Seriously, if there ever was an indication that representative democracy can fail to take care of whole segments of the population, this most recent session of the Lege proves it. Case in point: flush with revenue from the high price of oil, our Lege embarks on a spending spree but somehow fails to reinstitute municipal revenue sharing.
I know, I know, those are not three sexy words. Municipal revenue sharing. [snore.] Whoops, fell asleep sitting up there.
But you know what? All the little tiny communities across our state depended on that money to keep the lights in the city building on and the basic functions of local government operating. The program had been in place since 1969, long before we even had the taps turned on and oil money flowing in. The program had been funded even back in those bleak budgetary days when oil was only fetching $14 a barrel...
And yet, in 2003, Frank "No One Likes Me, Even in My Own Party" Murkowski eliminated it.
The practical results: over 40 communities have shut down what little basic public services existed such as police and fire protection. At least 10 have closed their city offices entirely.
From the Alaska Municipal League Website: "In 2003, there were 94 cities with annual local government operating budgets under $300,000 per year, and averaging $164,000, to provide public services for an entire community according to State figures, DCED. From 2003 to 2005, those 94 cities (out of a total of 146 cities in Alaska lost an average of approximately 42% of the revenue required to provide basic public services. The crises are due to massive State cuts to cities at a time of skyrocketing local costs and economic downturns. In 2004, Alaska became one of two states that eliminated its local government revenue sharing programs. Most small rural cities operate in a cost effective manner with many part-time or volunteer positions. However, most of Alaska’s small rural communities have very little local tax base due to cash poor subsistence economies."
So here we are, funding all sorts of nonsense like those two stupid bridge projects, and we're giving rural Alaska a big box of nothing. This despite the fact, that the entire state's economy is built upon rural Alaska.
It's no secret that thanks to population distribution, Anchorage and its environs dominate the Lege, and rural Alaska is left begging for crumbs or trading its votes to ensure at least the flow of money to needed capital budget projects. (Hello Richard Foster, I do miss you.)
Why does Anchorage exist? It's a flow-through point for administering services and goods going to and from rural Alaska. It's where the money changes hands and the paper is pushed. All those high-paying jobs in our large cities originate in resource development, health care, transportation, building schools, working on airports, barging fuel and getting well-heeled touristas out to the Bush. And let's not even mention where this state would be without the North Slope. [cough. ] Nowhere. [cough.]
All the ancillary jobs, like making a $4 coffee at Starbucks, selling tans at one of those ugly-ass strip malls, looking down one's nose at shoppers in Nordstroms, all of it -- depend on those high-paying jobs and disposable income, which are tied to the existence of rural Alaskan communities. Where do folks in the Bush buy their groceries in bulk, their school clothes, their ATVs and outboards? Anchorage. Fairbanks.
The effects of defunding services to our small communities that need it are profound and far-reaching. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd say it is more thinking along the lines of Uncle Ted's brilliant vision to empty out the rural villages and move everyone into the large regional centers. (Like Shishmaref wants to move to Nome. Right. I got two bridges to sell ya.)
And I might point out that our tiny little rural communities are mostly Alaskan Native communities and suggest that there might be some racial and class issues here lurking about and being avoided nicely.
The Alaska Municipal League's website has some excellent material on municipal revenue sharing that I won't summarize. Go visit them at www.akml.org.