Alaska’s Petrobucks: Where Have All the Dollars Gone?
On the 35th anniversary of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline – TAPS – the University of Alaska Institute for Economic Research published a report on Alaska’s petrodollars and how they have been spent. It’s an interesting read.
So about three-quarters of Alaska’s oil revenue has been spent. The results of spending range from utterly wasted – the grain terminal in Valdez, for example – to vanity projects – the
Anchorage Alaska Performing Arts Center in Anchorage – to useful stuff like schools, housing and infrastructure. There’s another $34 billion earned by the State’s three big savings accounts, but $26 billion of that went down the Alaska Permanent Fund rathole. Alaska has managed to accumulate about $57 billion in savings.
Okay, so we’ve spent most of it. What did we get?
Sustainable resources, like farming? Dairy? Locally-raised beef and pork? Um, no. Modest points for trying, WC supposes.
Greatly improved infrastructure? Lots of new roads? Can anyone name a new highway built since the Parks Highway opened in 1977? We’ve done a better job with local schools, but only after Molly Hootch, with the State’s figurative feet held to the fire. So that may not count. And, weirdly, we still make municipalities incur bonded debt to pay a chunk of the school construction cost.
Improved public safety? Are women and children safer? The Alaska rape rate is 2.5 times the national average. Child sexual assault in Alaska is almost six times the national average. Alaska has the highest rate per capita of men murdering women. So pretty definitely no.
Have we boosted the tourism industry? Have we created new destinations? No so much. And the rest stops on the Parks Highway still aren’t maintained through the winter.
Major new industries in Alaska? Nope. A couple of mining projects, but, so far as WC is aware, none of Alaska’s petrodollars supported Red Dog, Fort Knox or Tek-Pogo. The gas line? Very much in doubt, and the $500 million to TransCanada is definitely petrodollars, and threatens to become the biggest boondoggle of them all.
Most of it seems to have just been frittered away. Sad, but true. Don’t get WC started on the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, now a sacred cow in Alaska politics. Johne Binkley told WC one time that it was better to let the public fritter the money away as PFDs than to let the Legislature fritter it away on various boondoggles.
The money’s gone either way. WC looks forward to your opinions.