We made it through another winter, yet, with this pandemic, all of us are wondering what is next. As the leader of an organization representing a building trade, I saw the answer right in my own backyard when I noticed all the birds zipping around carrying material to build nests. It’s construction season. We need to build things too.
When the legislative session was shortened because of COVID our leaders did not have an opportunity to consider and fund many projects on which we were all relying for employment this summer, fall and next winter. The good news is — it’s not too late. Legislators can still go back to Juneau and do what needs to be done to get this economy moving by approving a jobs package that includes projects all over Alaska.
With the legislators reconvening this week in Juneau, we call on Gov. Mike Dunleavy to help move job creating infrastructure projects forward as soon as possible. Our elected officials know what needs to be done in their districts and can probably list items of shovel-ready projects that are planned but not yet paid for. There is a growing list of backlogged maintenance and retrofit projects — not to mention items that have grown in importance over the course of the pandemic, such as the Port of Alaska and improved broadband access for education and medical reasons.
As oil prices falter on a world scale and producers are forced to slow down exploration and production, Alaska must demonstrate the self-sufficiency that got us all this far.
We see the high value of immediate capital investment and the long-term positive impact that can have. Some projects should include: ports in Anchorage and Nome, the Ketchikan Shipyard, transmission line upgrade and expansion projects along the Railbelt and the Southeast Intertie project, a much-needed new Anchorage Health Department, communication fiber upgrade projects statewide for telemedicine, hospital upgrades for more adaptable ICU units, ferries, marine terminals, deferred maintenance at university campuses like UAF, plus roads, bridges, airports and more.
There are also hundreds of projects from this year’s capital budget that were left behind — many from the governor’s budget too. We challenge Gov. Dunleavy and legislators to take a good look at that list and fund them. These are well-vetted, much-needed projects that need to get done. A capital budget that puts even a small dent in that $1.8 billion maintenance backlog could put hundreds of Alaskans to work and save the state many billions of dollars more in replacement costs. General obligation bonds will also put people to work, encourage companies to invest in Alaska and shore up facilities like our ports and harbors we cannot allow to fail completely.
These projects will provide significant short-term economic stimulus across the state, as well as long-term benefits. The short-term economic impact will result from jobs in construction and construction support and all the work it takes to get them to that stage including permitting, engineering, procurement and related work.
Yes. We know there are federal dollars coming to Alaska through the CARES act appropriations, but we are talking about something different, bigger and long term. We need to put people to work and we need to do it now. In addition, these projects will help keep Alaska’s highly trained workforce in-state and ready as our economy improves.
With legislators going back to work next week, there is still time to approve a jobs bill funded by a General Obligation Bond (G.O.) package, and Alaskans can vote on it if that is what it takes. We need to invest in Alaska and we need to do it as quickly as possible using whatever methods necessary.
The promise of a G.O. bond vote plus a modest yet focused capital budget will demonstrate to investors, residents and our kids we are serious about digging Alaska out of the fiscal hole and building meaningful projects to support our future here instead.
As the birds and all other migrating animals in Alaska know, there is no time to waste. Let’s get to work!
Dave Reaves is the business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1547, which represents more than 4,000 electrical, communications, construction, government and health care workers across the state of Alaska.
• By Dave Reaves, Business Manager of IBEW Local 1547