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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Open Letter: Live Within Means

By Byron Whitesides

March 13, 2019
Wednesday PM

Dear Governor Dunleavy and legislative representatives,

We have known this time was coming for years, but our legislative leadership has failed to prepare for it, bringing us to this disaster, with no rational, SUSTAINABLE, way out but to cut the size of government, and live within our means.

First, I adamantly oppose ANY use of the permanent fund, without first having a vote of the PEOPLE who own this fund, to approve ANY proposed changes, or USES, to it.  I also favor a constitutional amendment to PROTECT this fund from the greedy lawmakers who got us into this current mess,  by continuing the unsustainable GOVERNMENT spending and policies and not cutting back quickly when the oil revenues dropped! These lawmakers have always wanted to get their fingers in this fund, and it must not be allowed unless the PEOPLE of the state approve by a BALLOT!  I remember probably 20 years or so back, one of the representatives from southeast Alaska telling the legislature to "pay off the citizens $25,000 lump sum, and do away with the perm fund", when they wanted to raid it then instead of cutting back!

WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF TO GIVE THE PEOPLE THEIR VOICE BY A VOTE?  If you already know your proposals to use this fund will be voted down, then you are not REPRESENTING the people, as you swore  to do, but  instead representing the SPECIAL  INTERESTS! I feel that if our legislature is allowed to tap into the permanent fund, it will shortly disappear, just as all those oil royalties have disappeared!

I am also opposed to the oil tax credits as I understand it is written.  I do support a reasonable tax credit on totally NEW fields and  NEW production, but it has to be realistic as to the current prices of oil, and not so we are giving our oil away for free!  As I understand, these credits have now been applied to the  legacy  fields, so now they simply pump them dry faster without having to find any new production and get the oil for free??  I do not support this or ANY credit on fields and production that was currently in production at the time this legislation was written and passed.  

I feel it is quite deceitful to tell the PEOPLE that these tax credits are going to be used to produce NEW fields and wells, NEW production, then apply it to fields already producing.  NO DOUBT big oil will "produce" more if they get it for free!

I also question how many in the legislature either work for these HUGE oil companies, or are receiving significant campaign "donations" from big oil and feel that these legislators are supposed to  represent the PEOPLE of the state, not the oil companies, and they should have to refrain from voting on ANY legislation where it could be perceived they have a conflict of interest!  

In 1998 I wrote to president Bill Clinton, urging him to veto the legislation allowing the already huge oil corporations to merge into the now too powerful giants we have  to deal with today.  I still feel this was a gigantic mistake and very short sighted, to allow these oil corporation, who control the production of our resource, to claim poverty and be allowed to merge simply because the price of oil was low at that time.  THEY control the production and what the price of oil is by supply and demand, and as suspected, once allowed to merge, MIRACULOUSLY the  price of oil went through the roof, just as suspected and anticipated by those who opposed these mergers!  Now Exxon Mobile is the LARGEST corporation in the entire world!  And since this happened, we in Alaska have been at the mercy of big oil, and have seen a lot of corruption exposed, of big oil purchasing legislators to do their bidding, and now THE STATE IS TAKING OUR PFD'S, AND GIVING THEM TO BIG OIL??  

I think we need another FBI investigation into this matter!  I would also urge you to demand the federal government use the antitrust and anti monopoly laws and break these oil corporations back into their pre 1999 components and force them to compete, not collude!  I can see NO benefit to the citizens of Alaska or the United States derived from allowing these already huge corporations, merge into far too large and powerful giants!  This is the  reason we have anti monopoly and antitrust laws!

I am also outraged by the cuts to the AMH, so large that it will decimate the highway that the coastal communities rely on as the only reasonable way to get in and out of our communities!  Is the entire DOT cut by the same percentage as the AMH?  Why not??  I think those in the interior should find out what it's like to only have the highway open once a week in the winter!  And now proposed to do away with our highway, CUT THE ENTIRE DOT BY THE SAME PERCENTAGE AND SPREAD THE PAIN!

The AMH highway system was instituted and running and FUNDED long before all these oil royalties began funding the government, and it is outrageous to throw these rural communities under the bus simply because the state has to subsidize this service!  If it's reasonable that this highway has to pay 33% or more of the cost of this highway, well then it's reasonable that tolls are put on all the other state highways and the users of them be forced to return 33% of the annual costs to the state coffers!  How about the state recovers 33% from ALL the services they provide throughout the state??


The AMH has been mismanaged  for decades, I have voiced my opinion on changes that could be made to reduce the costs, to the management for many years, and have not seen one suggestion made adopted.  What I have seen done is the hiring of non residents and even foreigners, at the non resident rate, so qualified Alaskans are instead on unemployment or state welfare, and the local communities get no benefit of these wages being used locally and enhancing the STATE!  Very short sighted management who don't care if those dollars roll over and over in the local communities!  That practice should be stopped immediately!

