At the SE Conference 50th annual meeting
By Sen. Kim Elton
September 23, 2007
But in between the ferry trip up and back, lots of glum formal and informal nattering about the marine highway system. Not much of the talk was optimistic. In one presentation, the Gov. Palin-appointed chair of the Marine Transportation Advisory Board took shots at some management decisions and directly questioned the systems' management process that led to not stocking needed parts for the Columbia which led to the lay-up of the boat in the prime of the season and loss of significant revenue.
Ferry administrators introduced a fellow from the University of Alaska who's part of a group doing another plan for the system. Who knows whether this new study will push back by a couple years decisions that must be made about the system. The study guy was pushed, during a Q&A, to talk to communities served sooner rather than later.
GLUMMER -- As grim as the talk about our ferries was, state transportation officials seemed even glummier about the future of federal funds for Alaska. Especially vulnerable, they said, are transportation funds for roads, bridges, ferries, and other transportation infrastructure.
The obvious problems: our expensive war in the Middle East; a congressional delegation weakened now that they are in the minority and not chairing appropriation or transportation committees; the demonization of earmarks fueled in part by Alaska's "bridges to nowhere"; and a growing sense that Alaska's flying high and has state resources that should supplant federal efforts.
GLUMMEST -- My legislative colleague from Anchorage, Republican Rep. Ralph Samuels, gave fair warning as he began his Alaska economic assessment speech to the gathered conferees. You are not, he said, going to like what I'm about to say. And nobody did.
But I'm not arguing with his assessment.
In my words, his assessment can be summarized by noting that irrational hope amounts to a dumb economic strategy and high oil prices hide an immutable truth. Strip away high prices for a volatile commodity and we have to acknowledge that oil production is declining, a gas line is iffier than we want, and--even if some entity agrees to build a gas line--it won't be built in time for a smooth transition from an oil economy to a gas economy.
It's a hard message for a person who depends upon the goodwill of voting constituents to make because no elected official wants to outline a problem in which the only solutions are: 1) raise taxes; 2) cut services like education and roads; 3) use permanent fund earnings; or 4) come up with a devil's brew of the first three.
It is time, right now, for the legislature and governor to revisit the Percent of Market Value approach to managing our $38 billion Permanent Fund. With the POMV, we can protect the corpus of the fund, pay a constitutionally-protected dividend, and cushion the coming revenue crunch.
About: Sen. Kim Elton is a member of the Alaska Legislature representing Juneau.
Received September 21, 2007 - Published September 23, 2007
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