Alaskans hoping that Gov. Frank Murkowski had some kind of magic bullet to cure the state's financial woes and jump start its economy may have been disappointed by his State of the State speech Thursday night.
The governor offered no easy answers to the many challenges facing Alaska.
Instead, he said, hard work, sacrifice and new oil are needed to get the state on track.
We suspect the governor will face some resistance as he attempts to make changes. While Alaskans are fond of the theory of accountability and a smaller, smarter state government, they also have become accustomed to their favorite state-funded program. Belt-tightening won't happen without some screaming and shouting. As long as it's someone else's belt that get tightened, it's OK; when the squeeze happens close to home, well, it's a different story.
Murkowski acknowledged as much. "Controlling spending will require unpopular choices. We will be asking all Alaskans to make sacrifices for the mutual long-term good. We simply have to hold the line on state spending," he said.
To get a handle on spending, Murkowski said every service the state delivers is being evaluated to determine how effective state programs are. That kind of accountability is appreciated, but with it there needs to be a look at the harm done by cutting a program. Cuts can look good on paper by making it appear the state has a balanced budget, but will those cuts result in more costs down the road? If so, Alaska will merely be robbing Peter to pay Paul for the sake of a short-term budget fix.
Murkowski made it clear if Alaskans are to enjoy the brightest possible future it will take everyone working together and doing things differently. As part of that, he reminded Alaskans that the federal or state governments cannot meet every citizen's needs.
As state government tightens its belt and makes its priorities education, transportation and public safety, Murkowski said charitable organizations increasingly will be called on to do what government has been doing. Lt. Gov. Loren Leman will lead an effort to expand partnerships with the faith-based community and other charitable organizations to fill the gap of social service needs. While many of those organizations likely already feel stretched, a new way of offering assistance to those who need it also offers opportunities to Alaskans who want to help their neighbors and their state.
In addition to talking about reining in state spending, Murkowski touched on a variety of topics near to the hearts of Kenai Peninsula residents, including:
The oil industry: "What is our plan for increasing revenue? In a single word, 'oil.' ...
"(W)e need more exploration of our oil resources. We can accomplish this by improving access, expanding the drilling window and reducing permitting time. Then we must actively promote our oil resources to attract new investment from large and small oil companies."
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: "I am optimistic about ANWR. We are working with the Alaska congressional delegation to open the Coastal Plain of ANWR and to advance the gas line project.
"Since it will take several years before these projects are producing revenue, it is critical that we do everything we can to get them under way as soon as possible."
The fishing industry: "... (W)e need to think 'outside of the can' and find new markets for our salmon. We need to look at every option. I am even calling on the cruise ship industry to buy our wild Alaska salmon to serve its passengers. We must become more innovative in marketing our wild Alaska salmon. We also need to increase quality control and assist in transporting our fresh, wild salmon to market. We also must aggressively expand our fledgling mariculture industry."
The Board of Fisheries: "I requested each board member, as a consideration of appointment, adhere to representing the best interests of all Alaska fisheries and affected communities. I want not only a balanced but also an objective Board of Fisheries. This means:
"That they not side with one gear group, or one fishing group.
"That they not commit to vote for the interests of, solely commercial ... versus subsistence ... versus sport fish interests, but that they act in the interest of what is best for all Alaskans. And in the best interest of the renewability of our vast fisheries resources."
The timber industry: "We will be proactive by intervening in litigation brought by environmental groups against federal timber sales.
"I have directed my attorney general to resume the state's suit against the U.S. Forest Service's 'roadless rule.'"
Education: "My education initiatives will focus on ensuring that each and every child meets academic standards. All children in Alaska deserve a quality education no matter where they live, what their home language is or what their cultural background is. ...
"The reality is: Government alone cannot solve all the problems with education. The solution must involve a partnership among community elders, parents, students, and teachers, regional governments and organizations in combination with a strong commitment from state government to advance the quality of education."
It won't be easy. But nobody said it would be.
Our hope is that Alaskans and their elected leaders have the fortitude to do the hard work that lies ahead to once again make the Last Frontier the land of unlimited opportunity.
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