Alaska’s Budget Crisis: Early Warning Signs

The Alaska State Capitol Building, home of the Alaska Legislature

The Alaska State Capitol Building, home of the Alaska Legislature

An extremely high risk prisoner escaped from Cook Inlet Pre-Trial Facility in Anchorage. Kevin Tuckfield. convicted serial rapist, was re-captured in something like three hours, but not before he assaulted another woman while attempting a car-jacking. The Alaska Department of Corrections botched pretty much every aspect of the matter: they didn’t warn the public that an especially dangerous prisoner was on the loose, didn’t tell employees at the jail he was loose, and have refused comment since. WC strongly suspects that when the facts finally do come out, it’s going to come down to inadequate staffing at Cook Inlet Pre-Trial Facility.

The signs are all there: increased rates of inmate deaths, assaults on guards and attempted escapes. And the sullen refusal to talk about the problem.

WC regards it as an early warning sign of the utter folly of the state Legislature’s current slash and burn approach to the state budget. You cannot, for example, cut the budget of the Department of Corrections by an arbitrary percentage without jeopardizing the safety of inmates, guards and the general public.

In the last major budget retrenchment, when the price of oil fell into the teens, one of the Legislature’s “solutions” was to cut the budget of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. As a result, the Rest Areas along the state highways were no longer maintained. The pit toilets were padlocked shut. The results were utterly predictable: piles of human excrement appeared all around the pit toilets. Mounds of toilet paper and the nasty stink of mouldering urine. It was not just unappealing and a health hazard; tourists based their opinions of Alaska on the state of the Rest Areas.

Some unknown author, possessed of stronger feelings than judgment, even wrote “This Sucks!” on a pit toilet door. Using human feces as his ink. It helps to think of it as a metaphor.

The lesson, apparently lost on the current crop of state legislators, is that you need to prioritize your budget cuts and, if you find yourself padlocking outhouses, it’s time to implement new taxes. If your budget cuts are jeopardizing public safety, they shouldn’t be made. If your budget cuts are permanently hurting Alaska’s kids by hurting their education, the cuts are wrong.

If the Alaska Legislature had the spine of a sick jellyfish, they’d show some political courage and adopt a state income tax. But WC is defaming jellyfish.