Opinion: A healthy economy will help us defeat the coronavirus

Opinion: A healthy economy will help us defeat the coronavirus

Government should be focused on the emergency before us, put lesser priorities on the back burner.

  • Thursday, July 23, 2020 11:33pm
  • Opinion

By Win Gruening

In a few short months, the pandemic upended the world as we knew it. Our routine of work, school, travel, grocery shopping, medical visits and social interaction has been interrupted by a blizzard of bewildering directives. State and city mandates can supersede each other and change monthly.

Conflicting information coming from every direction makes it easy to lose sight of the importance of maintaining a balanced approach that minimizes risk to individuals but also allows individuals to make choices.

Eventually, this pandemic will wane, or an effective immunization program will be implemented. But, until there is an effective treatment or vaccination, we must accept that COVID-19 cases will increase. To minimize hospitalizations and deaths, efforts should be focused on mitigating risk to the 60-and-older population age group.

Let’s consider the real possibility of living for some time in a post-COVID-19 world where we have not eliminated the virus but learned to live with it. In that future environment, our choices become clearer.

As part of a massive government response, Congress passed the CARES Act — a $2 trillion relief package from which Alaska has received over $1.5 billion in aid — much of it still undistributed.

Short term, this is necessary and helpful. But it won’t last. Government resources are limited, and trillion-dollar aid packages are unsustainable. Ultimately, history will judge us on how we individually and collectively rebuilt our lives and economy. We cannot do this if businesses are closed, our schools are shuttered or people stay hunkered down indefinitely.

We should expect that government resources will be conserved and used in the wisest way possible. This is not the time to be taking on major new initiatives that are not directly aimed at economic recovery or mitigating pandemic risks.

With the possibility that flexibility of uses in CARES Act monies will eventually be authorized, there will be a natural inclination to use these funds for projects and programs that would not otherwise be funded or that do nothing to lower the cost of living or contribute materially to the economy.

Certainly, government must continue to govern but efforts should be focused on the emergency before us while other lesser priorities should be put on the back burner for now.

While some argue that the $15 million bond issue proposed by the Juneau Assembly is a way to provide employment and bolster the economy, additional property taxes will be required. Shouldn’t we be exploring ways to lower taxes and the cost of living? Alaska’s Department of Labor July Economic Trends pinpoints Juneau as having the highest overall cost of living of all the major urbanized areas in the state — driven specifically by costs in three areas: groceries, housing and transportation.

Next year, with little or no state or federal assistance, CBJ will only avoid large budget deficits if cruise visitation returns to somewhat normal levels. But is that realistic? Probably not, and then, we’ll be facing even higher property taxes.

Some believe since CARES Act funds are “free” it doesn’t matter what we spend it on. Unfortunately, often, projects and programs started with ‘free” money become a tax burden to city residents as the ever-rising annual operating costs eventually must be funded by Juneau taxpayers

This is especially true of various child care/pre-K programs now being proposed by the Juneau Economic Stabilization Task Force. Clearly, expanded child care — not Pre-K — a requirement as long as schools are not completely open. But is there a plan to reduce subsidies for this program once our schools fully reopen? Or will this just become a new social program to be funded from property taxes?

It’s easy to throw money at arts and child care programs, spiffier parks and recreation infrastructure but when will we make headway on some of the “messy” issues that the Assembly seems averse to address? Mitigating the effects of downtown homelessness, the malodorous impacts of Juneau’s landfill and our ever-increasing water and sewer bills come to mind as ways to improve our lives today.

Maintaining a healthy economy and quality of life while lowering the cost of living will do more to encourage COVID-19 compliance than any city, state or federal mandate.

Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

More in Opinion

Deborah Morel’s beachhouse near Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Deborah Morel)
Voices of the Peninsula: The Dream Team saves the day

The story, I believe, speaks to the goodness of humankind.

Opinion: The truth Dunleavy should tell about COVID vaccines

Dunleavy made a political calculation to appease his party’s angry base by joining the lawsuits against the mandates.

Laura Black, owner of Fireweed Bakery, sells some of her wares during the Merry Little Christmas Market at the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna, Alaska on Nov. 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Shop local this holiday season!

By Julie Anderson Shopping locally has never been as important or as… Continue reading

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: What do voting statistics say about our democracy?

Kenai Peninsula Borough total voter turnout in this past October 2021 municipal election was a sad 11.84%.

Opinion: Rural broadband is essential infrastructure

Broadband funding is available. The rest is up to Alaskans.

Nurse Sherra Pritchard gives Madyson Knudsen a bandage at the Kenai Public Health Center after the 10-year-old received her first COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska Voices: A mom’s and pediatrician’s perspective on COVID-19 vaccines for children

I want to see children and their parents who have yet to get vaccinated roll up their sleeves.

Larry Persily (Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: State defends its right to cut nonexistent taxes

This from a state that has no property tax on homes or businesses, only on the oil industry.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: The foolish men claiming self-defense

It’s not just misguided teenagers carrying guns who find themselves in trouble with the law.

Dr. Jay Butler, former chief medical officer for the State of Alaska, is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for the COVID vaccines

The COVID vaccines remain our strongest tool in combating the pandemic and helping us return to our lives and the things we love and cherish.

Most Read