Once again, the Alaska Legislature has convened in Juneau with authority and control held in check partly by disagreement and contrary power grabs. This is the place where billions of your dollars are spent, given to "vital" state interests, with much wasted on the government bureaucracy.
One of the biggest issues looming before lawmakers this year is how to tax you anew and call it "contributions" or "user fees." The assumption, placed in holy writ by the Anchorage Daily News and other Titans of liberalism, is that "state government has been cut deeply, that the things it does now are down to bare bones, stripped away to the leanest, most efficient crew possible. Therefore, since we have an obligation to meet nearly every social need out of compassionate caring for our fellow man, we have to find new ways of taking more of your hard earned money."
This is a complete falsehood.
We have the largest state bureaucracy of all 50 states per capita. Government provides handsomely for an army of state workers 24,000 strong, to perform functions beyond what's needed, putting us deeply in debt while depleting our savings. Thanks to past legislatures, government has engaged in "make work" jobs with a long series of functions that should have either remained private or not in existence at all. Within the last 25 years, a litany of prodigious projects like the Pt. McKenzie Dairy Project, the Delta Barley Project, the Seward Grain Terminal, the Healy Clean Coal Power Plant, and more recently, the Alaska Seafood Processing Plant, continue to be embarrassing failures.
These disasters have cost us millions of our dollars because they were risky projects mismanaged by bureaucrats who knew they could tap into an endless stream of free government money instead of operating on a profit and loss basis like real private enterprise.
For nine years now I've observed special interests talk about how important this or that government program is only to have the same failed efforts surface every year requiring more money to keep them afloat. I've maintained from the beginning that many of them should cease to exist, that the state should not be involved with functions the private sector should do. If we want to help business, which I think is fine, then we ought to do one thing and only one thing for them. That is, to get out of their way, reduce the constant regulating and taxing and let people produce wealth we all can enjoy. We should create an atmosphere of laissez-faire where business can flourish, with people left in splendid freedom.
Last year as usual, many politicians were influenced by special interests and now believe cutting spending is only a pipe dream. Many were willing to go along with the insipid notion that new taxes on tires, car and RV rentals, business licenses and vehicle registrations were "user fees." This year, the powers that be want new taxes on tobacco products, cruise ships, hotel beds, tour guides and pull-tabs, and are calling them "contributions." Even the tax loving Anchorage Daily News has made fun of this legerdemain.
The Governor did have the courage last year to buck some interests by eliminating the Alaska Science & Technology Foundation, so I commend and thank him for that. Although he completely abolished an agency's funding, he should do the same with other unneeded programs too. The administration's collection of a few cuts here and there along with an array of new taxes is not the answer.
There is ample room for placing departments like Environmental Conservation, Natural Resources and Administration on a "no new hire" diet and allow for natural attrition to take care of much of the cost cutting. Once agencies like these get small enough, we can easily abolish them with little fanfare or human loss and suffering. This is what we ought to do instead of finding new ways to torment Alaskans with new "user fees" or "contributions" and more controls on an economy already hobbled by the state. Can it be done? Of course.
Will it be done? That depends on how quickly we learn from lessons of the past. Social engineering is a proven failure and doesn't help us. It mostly enriches expensive bureaucrats with high salaries, benefits and retirement packages, something out of reach of the average person. Private enterprise does work and is in everyone's best interest. All we need is the wisdom and courage to stay out of the way and allow it to flourish.
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Vic Kohring is a Republican and represents Wasilla and the Mat-Su in the Alaska State Legislature.