Fiscal sustainability has been a constant challenge throughout Alaska’s many booms and busts. Nine years ago I decided I didn’t want to be one of these folks just saying, “Someone should do something about it”, and I ran for the Anchorage Assembly. My goal was to help make Anchorage a fiscally sustainable city, a first step toward achieving a fiscally sustainable Alaska.
In 2009 the city’s savings took a devastating hit from the global recession. Fund balances were depleted, and the city’s employee contracts became unsustainable under these new conditions. In short, we were broke. While that was the bad news, it was also the good news: a new administration and enough members on the assembly committed to hard work and creative problem solving meant we were able to change how the city did business. We not only made cuts, but also worked to make more efficient use of lower budgets. Soon the city’s Chief Financial Officer reported a $2 million dollar savings had been built by one of our actions–standardizing health benefits! The upshot? In less than five years the city went from running major deficits to a surplus and a AAA bond rating.
The State of Alaska is running up massive, unsustainable budget deficits. Like Anchorage in the late 2000s, this is both a challenge and an opportunity. Make no mistake: it is a time for us to change Alaska’s fiscal culture, because we have to. We must have the knowledge and the resources to do what’s right, and the political will to get our fiscal house in order. It is not going to be easy, and likely the decisions won’t be popular, but we will get to the other side and then wonder, “What took us so long?”
We are all very fortunate to live in this state, and with honesty, teamwork and leadership in the Alaska State House, we can create a fiscal solution sustainable for next generations who want to call Alaska home.