Published in the Alaska Dispatch News, Juneau Empire, and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – May 2016
By Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D-Anchorage)
As the newest member of Alaska’s Legislature, there have been a lot of things that have surprised me about our political process. One of the biggest surprises has been the disconnect between our fiscal situation and some of our spending decisions. This was made crystal clear for me on March 10, 2016, which was my first day in the legislature, when we voted on the proposed budget.
The FY 2017 Operating Budget that passed the House included a cut of $283 million. Meanwhile, the House Majority has rejected every attempt to claw back funding for megaprojects like the Ambler Road ($8.5 million), Juneau Access Road ($15.1 million), Bragaw Road Extension ($18.9 million), and the Knik Arm Bridge ($5 million). These four projects alone totaled $47.2 million, which could have funded items like the University of Alaska, completion of the school in Kivalina, and proven pre-kindergarten programs.
I and my colleagues in the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition voted in favor of putting those funds towards the operating budget, in light of our tough budget situation. We can always come back to these projects later when our fiscal situation is better. There is no urgency to complete any of these projects, and certainly not while we don’t know how we are going to fund our most basic, constitutionally mandated services like public safety, health, public education, and fish and game management.
When I think about what could be done to meet these constitutionally mandated responsibilities with the $47.2 million that these megaprojects represent, I get a little frustrated. We could be using that money in better ways.
- The public school in Kivalina only needs $7 million to be fully funded and begin construction. This will help prevent additional lawsuits associated with the Kasayulie Settlement, which was the result of the legislature not fully funding the school in Kivalina for years on end. Let’s end the lawsuit and meet our obligations to the children of Kivalina by funding this school.
- The House Republicans proposed to cut the University of Alaska budget by $35 million on top of a $15 million cut by Governor Walker. A cut of $50 million to the University budget means a 22% total reduction and about 500 lost jobs. Those are real jobs held by Alaskans throughout our state and these losses will have a real, negative impact on our economy. Think also about the loss to our state from all of the students who will no longer have confidence that they can get a quality college education and choose to go elsewhere. That is a loss that could set us back a generation in terms of economic innovation.
- Studies have shown that the single most effective use of education dollars is pre-kindergarten. You get the highest return on investment by investing in kids before they even get to kindergarten. The budget that the Republican-led Majorities in the House and Senate put forward cut $2.8 million in early education funding, including the highly cost-effective Parents as Teachers and Best Beginnings programs.
Funding these three items, which all fall under our Constitutional mandate, would cost a sum total of $44.8 million. That’s millions less than the wasteful megaprojects we are spending money on like the Ambler and Juneau Roads, the Bragaw Extension, and the Knik Arm Bridge.
In this tight budget year, we should do the responsible thing and push the pause button on these untimely megaprojects. Doing so would put tens of millions of dollars to use funding essential services. I can’t think of anything that would be more fiscally responsible in these tight budget times.
Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D-Anchorage) was appointed to the House of Representatives seat for District 16 by Governor Bill Walker following the untimely passing of the late Rep. Max Gruenberg.