OPINION: Time to Make Tough Choices for Alaska

Rep. Adam Wool

Fairbanks News-Miner Community Perspective:

As the legislative session gets ready to start on Tuesday, it seems everybody is talking about the state budget deficit. As I see it, the state is like a cardiac patient who risks a major heart attack. His doctor tells him to quit smoking, lose weight, change his diet, exercise and take his meds. The patient asks, “What if I lose weight first and then try the other stuff?” This won’t cut it, there is no one silver bullet and the patient needs to address all these issues.

Sure, we have to make smart cuts and make government more efficient, but this is just one part of the solution. I’ve been in Alaska since 1982 and opened my first small business here in 1986. I’ve seen the state bounce back from low oil prices and tough budget times before, but this time is different. Even if oil prices rebound tomorrow, we would still be spending more than we are taking in. The fact is the volume going through the pipeline is a quarter of its peak. It is clear we cannot afford to rely on one single commodity for our fiscal future. 

Just as buying a Powerball ticket is not a retirement plan, gambling that oil prices will go back to $120 per barrel and the pipeline flow will double is not a fiscal plan. Budget cuts mean less investment in education, less job opportunities, less infrastructure improvements and even less snow removal. In Fairbanks, we are already experiencing a population decline, and draconian budget cuts would only make it worse. We need a plan that provides a sustainable revenue stream, while protecting our economy and our quality of life. 

We used to be bathed in oil money and didn’t have to make such hard budget decisions. Now we need to examine not just how to take better advantage of our natural resources, but also of the savings we’ve obtained through our natural resources. We have a vast amount of wealth in the Permanent Fund and we can use it to our collective advantage. It’s time to revisit other possible revenue sources that haven’t been addressed in decades, such as income taxes for individuals, out-of-state workers and corporations. There are, of course, many other possible taxes and fees, and these all need to be examined. Gov. Bill Walker has presented several ideas, and I have heard many thoughtful ideas from many people here in Fairbanks. EveryAlaskan has to have skin in the game.

We can solve our problems, and hopefully our Legislature will address this problem in a responsible and timely manner and start working together immediately. I know people fear nothing will get done this year, because politicians won’t make tough choices in an election year. I am committed to making those tough choices, rolling up my sleeves and developing a long-term fiscal plan that protects our economy and our quality of life. The final plan will undoubtedly have something for everyone not to like, but isn’t that the sign of a good compromise?

I own a business and have kids in public school in a community that I’ve lived in for more than 30 years. The most important thing to me is to make sure that my kids and all Alaskans get to enjoy the same opportunities in Alaska that I did.

Rep. Adam Wool represents west Fairbanks in the State House as the representative for District 5. He was elected in 2014.

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