Not a clean slate: New year brings leftovers to clean up


Posted: Friday, January 02, 2004

It would be great if the new year really was a clean slate, but a look around says it just isn't so.

Sure, the calendar is new, but already 2004 is being filled with things to do, appointments to keep and resolutions to break faster than we can turn the pages of our day-timers.

Unless we're obsessive neatniks, our desks remained piled high with remnants of the old year tasks left undone, goals not yet accomplished, good deeds not yet marked off our to-do lists.

Most of us can't or won't bring in a Dumpster to rid ourselves of the clutter of the past year. We'll just straighten the piles a bit and make room for more.

The fact is 2004 will include a lot of unfinished business from 2003. A look at some of the things, that we can only hope will see resolution in the new year:

A long-range fiscal plan for the state of Alaska: Let's just say it's time for one. While the effort to make state government more efficient through budget cuts should be applauded, it's time to take additional aggressive steps to close the state's money gap. These steps should not hurt the most vulnerable of Alaska's citizens.

The best course of action is using a portion of the permanent fund earnings to help pay for state government, instituting reasonable taxes and fees, committing to resource development over the long haul combined with controlling the cost of state government.

The wisdom of such action really is just plain, common sense. Alaskans who have a vested interest in the state's budget by allowing a portion of the permanent fund's earnings to be used for state government and by paying for a portion of government through reasonable fees and taxes will pay a lot more attention to the process and the people they put into office. For too many years, Alaskans have had it good; you could even call it a free ride. After all, Alaskans pay no statewide sales tax, no income tax and every year they get a hefty dividend check for living in the most beautiful place in the world. Go figure.

Let's hope 2004 is the year Alaskans decide to grow up and take some responsibility for the state's future financial stability. Those who blame only elected officials for the state's deficit spending need to go take a look in the mirror.

Fair funding for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District: State study after state study has shown the school district is shortchanged when it comes to the complicated formula by which state funding is determined. That's because the district is unique, even by Alaska standards. It covers a huge area. It has numerous schools. Not all of its schools are on the road system. It has a mix of urban-like and rural-like schools.

Of course, with the state's financial situation the way it is, for the peninsula's school district to get more money, another district (or districts) would have to get less. And that's unlikely to happen.

Beyond lobbying the Legislature for more money in the new year, more consideration needs to be given to the question: Is it time to head to court for some relief?

Open government, all the time: Government is not a private business. It's the people's business. And it should be conducted in a manner that makes it easy for the people to know what's going on.

To not conduct the public's business in the open breeds contempt for the process and for those who serve. It perpetuates the perception that politicians think they know better than the folks who elected them to office. Closed-door meetings essentially say, "There are parts of the public's business, the public doesn't really need to know about."

That's why it was disheartening to read as 2003 ended that members of the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority want to be exempt from the state's open-meetings and purchasing laws. If the authority wants the public's trust, it will need to do business in a manner that says it is not hiding anything from Alaskans.

Certainly, government would be easier and quicker if it

didn't have to be done in the open. Surely, however, that's not the brand of government that has made the United States of America the envy of the world.

In 2004, may officials at all levels of government as well as those appointed to government boards and committees realize that operating in the open is "not as burdensome as it sounds," as Dan Sullivan, a member of the Anchorage Assembly and the gas authority, put it.

And may they resolve to always do the people's business in a manner that inspires trusts and engages people in the process.

Here's to cleaning up some of the messes left over from 2003 in 2004.

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