Alaska's Legislature heads back into session next month with communities statewide pressing for a return to revenue sharing of some type - particularly for winters of high energy costs, such as this one. After some lean years in which aid to cities and villages was cut, heady times for oil have created a whopping budget surplus that could reach $1.5 billion.
There will be many ideas for spreading that wealth: some foolish, some greedy, but some vital, particularly in the Bush.
At the outset, the most sensible proposal seems to be one that would start an endowment to keep aiding municipalities through the more difficult years. Ironically, the focus of this effort is the high cost of energy, the very thing that swelled the state's surplus in the first place. In many towns and villages, particularly those without the hydroelectric developments of Juneau or Ketchikan, producing electricity comes at exorbitant expense. Using half of the surplus, as some lawmakers suggest, to set up an endowment for helping with long-term energy needs makes sense.
Another strong investment possibility includes alternate energy programs, which would help rural areas capture wind or hydro power and avoid the continued reliance on diesel electric generators. Expanding Southeast Alaska's connections to existing hyropower sources also could cut energy costs.
Less attractive policies include proposed ephemeral quick fixes, such as a $500 energy dividend to each Alaskan who received an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend last year. Such a handout would help offset this winter's heating oil price spike for many, but would not address the long-term goal of heating Alaskans' homes through more affordable means. Also, it would bypass some of those who may be in most need of the help - those who do not receive permanent fund dividends because they are behind in payments to utilities or the Alaska student loan program.
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