Voices of Alaska: Alaskans weigh in on economic issues

  • By CURTIS THAYER
  • Thursday, March 29, 2018 10:46am
  • Opinion

Since 1953 the Alaska Chamber has been the voice of Alaska business large and small across Alaska with a mission to promote Alaska as a great place to do business. To better understand the concerns and needs of Alaskans, the Chamber conducts a robust annual statewide poll — and the 2018 numbers are in. As much as we’d like to dedicate all of our time and attention to issues like economic diversification, small business startups, resource development, and much-needed workers’ compensation reform, state spending is still the overwhelmingly dominant issue on Alaskan’s minds.

The issues that unite us

What is abundantly clear in our findings is that without a doubt Alaska’s state budget dilemma remains the top concern on Alaskans’ minds. Along with the budget there are several notable and important issues on which Alaskans are strongly aligned.

Some issues that enjoy the support of two-thirds or more of Alaskans include:

— Implementing a cap on state spending (78%)

— A work requirement for Medicaid recipients (77%)

— Making cuts to state spending (72%)

— Exploration and production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (68%)

— Offshore Alaska oil and gas exploration and production (67%)

These are issues that Alaskans agree on so strongly that they are overwhelmingly likely to pass should they ever go before voters on a ballot. You’d think that this type of universal alignment would mean these issues are likely to be introduced and passed in the legislature but, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Perhaps with education and strong advocacy from statewide constituents, these issues might advance through the legislative process.

Economic perception

Each year we ask Alaskans to rate the current condition of the state economy. Public perception has basically held steady at just over 60 percent of Alaskans rating the economy as poor.

While Alaskans remain unhappy with the overall state of the state economy, public opinion appears to have hit rock bottom. Perhaps now we can start climbing back out. I hope that Alaskans see national trends and upcoming opportunities to improve state leadership as a chance to stabilize — and perhaps begin to improve — the health and direction of the Alaska economy.

The elephant remains in the room

Alaskans still believe that the road to a balanced budget must be paved with cuts to spending and services. Cutting the budget outstrips all other fiscal options, including use of the Permanent Fund earnings or new tax revenues, by an overwhelming 10 to 36 percent. Today, those cuts may look more like structural reforms such as Workers’ Compensation reform that will save Alaska and business money.

I mentioned that Alaskans are still concerned that the state is on the wrong track (66 percent). We went one step further this year, asking for recommendations on what might be done to get our state on the right track. Cutting spending to balance the government budgets is the number one recommendation. For Alaskans, reducing spending and eliminating services are more important than increased resource development, economic diversification, new state leadership and new taxes.

Moving forward

For decades now the Chamber has advocated for a fiscal plan focused on Alaska’s future. Smart spending habits, responsible use of our savings, and pro-business policies that encourage the development of our natural resources to grow Alaska’s economic pie are the cornerstones of our advocacy efforts. And we now find that Alaskans agree.

Over the remaining days of the legislative session, through the interim, and throughout the upcoming election season, we will continue to find shared, common ground and meaningful trends in the 2018 polling data.

While Alaska is navigating a patch of rough road, the good news is that maybe we’re past the frost heaves. There are many issues that unite Alaskans. As individuals and as companies its time to come together to advocate for public policy that Alaskans from across the state can support.

Curtis W. Thayer is lifelong Alaskan and serves as president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber.

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