Checks will help, but long-term solution needed

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2008

The old saying, "Don't spend it all in

one place," may or may not apply to this year's $2,069 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, plus the $1,200 "resource rebate" approved last month by the state Legislature. It all depends on what you plan to do with it.

Today, the bank accounts of most Alaskans are going to become fatter by the $3,269 check.

So what do you plan to do with yours?

A big screen TV? Tickets to Hawaii? A new boat? How many Alaskans will choose to pack up and move, either from a rural area to an urban one or from Alaska to Outside?

Gov. Sarah Palin, whose political capital helped guide the rebate idea through the Legislature, likely will face additional scrutiny from the national media in the next week once they realize that the doling out of $1,200 to every man, woman and child in Alaska was essentially her idea.

Outsiders, after all, particularly those in the media, often look at Alaskans as greedy, me-first, pork-barrel pigs who selfishly demand "bridges to nowhere" while collecting fat checks every year just for living in Alaska. What they don't understand, however, and what most Alaskans already know, is that we face challenges here that our brothers and sisters in the Lower 48 do not.

Two weeks ago, Sen. Lisa Murkowski was in Bethel, holding a Senate field hearing on how skyrocketing fuel prices have affected rural Alaska. A gallon of heating oil now costs $9.50 in Lime village, the senator heard, and a gallon of milk has hit $11 in many rural areas due to high transportation costs.

Murkowski, to her credit, takes the issue very seriously and promised at the hearing to take the innovative solutions offered, including construction of Alaska fuel refineries, strengthening the Power Cost Equalization Program and investment in renewable energy sources, back to Washington for action.

The problem is that action in Washington often moves at a glacial pace and, in the meantime, Alaskans in rural villages have found a more immediate solution: they're leaving.

The Legislature had an opportunity this year to turn $744 million, the cost of the rebate checks, into a meaningful, long-term solution for Alaskans, especially rural Alaskans, to cope with their problems associated with rising fuel costs. Unfortunately, they didn't, instead tacking on the shortsighted, politically expedient rebate checks to this year's record PFD.

It's a quick fix, but not a sound one for Alaskans, whose problems aren't likely to disappear with the doling of one check.

However, there is something you can do: take advantage of your windfall. Spend it on necessities like winter clothing, paying off debts or making your home more energy efficient.

Save some of it for unforeseen circumstances -- a failed water heater or an unexpected car repair that always seem to pop up when you're least prepared.

Put it away and save it for your child's education, or, better yet, your own.

Whatever it takes to help keep your world going is the best decision you can make.

For better or worse, the money is a gift to ease the burden on Alaskans during these tough times. Our advice is to spend or save it wisely.

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