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Time to look at cost of politics
by Bryan T. Schulz


February 21, 2005

It is always time to analyze the cost of doing business. Because of the apparent need to rebuild our capitol building in Juneau (a fact that I will concede here only for purpose of debate), now is a more than perfectly good time to take a hard look at the cost of our politics in this State. The location of the State's capitol building and the cost of its relocation have been topics since before we debated the issue in high school in the seventies. I have never taken this debate seriously but I guess that I am getting more crotchety and less accepting of government waste. As a preliminary matter, I do not see the benefit of keeping the capitol near Ketchikan for the sake of nearness. If there is a trickle down effect from our Juneau neighbor, it is not perceptible by me. My own view is that the capitol's location should make a difference only to the extent that its location is the most cost efficient. The geography of our population suggests that a capitol infrastructure further north makes the most sense. That is only a starting point but the circumstance should make one pause before simply dismissing the idea of a capitol move. My larger concern is the cost of politics in general in Alaska.

I lived in Nevada for a number of years while going to school in the eighties. Nevada is a fairly large state in terms of land mass and has more than twice Alaska's population. The Nevada legislature met only every other year. As a university student I had an opportunity to serve as an unpaid intern for one of the State Representatives while that body was "in session" during my last semester of school. During that experience I learned that a lot can get done in a short amount of time by people who are neither paid a full time salary nor endowed with a slate of full time subordinates. Put simply, the State of Nevada was able to conduct its business by allowing its elected officials to meet for only several months every other year and by tapping into its student resource at no cost. The salaries paid to the elected officials seemed miniscule to me even at my then student poverty level. I do not know to what quantum of fringe benefits the elected officials of Nevada were!
entitled but my guess is that they too were meager.

Alaska is the largest state by land mass measurements but it is by far the smallest when based upon the number that should really count, population. With this, it makes little sense to me to devote the amount of attention and money that we do on our politics. We hire an extraordinary number of full time politicians. We also fund the full time staff of each of these politicians. We also let all of these folks get together each and every year for months and months. While we again look at a capitol relocation, we should also consider the idea of limiting the scope of work that we hire. We should consider limiting the frequency with which the legislature gets together. We should reduce the high cost of staff and we should consider tapping our student (free) resources available in our university system.

These limitations should work not only to reduce the overall cost of Alaska's politics but, at the same time, make life more bearable for Alaskans. By this I am referring to the barrage of new legislation that comes from our elected officials each year. Some of these laws make sense. Many do not. Because our leaders are asked to meet every year, and because each has a large highly paid staff, it seems apparent that each would feel a compelling need to forge some significant lawmaking contribution. After all, "what are we paying you for if your are not going to do anything." By shortening the time that the legislature meets, reducing the salaries of the elected officials, reducing the salaries of their staff (to zero), and limiting the frequency of sessions, our leaders may be forced to focus upon only the most pressing of the State's business and stop wasting our money by passing laws that cost too much and often only make life more cumbersome and less enjoyable. Finally, limitations such as these may also make it less attractive to go through the cost and effort of a capital move.

Bryan T. Schulz
Ketchikan, AK - USA


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