State government has to get slimmer, but like any weight loss program there is a right way and wrong way to do it.
According to a Feb. 1 Juneau Empire news article, the State of Alaska lost about 600 jobs between 2014 and 2015, a third of which were based in Juneau. The 198 positions lost in Alaska’s capital city, according to state budget director Pat Pitney, were the most in the state. Anchorage lost 193 positions, but also boasts twice as many state jobs as Juneau’s 3,985 positions (which includes University of Alaska Southeast staff).
Juneau residents are sensitive to anything resembling capital creep, and where the state decides to trim its workforce fits the definition in this case. If jobs cuts are not balanced proportionately, and currently they aren’t, then smaller economies will suffer greatly for it.
About 20 percent of Juneau’s workforce comes from employment with the state, and the loss of 198 jobs in a community of 33,000 is felt far more than the loss of 193 jobs in a city of 300,000 people.
Private Anchorage businesses aren’t immune to the recession currently plaguing Alaskans due to low oil prices. We get that. And we have little doubt there have been Anchorage businesses that have closed shop in recent months. Every community wants as big a chunk of state government jobs as possible right now, but Juneau’s economic stability is more closely tied to the state’s budget than any other community.
It’s only fair that Juneau carry its own weight in helping to reduce state spending, but our city is being asked to do more than its share while still being squeezed by the private sector.
State economist Conor Bell wrote in an article for Alaska Trends magazine earlier this year that Alaska should expect a 0.7 percent decline in jobs, and Southeast Alaska in particular should expect a 1.4 percent decline. Juneau, unfortunately, has surpassed those predictions already.
When Walmart closed its doors Feb. 4, about 200 people were left without jobs. Between Walmart and the loss of state jobs so far, more than 2 percent of Juneau’s workforce has received a pink slip.
State leaders should be alarmed by that number, because without jobs the City and Borough of Juneau will lose residents — the very people the state needs to stay put if it hopes to collect more revenue via taxation to close the budget gap. To collect an income tax, people must have an income.
The state needs to slim down proportionately, and right now Juneau is on the verge of being starved.
“As those jobs go away,” Bell said, “it depresses demand, so fewer people are buying goods and services, and that could eventually impact employment in other sectors …”
— Juneau Empire,