I have felt for quite some time that the AMH has been hijacked by the interior legislators, and is not being run to accommodate the residents of the coastal communities who rely on this highway, but instead is being run as a luxury cruise lines to transport tourist and their RV's from the most southern port to the most northern port, and then straight into the interior to spend those tourist dollars in the Anchorage/Fairbanks corridor!  The management has driven off the local users, by increasing the fees so high that most of the locals, will fly and rent a vehicle, as it is much faster and only a few dollars more!  I also speculate that maybe this was the intent of the management, to not adopt any cost saving measures, and instead run it into the ground and demand it be privatized!  It also doesn't help their weak arguments that they aren't doing this, when they tie most the vessels up and limit service of the highway, when the tour season is over!

Tourists will pay these high charges as they are on a once in a lifetime trip, but the locals can't afford  to use this system when it's priced so high.  If you think I am wrong about this, well let's run the AMH for FREE for a month and see what the ridership does!  Advertise it all over the coastal ports, then wait and see how many would then use it.  I would bet my next month's retirement check that the AMH would be turning people away before the end of a month of free access.  This illustration simply shows that the pricing is TOO HIGH, and needs to be cut back to the pricing it had before the local ridership stopped using it!   

What is the cost of all of the highways in the state, including maintenance, snow removal , new highway?  It far exceeds the cost of the AMH, don't you think the use of these roads would go down if there was a 33% of cost toll for every time a resident used a road?  I have also been told that part of the high cost of the AMH is because of retiree's.  If so, I object to the retirement of state employees being used as a cost of the AMH.  These costs should be borne by the entire state, not added to the cost of the AMH, and the 33% or more to be recovered !

I find it really outrageous, that from October to April, the ferries run mostly empty, because the management of our system will not reduce the costs to the residents who would like to use them, AND ARE ALREADY PAYING THE TOTAL COST OF RUNNING THEM EMPTY!  Hey management, IT'S OUR MONEY BEING USED!  Doesn't "BELONG" to the state or government, it's OUR money!

Why aren't fares reduced 50% or more, simply to entice the residents to use this system?  My wife and I would really like to take a ferry north, stop and visit every port, then go from Haines to the interior BUT IT'S JUST TOO EXPENSIVE!  The irony is we get blamed for the cost of the system, and then can't afford to use it, and the state recovers NONE of the cost of operation!  How is that beneficial to anyone?  If you have a business and no customers you have a sale in your slow periods!  That is the problem, residents find it hard to use the ferries in the summer because  of increased TOURISM and traffic, then can't afford to use it, summer or winter!  Why aren't the winter rates 50% of summer so you at least get more ridership and cost recovery?

 One time there was a cost reduction, and we rode the Columbia from Ketchikan to Bellingham.  I think it was a 15% reduction, but the cost was  still too high even with that reduction, this trip still cost DOUBLE what it would have cost if we took the ferry to Prince Rupert and drove!  So 15% is not near enough!  

I currently have reservations to return home in April, bring our truck & travel trailer, 2 seniors, and a cat from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan, with a stateroom, about $700 one way.  It will cost me less than $600 in fuel and food to drive from Bellingham to Prince Rupert, so my total cost one way is about $1300.  I just got a pricing quote if I took the ferry from Bellingham, $6315 plus meals!  So even if I had a 50% reduction in fare, it would still be MORE than double the cost of driving to Prince Rupert.  This is a luxury cruise for tourists, retired AMH employees, and those that have DUI's and are rejected from driving through Canada!  I could send the RV for less on Alaska Marine lines barges, and they MAKE A PROFIT, and this fare is only 33% of the cost?  Something is not right here!

One thing I keep harping on is the wasted turnaround time in ports like Prince Rupert.  They don't need to take on any supplies, but are in port HOURS!  I have sat in line waiting to board, many times, and watched the BC ferry come in, unload, takes only a few minutes, load all the vehicles already lined up and waiting, and depart in about 30 minutes time.  Meanwhile, after the ferry unloads the vehicles, there are tractors waiting to go pick up the trailers that have been loaded in Alaska and secured by the crew, bring them off and park in the lot, then attach  the trailers waiting to go north, drive them on, detach and secure, well this process usually takes about an hour.  The customs agents come down on the ferry, then it takes an hour for the waiting vehicles to pass through customs and get parked in the lot, then the mate has to see where the waiting vehicles are going and load them so those going all the way north get loaded so they don't have to move and those going to the first ports can get out, this takes at least 1hour to 1.5 hours to load the vehicles.  

