Short term cuts, long term problems
In the sixth grade, my daughter was working on a school project and began asking a series of questions about family economics: “How much is our house payment? What does it cost to heat the house? What do we spend on groceries?”
Our family records are in QuickBooks so I offered to run a report for her. She studied it carefully and said, “This doesn’t make sense, there’s more money going out than coming in! How does that work?”
I asked her, “Well, what would you cut?”
After looking over the report again she replied, “Cut all my brother’s stuff!”
Today, in light of low oil prices and high state spending, people continue to talk about “cutting the budget.” It sounds good, and indeed, seeking efficiencies and making targeted cuts are always appropriate, but the state budget has been reduced by $3 billion since 2013 and we are beginning to feel the pinch of reduced services.
Although my daughter has long passed the sixth grade, not much has changed when it comes to balancing tight budgets. When multiple people are involved they all see the same solution, “cut my brother’s stuff.” And so, whenever someone mentions cutting the budget, I insist on specifics. What services are you willing to do without? Which schools do you want to close?
I know that for Alaskans “cutting the budget” sounds great. However, the question we should ask is not, “where can we cut?” but “what kind of state do we want?” Some in the legislature insist on cutting hundreds of millions more from education, health and social services, and the Department of Transportation (DoT). We have already made great reductions to these services.
This winter, many Alaskans have seen firsthand results of the previous year’s 22 percent cut to DoT: poorly maintained roads and slow snow removal. Worse data comes from the Department of Law (DoL). We learned that since 2013 there have been 7,000 potential criminal cases in which charges were dropped because the DoL doesn’t have enough staff to pursue them.
Today, we need to think about the future of Alaska, and be willing to make the right sacrifices for the right reasons. Would we rather remain the last state without an income tax, or become one with poor public education and dangerously underfunded public safety?
How do you want Alaska to look for your grandchildren?
Berta Gardner represents Anchorage District I in the state senate.