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I was surprised and disappointed by the introduction of Senate Bill 57 from Governor Dunleavy. I have received many calls of support from other boroughs and they have expressed their surprise and disappointment in our governor’s actions as well.
They see this for what it is; impulsive demonstrations of government overreach; it just seems odd to see this in our state. It is an attack on maximum local government which is guaranteed by our Constitution.
Of course, the purpose of Senate Bill 57 is to fund everyone’s entitlement to a dividend as Dunleavy promised; but at what expense?
A famous entrepreneur in Alaska coined the phrase “we cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you” This was for laughs. It is funny because nobody thinks that they might be the other guy. Today we are the other guy and it is no laughing matter. Our Governor wants you to believe that we are awash with cash; we are the “haves”, you are the “have nots.” If you believe this; if you refuse to identify with us and our needs, then maybe you can justify it.
I have been listening. Folks also share Twitter and Facebook posts with me. I am seeing that a few residents of this great State do have some difficulty identifying with residents of the North Slope Borough.
Our communities on the slope are as far from each other as Chena Hot Springs is from Kodiak; except that we do not have roads or ferries. We do not have a private housing market because you cannot build a house for its appraised value in most of our communities. We would need nearly 400 more housing units to enjoy the same ratio of residents to homes that you call a housing shortage. Our municipality is the economic driver in our region, not simply the provider of essential services you may be accustomed to. Our entire economy is as dependent upon revenue from taxation as the State is on royalties from oil flowing out of our region. There are some in rural Alaska that may be in greater need than we are, but will they be made well by the State’s dividend? I don’t think so. Their meager livelihoods are also at risk with Senate Bill 57. Their taxing authority over natural resources is also in jeopardy.
I saw a Twitter post by one resident from the rail belt which implied we must either be corrupt or flush if we can make over $800,000 per year in donations (an erroneous perception drummed up to create news in years past). We have one hospital with 15 beds, no roads and high unemployment. Yes, sometimes we approve donations for medical and funeral travel beyond what Medicaid or the Indian Health Service will provide; hardship donations for groceries; rent, utilities or fuel for subsistence activities. What would you do without roads between Anchorage and Homer, Tok, Fairbanks and Wasilla if you had one hospital, one airline and no service guarantee on bulk mail; which is the only way you can afford to receive groceries? Why are you wasting time talking about whether we have enough to share when you have so much that you take for granted?
Revenues from taxation have built more than 4 Billion in basic necessities for our region; (dollar value in replacement costs). By basic, I mean basic; things like indoor plumbing and heating and electricity; airstrips, schools and housing. These basics come with the obligation for replacement when they reach the end of their useful life which we cannot afford yet. Our capital needs are double what we spend each year. We need to see increases in revenue just to sustain what we have, and the governor would have you believe we have too much? His analysis includes our permanent fund as a source for funding our operations; yet he will not look to the State’s permanent fund as a solution for his operations? He estimates that we will have more money than we need in a few years and we can survive his famine. That is pure speculation and he is forgetting which side of the nipple he is on.
Our natural resources have been bottle-feeding urban Alaska for the last 50 years. We are the only reason you do not have a state income tax. We are the only reason there is a Permanent Fund. We were here before the Russians. Access to natural resources is the only reason we celebrate Seward’s Day and the settlement of land claims with the indigenous people are the only reason there is a pipeline. When we have the roads you enjoy, jobs, adequate housing and opportunities for education and recreation that are essential to healthy communities, then maybe we debate equity. Until then we are going to do everything in our power to protect what our constitution authorizes as a Home Rule Borough.
It is my hope that the Governor will hold his advisors accountable for not thinking this through. They have put the successes we have achieved in planning responsible development at risk. They have revived the historical trauma of broken treaties and land claim settlement assurances which are bringing thoughts of secession and federal land use negotiations back to the voices of our elders. This rhetoric could stall continued access to Alaska’s vast resources because the State will not recognize our basic rights.
I assembled a team of the best legal minds to develop our strategy if this bill ever sees the light of day and we are ready now for a fight if necessary.
Written by: Harry K. Brower Jr. | Mayor of the North Slope Borough on Mar 25, 2019.
Last revised by: Alaska Native News