So IF we just emulated the BC ferries, and almost every ferry I ever rode, and IF customs was there ahead of the ferry to get the vehicles and passengers ready to load, and IF no unattached trailers were allowed, only those with a tractor attached and a driver, and IF the mate didn't have to try to figure out how to shoehorn all the vehicles on so they could ride to the end of the line unbothered, and instead everyone drove on and everyone got off in the next port, there could be a savings of at least 2 to 2.5 hours in every port!  DO YOU KNOW THAT THE ENTIRE DECK CREW TURNS OUT IN EVERY PORT, HALF THAT AREN'T ON DUTY GETTING PAID OVERTIME FOR THIS WAIT?  Maybe someone should calculate just what this costs in every port to drop trailers, and take hours to load and depart.  IT'S SIGNIFICANT.  This is one of the reasons I support the smaller vessels with no staterooms.  It will be a huge cost savings in the long run.  If they go back and forth between ports, like Ketchikan to Prince Rupert and back, then customs could be in Ketchikan, and if someone was not allowed in this country, they could be put back on the vessel and returned to Canada!

How about someone looking at these suggestions and trying to reduce waste and costs??  I could go on for hours about this, this management doesn't even get a firm quote on the price of selling surplused vessels like the Taku for scrap, and using this as a minimum bid!  WTH is wrong with attempting to recover as much as possible??  Exactly HOW MUCH DIESEL FUEL WAS IN THE TAKU WHEN SOLD??  AND WHAT WAS THAT RESOURSE VALUE??  We need to stop giving away our surplussed vessels, and instead scrap them out if the bidder can't put a minimum bid of the price of scrap!  When diesel fuel is $2-$3 a gallon, we need also get paid for it, or pump it into another vessel, not leave a significant amount and then sell for give it away for less than the price of scrap!  If the vessel is too valuable and useful to be scrapped, maybe it should be kept and used less and babied along rather than surplused and then not having a substitute vessel when the other main line vessels break down?

As I said, this system has been mismanaged for decades, and the residents of these coastal ports must not be farther punished for the STATE OF ALASKA MISMANAGING the AMH!  There is so much more, but I'm trying to keep this a reasonable length, so PLEASE, don't throw these communities that rely on this highway to the sharks.

I urge you all to take the state budgets from 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2017 and place them side by side and see where the growth in government has been, as a start to cutting!  I suspect you will find the major growth has been in the Anchorage/Fairbanks area, and now it appears they want to throw the rural areas to the sharks and protect and keep the financial and economic benefits they have gained instead of taking their fair share of these cuts!  They get to grow rich and fat on OUR oil wealth, and then destroy the highway for the coastal areas, or privatize it, which will be the same as destroying it!

There are also many inequities in our state that need to be addressed and changed.  The organized boroughs help pay for education through property taxes, unorganized boroughs get a free ride.  Why aren't ALL boroughs organized and collecting property taxes to pay their fair share?  Enough of this freeloading, if it's good for one, good for all! 

Rodney Dial  of Ketchikan has had  some very good suggestions in his letters to the editor on the online newspaper.  

Time to share the expenses!  No more free education, medical and lifetime welfare in the unorganized boroughs, move where there's work and get a job!  That's what responsible people do..if you insist on living there, stop expecting your fellow Alaskans to subsidize it!

I really think it necessary to put those budgets side by side and plot where and what the growth in our government went, to evaluate  how we get out of this mess, but I do not think that using the PFD's and raiding the permanent fund is the way to do it, but PUT IT TO A VOTE OF THE PEOPLE, and we  will see what the PEOPLE want, as opposed to what the special interests want!

Sorry for being so long winded, so much to vent!

Byron Whitesides
Ketchikan, Alaska

Note: This letter was emailed to Governor Dunleavy as well as every member of the legislature. 

About: 70 year resident of Ketchikan and southeast Alaska 

PS: one more suggestion.  If we all own the resources and the oil royalties, how about yearly dividing up the last years royalties, by the number of residents, putting this amount in an account specifically for each individual, then trying to get this money back from us for the different "services" they are being used for?  How hard would it be for the legislature to "tax" our wealth away from us?  I think doing this would cut these services SIGNIFICANTLY, if we were all involved in the funding of OUR state government, and were seeing OUR money taken away by taxes, would surely increase involvement in our government!  Also it could be beneficial to each of us to show this money as income, and taxes paid, to lessen our federal tax burden...Just a thought that should be considered by our political leadership as we cut government...



Editor's Note:

The text of this letter was NOT edited by the SitNews Editor.


Received March 12, 2019 - Published March 13, 2019

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