Commentary: It’s time to quit freeloading

We need more than one idea to build a better future

By Terrence Cole
For The Cordova Times

Daily, it becomes increasingly clear Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s staff is the gang that can’t count, talk or think straight.

Most everything the administration says is misleading, half-true or false, a perfect 10 on the truthlessness scale. They seemingly can’t do simply math, read the Alaska Constitution or perform factual analysis of a smoke-and-mirrors budget plan.

Fortunately, majorities in both houses of the Legislature are showing leadership lacking in the executive.

If not so tragic, the Dunleavy show might be funny. Stumbling from blunder to blunder, it’s like a “Hee Haw” marathon, except no picking and no grinning, only ruining Alaskan communities, pretending to cut the budget by shifting the tax burden to local governments and eliminating services that have been an integral part of Alaska life since before statehood. Also clear is the Koch Brothers- maybe the entire extended Koch family – are the billionaire brains behind the Dunleavy disaster, which explains why the administration seems clueless about Alaska realities, such as pretending you can go by road from here to there to Ketchikan.

The governor himself made the stunning confession he is “agnostic” about major portions of his budget. Such Pontius Pilate indifference is no comfort to the majority of Alaskans whose lives he has disrupted. Because the budget is the governor’s most important duty, his statement of priorities, Mike Dunleavy should read his job description. Instead, he has randomly chopped billions to create “right-sized government,” as meaningless a slogan any political hack could parrot. But even that is a distortion. This isn’t about living within our means. It’s about reloading and failing to admit it.


Anyone who thinks the governor more nihilistic than agnostic is wrong, as Gov. Dunleavy does believe in something: dividend, dividend, dividend. Paying cash to the people, instead of the people paying taxes to the government, is a cherished tradition in Alaska – perhaps the missing commandant Moses dropped on his way down the mountain – but in fantasy Koch-Dunleavy Dividend Land, it is the only virtue of  life in Alaska, all the rest be dammed. Like Stalinists who believed “everything is permitted for the sake of the idea” they will sacrifice all the rest, no matter what the cost. Jack London often wrote about “the man of the one idea” and naturally the ending was never good, for life is too complex an affair for any totalitarian view. The one idea is always built on lies.

The great lie under “Dividend Uber Allies” is that Alaskans should never pay for services they receive and never have. But refusing to help pay your own way contradicts genuine conservatism, so those who accept the lie cannot admit we’ve all been freeloading on the oil industry since we recklessly abolished the personal income tax in 1980. This mental disorder psychologists call “cognitive dissonance.”

Our 1949 willingness to tax ourselves, despite the pain it caused, made statehood possible – otherwise, we would today be nothing but a cold version of the disaster in Puerto Rico. No one likes taxes, but they are the price of self-reliance and independence from outside interests. Responsible GOP conservatives, led by John Butrovich, warned in 1980 that eliminating the income tax was a mistake, especially because we simultaneously started handing out dividends. As a result, all Alaskans, most of whom do not know it, have had double dividends for four decades; a check in one hand and a hidden refund for state taxes we morally should have been paying in the other. Many Alaskans, especially those who came here after 1980 like Mike Dunleavy, are often poorly educated about the state and honestly think the PFD is the only state service they receive. All this freeloading meant we spent too much, saved too little and taxes ourselves not at all.

The Permanent Fund was not created to pay dividends; it was created to give “one-time-only oil dollars,” as Jay Hammond called them, a second life when oil went dry. The dividend was created to build a constituency to protect the fund. Now “the man of the one idea” in the governor’s mansion threatens the destruction of Alaska, as well as the end of the PFD and the Permanent Fund itself, because he failed to understand the dividend in historical context and denies responsible citizens must contribute or what they receive. It’s time to quit freeloading. We need more than one idea to build a better future.

Terrence Cole is an emeritus professor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. A noted historian, he was awarded the 2011 Alaska Historian of the Year for, “Fighting for the Forty-Ninth Star: C.W. Snedden and the Long Struggle for Alaska Statehood” published by University of Alaska Press.