The Alaska Legislature’s plan to give $1,200 to Alaska residents as a way to share the state’s windfall wealth brought in by high oil prices is misguided.
It’s popular, to be sure, and it will go to some good use, as there are people, especially in rural Alaska, desperately in need of assistance to cover energy costs.
But that’s exactly the problem — there are desperate needs in this state, and a blanket let’s-give-money-to-everybody approach to meeting them falls short of what could, and should, be done.
It’s a Band-Aid when what’s needed is surgery and a long-term treatment plan.
In Bush Alaska, fuel oil costs are skyrocketing beyond people’s ability to keep up. Even on the Kenai Peninsula, where we enjoy the benefits of relatively cheap natural gas and a low (compared to most of the state, at any rate) cost of living, there are people struggling to make ends meet.
Our state leaders were generous in wanting to come to our assistance, but this is not the best way to do it.
There are too many pitfalls with the rebates:
- They go to everyone. Anchorage’s energy costs are miniscule compared to the vast, rural areas in the state. Yet city-dwellers, the Kenai Peninsula included, get the same amount as rural villagers.
- Yet they don’t go to everyone. Not everyone qualified for a dividend and so they don’t get the resource rebate, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it. If we’re going to hand out free cash, we might as well be fair about it.
Several things are right about the energy bill: suspending the state’s 8-cent gas tax, putting more money into the Power Cost Equalization Program and providing help for rural communities to buy bulk fuel.
What’s ultimately wrong is what isn’t there — a long-term, multifaceted strategy that addresses the energy needs of the entire state.
An in-state gasline alone won’t do it. It would be a tremendous boon for the urban areas served by it, but wouldn’t help the Bush. Likewise, fuel oil subsidies alone aren’t the answer, because Southcentral is headed for its own tough times if a steady, reliable source of gas isn’t secured. And any plan that focuses strictly on fossil fuels will leave us in the cold when those resources run out.
The state is flush with oil revenue and in a prime position to plan for the future. A one-time handout may help get people through this winter, but what about the next one, or the one after that?
It’s time for Alaska to roll up its sleeves and put its hands to work planning for a brighter, more energy-efficient future.