In a column June 16, 1988 I wondered when the old Alaska spirit of self-sufficiency
(a virtue still loudly claim by many) had give way to a highly subsidized life
paid for by oil. I started by noting that things hadn’t always been like that.


What if we paid our own way?

Imagine a family living on the outskirts of town, on a rutted, unpaved road without streetlights or sidewalks. There is no city sewer, and their deep water well was drilled at their own expense. City police do not patrol. Garbage is generally burned in an old oil barrel; when it's picked up, a private company does it, and charges.

When it's time to build new schools, or pave something, they are asked to approve bond issues that will pledge their full faith and credit -- and their local taxes -- for repayment. They pass these bonds again and again.

They pay property taxes of about 20 mills --- twice the current average in Anchorage. Wages are taxed, too, by a state income tax that averages about 14 percent of whatever Uncle Sam has charged them.

The family gets no permanent fund dividend checks. There's no longevity bonus.

Would you want to live like that?

My parents did.

And so did thousands of other families that gladly lived and worked and contributed to Anchorage through the adolescence of the rough-edged town on the edge of Alaska's frontier. They paid taxes and passed school bonds and then volunteered their services at the PTAs and Little Leagues.

They threw a party when the town was first named an All-American City, and mailed souvenir copies of the commemorative newspapers back Outside to brag a little.

They sound like heroes by today's standards. But they only thought of themselves as citizens, lucky to be living in the beauty and opportunity of a freshly minted state and growing city like ours.

Lucky to be here. You don't hear much of that in Anchorage any more.

It is much more common to hear a family of four moaning about the $1,200 they pay in property taxes -- and bitching because their $3,200 in permanent fund checks are a little late in the mail.

What happened? Where did we lose our way?

It was oil money, citizens. It came gushing in during the glory days of OPEC piracy and we gladly went along for the ride. We built our houses with cheap state loans and then spent state dollars to lower our property taxes. We paid oil-dollar cash for our sports arenas and libraries and figured we'd worry about the upkeep when the time came.

As recently as the last session of the Alaska Legislature -- just a few months ago -- we were still willing to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to build a dam that will generate power we don't need at prices higher than we're paying now.

Yeah, it was oil money that did it. But it was you and me who spent it.

Oh, not all of us, of course. Hell, not you and me. But those other guys, down the street. They got greedy and leveraged their duplex to buy that liquor store and then figured the cash from that would pay off the six-plex and the loan they took out for inventory, and ...

And by the time we sobered up and squinted at the total on our bar tab, we'd lost sight of the work and sacrifice and contributions Anchorage residents used to figure was a part of living here. We'd come to expect the easy money and the soft life and we'd rather whine than pay up.

Tom Fink didn't get us into this mess (although his personal situation looks like he was along on the spree) but his promise of an easy-money bailout is making the current situation worse. His cure for Anchorage's hangover was to blast another bottle loose from Juneau, and when that didn't happen, he left us all looking out at the morning through badly bloodshot eyes.

So the Anchorage Assembly sits down Tuesday night with nothing much to do but close fire stations and libraries and fire people. Nothing to do about the financial ruin but cut back. No answer but to make Anchorage a little shabbier, a little less pleasant place to live.

It's not the answer Anchorage would have come up with 20 years ago.

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