News in economic, education corners deserves mention

Posted: Friday, November 26, 2004

While we're still in the season of giving thanks, two stories of economic note are cause for Alaskans' gratitude.

In the first, the Alaska Permanent Fund reached a value of more than $29 billion for the first time in its history at the close of business Nov. 12. The fund remained at more than $29 billion this week.

"After a disappointing first quarter, domestic and international markets rallied in November, earning almost $1 billion in unrealized gains for the fund," the permanent fund corporation reported in a press release. "This new growth creates a 5.27 percent fiscal-year-to-date return for the fund as of Nov. 16."

But before you go thinking of ways to spend next year's dividend, beware that the milestone does not necessarily translate into bigger checks for Alaskans.

"First, these are unrealized gains and only realized gains are included in the dividend formula. And because of the drag of FYO2 and FY03 continue to have on the five-year average, it would take very strong performance for the rest of the fiscal year to see a significant change in the dividend amount over last year,"cautioned Mike Burns, executive director and CEO of the fund corporation.

In the second good economic news story, Alaska's general obligation bond rating has been upgraded from negative to stable by Moody's Investors Service, one of the state's top three bond rating agencies.

The improved rating will help Alaska and its cities borrow at lower interest rates for capital projects such as roads and schools.

Because the bond rating is determined by the state's overall economy, the change clearly indicates that the state's economic outlook has improved since 2002, when Moody's gave Alaska its negative bond rating. That's cause for celebration.

While we're celebrating good news, the efforts under way to increase funding for education during the next legislative session should be noted.

Earlier this month, Gov. Frank Murkowski announced he will ask the Legislature not only to make permanent the $82 million increase to K-12 education approved this year, but also to increase education funding by another $126 million over the next two budget years.

In addition, Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, has pre-filed a bill proposing a $293 per-student increase to the state's foundation formula, on which education funding is based. Stevens also is pushing to require the Legislature to approve an education budget by April 1 of each year, which would make budgeting by school district's significantly easier.

The measures recognize that school districts around the state are desperate for some help. Unfortunately, most of the proposed increase in Murkowski's plan, estimated to be about $5 million to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, would go to rising salaries and retirement programs, and increased costs of such things as insurance, fuel and electricity. Which means it likely will not be enough to lower class sizes or reinvigorate programs trimmed by past budget cuts.

While every little bit helps, our hope is legislators will want to do more than maintain the status quo when it comes to Alaska's students. The efforts of Gov. Murkowski and Sen. Stevens to get the ball rolling for increased funding for education should be applauded.

The holiday season is in full swing now, and our wish for all of our readers is that the next few weeks will pass joyfully and safely.

In the hustle and bustle of the season, please don't skimp on safety.

A couple of reminders bear repeating:

Don't drink and drive. Not even a little. Consider it your gift to yourself and the rest of the community.

Snow, poor visibility, icy roads and meandering moose make driving at this time of year treacherous enough without the added gamble of driving while your judgment is impaired by alcohol or drugs. There's no reason in the world to be tempted to drink and drive. Ask anyone who's done it and been caught: It's just not worth it.

Remember, the danger of drinking and driving isn't confined to our highways. It's also not safe to operate snowmachines and off-road vehicles after you've been drinking. It's a good way to wreck a good time.

Also, make sure you and everyone in your vehicle is safely buckled up no matter how short a trip you are taking. A quick look at the Clarion's accident reports will show the correlation between injuries and fatalities and failure to buckle up. Those who escape a serious accident with minor injuries more often than not were those who were wearing their seat belts.

Among the blessings we are eager to count is an accident-free holiday season.

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