- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

April 5, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: No cutting our way to prosperity

There’s no question the Alaska Legislature has a Herculean task on its hands: a budget deficit of about $3.5 billion, an amount so staggering that it’s difficult to grasp. No amount of cutting would be able to make the state budget sustainable, as legislative finance director David Teal reported to lawmakers last month. Even cutting every state employee would only close half of the gap. So it’s frustrating to watch the Legislature focus exclusively on cuts when it’s crystal clear the path to a balanced budget must also include additional revenue. It’s doubly frustrating when the cuts proposed by legislators would do little to close the deficit but would disproportionately harm many Alaskans.

Two particularly good examples of small-ticket items with a big payback for state residents that legislators have proposed putting to the ax are the Percent for Art program and funds for public broadcasting. Together, the average per-year spending on these items has totaled about $5 million for the past several years - about $4 million for public media and a little less than $1 million for the Percent for Art program. Together, they total a little more than a tenth of a percent of the state budget deficit, and 0.05 percent of estimated state spending last year. If the deficit were a football field, cutting all funds to the two programs would move the ball less than the length of a dollar bill toward the goal line.

It’s clear the programs have popular support among Alaskans. When the House Finance Committee cut funding for public broadcasting in half, an outpouring of public testimony in support of stations across Alaska led to the reinstatement of most funds before the House passed the operating budget. Mere weeks later, Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, rolled out cuts that zeroed out funding for public media altogether. Once again, citizen backlash was such that the majority of funds were restored, but public media still faces a 40 percent reduction in funding - far more than most areas of state government.

The state’s Percent for Art program directs that 1 percent of the funds spent on new capital construction go toward the purchase and permanent display of artwork in the new facility. In the past decade, that 1 percent has added up to about $9.1 million, but it’s important to note that since the percent comes as part of capital construction funds, it fluctuates depending on the state’s appetite for new buildings. Given the state budget crunch, it’s safe to say that the funds directed to capital construction, and thus the Percent for Art program, are likely to be near zero. That means the potential budget “gain” from cutting the program would also be near zero. It’s also important to be realistic: cutting the program isn’t likely to have a meaningful impact on the cost of building construction. If that 1 percent is taken away, bids aren’t likely to come in 1 percent lower - the funds will just be subsumed by other aspects of the project.

Both public media and the Percent for Art program have an outsized benefit to state residents. In some of the most remote parts of the state, Alaskans rely on public media not just for news and entertainment but also as the source of emergency communications about weather events and natural disasters. The Percent for Art program helps local artists maintain their craft and raise their profile in the art world, not to mention beautifying state schools and public buildings, which would otherwise be more nondescript and less representative of the Last Frontier.

The strong public support for both programs, the minimal cost savings by cutting them and their demonstrated benefit to Alaska residents suggest legislators’ repeated efforts to target them for cuts aren’t about responding to the budget crisis but rather about eliminating funding for things lawmakers don’t like or settling scores with their supporters. That’s not responsible governance.

If the Legislature is really looking to solve its budget problem, it cannot ignore the fact that cuts - particularly small, directed ones that do little to reduce state spending - will not bridge the gap, or even half of it. Alaska will not reach fiscal sustainability without finding ways to increase revenue as soon as possible. It’s time for the Legislature and Gov. Bill Walker to confront that reality honestly, educate the public and find real solutions.

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March 31, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Bill to kill daylight saving time would have negative impact

Daylight saving time doesn’t likely have a great many fans in Alaska. There are good reasons for that: The shift in daylight hours because of the time change in fall and spring makes little difference at high latitudes, and it can feel like all that residents get out of the twice-yearly clock exercise is a groggy transition period and a handful of missed appointments due to confusion. A bill by Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Anchorage, to abolish daylight time made it halfway through the Legislature. But Alaskans are waking up to the fact that eliminating the time change would introduce a great many new headaches.

Daylight saving time was approved by Congress in 1918 as a means of giving people an extra hour of daylight after returning home from work during summer. Intended to reduce the use of energy in evening hours, its benefits have been marginal, but the vast majority of North American and European countries now abide by the system.

In arguments for her bill that would put Alaska permanently on standard time, Sen. MacKinnon cited data and anecdotal evidence suggesting daylight time costs the nation millions of dollars in lost productivity and performance decreases in the days immediately after the time shift. She suggested that the stupor Alaskans feel as their body gets used to the time change could lead to more crashes on roads and in the workplace, causing injuries and even deaths. Who wouldn’t want to avoid that?

There’s a problem, however: Data enumerating the potential costs of adhering to daylight time assume the alternative would be to do away with the system completely nationwide. Were Alaska to adopt permanent standard time on its own, the state’s headaches because of daylight time would only increase. Several months of the year, Alaska would be five hours earlier than the East coast rather than four, and the time difference between Alaska and the Pacific time zone would ricochet back and forth between one and two hours.

Business-related tasks such as organizing conference calls would be even harder to accomplish. Broadcast schedules for TV and radio could face serious disruption. Those who make calls to the Eastern seaboard would have an even narrower window in the workday in which to do it. And if you think you’re tired after waking up the day after the time change, imagine how you would feel when a relative in the Lower 48 calls you at 3:30 a.m., forgetting about the even larger time difference.

Business groups, recognizing the costs the state would incur by cause of Sen. MacKinnon’s legislation, are lining up in opposition to the law.

Here in Fairbanks, too, there’s a somewhat sentimental reason to continue with the system we have: In abolishing daylight time in Alaska, Sen. MacKinnon’s bill would cut the Interior out of its status as the “land of the midnight sun.” On the summer solstice, the sun would set in Fairbanks at 11:47 p.m. under standard time. While that may seem a silly thing, consider this: One of Fairbanks’ signature summer events, the Alaska Goldpanners’ Midnight Sun Baseball Game, is traditionally played in its entirety without the aid of artificial light. If the sun set an hour earlier, it might be impossible for the game to be played in natural light unless its start time were moved earlier so that the game would finish before midnight.

It’s important to note that daylight time isn’t a perfect system, and if the U.S. as a whole were to abandon it, the problems Alaska would face as a consequence would largely be addressed. But rather than getting rid of the system and hoping other states do too, the Legislature might be better suited to call for the repeal of daylight time on a federal level. Going it alone, Alaska has little to gain and a lot to lose if other states don’t follow suit en masse. It’s not time for a change if we’re left on our own.

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