The Alaska Senate earlier this month voted decisively and across party lines to spend $345 million in Permanent Fund earnings on school construction and repairs.
Good for them.
Are there better ways to cover these school costs? Maybe. But the point here is that the Senate was willing to do what the entire Legislature has always had the authority to do appropriate earnings of the permanent fund as lawmakers see fit for the common good of Alaskans.
First, spending permanent fund earnings to improve Alaska education from kindergarten through post-graduate studies is a wise use of money from a sustainable source worth $30 billion.
Second, the need is clear. From new schools in Mat-Su to long-deferred maintenance to the much-needed new Integrated Science Facility at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Alaska has plenty of work to do.
Third, too many Alaska leaders in recent years have made a virtue of abdication when it comes to the permanent fund earnings. They've promised not to touch a penny of the earnings for anything but dividends without a vote of the people.
Is this standing up for the sovereignty of the people? No. This is duck and cover. This is a promise lawmakers were foolish to make. By making this promise, they've handcuffed themselves to do good with permanent fund earnings, they'd have to break their word.
By pledging to do nothing without a vote of the people, they cloak their political calculations in populism.
Worse, they defy common sense and miss the chance to spell out the golden reality of Alaska's fiscal potential.
That reality is this: We can have top-of-the-line funding for education, a community dividend and an individual dividend. That's cake, and that's eating it, too.
But we can't do it if we treat the earnings of the permanent fund as untouchable for anything but dividends. That taboo seems to have grown stronger since the 1999 vote that roared ''No!'' to fund earnings for general state government.
Democrats have demagogued the issue, calling for enshrinement of the dividend in the Alaska Constitution. Republicans have campaigned on slogans of ''I'll protect your dividend.''
What about protecting and enhancing all of our futures with intelligent investments in the public works and institutions that promise future prosperity for Alaskans?
... We have the wealth to maintain a balance of individual rights and common obligations at a level every other state in the union can only envy.
Senate Bill 155 gives an example of how that can work. The price we'll all pay for $345 million in school building work would be about $300 over 15 years projected dividends will total $29,390 instead of $29,690.
We can afford it.
The long-range solution to Alaska's public spending needs will, one way or another, include earnings of the permanent fund. That's just the reality.
... We should be grateful we have the means to do the tough business of balancing individual and common good. Now we just need the will. The Senate's decision may go no further this year, but we're glad to see that body show the gumption to stand up and be counted.
Anchorage Daily News,
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