This is what budget cuts look like.
Earlier this week, we heard a fair amount of grumbling about road conditions following the season’s first snowfall. According to a report from the Alaska Journal of Commerce, the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities got an earful from Fairbanks-area motorists after an early season snowfall there.
While not all the road maintenance in question is performed by state crews, and there’s always someone grumbling about snow removal — complaining about the weather and the response to it is one of our favorite pastimes — it does drive home the point, in a very tangible way, that the state of Alaska is in a budget crunch.
It’s worth noting that no matter what the state’s budget situation is, road conditions this past week were going to be slick. Heavy, wet snow followed by freeze-thaw temperatures topped off with some rain always makes for treacherous driving conditions. On top of that, many drivers wait until after the first snowfall to change over to their winter tires — as evidenced by the lines at local tire shops Wednesday and Thursday morning. Hopefully, everyone has now remembered how to drive in winter conditions, and their vehicles are now properly equipped for the next winter storm.
However, it’s also worth noting that DOT has eliminated positions and cut overtime for winter road crews. That means a slower response to clear roads, and it means crews won’t be available 24/7. DOT has placed a priority on the most used thoroughfares, but still may take up to 24 hours to get those roads clear.
Alaskans have high expectations for services provided, but there is a disconnect as to how those services are paid for. In his remarks to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre pointed out that a large portion of the state budget goes toward education and Medicaid — both funded largely by formulas. That leaves a much smaller portion of the state budget where cuts can be made. As Navarre noted, everyone running for office says they’re going to cut government spending, but it’s much easier said than done.
And when cuts are made, there will be grumbling about the impacts, too.
Looking ahead to the coming winter, barring a very mild season, peninsula drivers should make adjustments. On snowy mornings, if there’s somewhere you absolutely have to be, leave early. Otherwise, stay off the roads to give crews time and space to work. The school district may have to have more delayed starts this year. In fact, the district administration announced this week that if parents or guardians deem road conditions unsafe and opt to keep their kids at home, it will be considered an excused absence.
There are bound to be more impacts as the effects of budget cuts trickle down. Some, we may hardly notice, but others — like road maintenance — will affect everyone. Alaskans have always been pretty good at making do, and in the coming months, we’ll be making do a lot more.