors. They are Alaska citizens contributing to the strength of this great state.

Frank Murkowski doesn't want to "impose a tax on hard-working Alaskans." What we want to do and should do are not always compatible. Imposing a graduated income tax should be considered as one of the valid alternatives for balancing the budget and for keeping the many services that contribute to welfare of our good citizens. Hard-working Alaskans, including our many state employees, should be willing to contribute an amount based on their relative income. A "free ride" is only possible if the ride offered is without value. Fran Ulmer is offering a plan that is based on reality and not a "free ride."

Peter Nakamura of Juneau is a retired physician who previously lived in Anchorage and Bethel.

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