By ART CHANCE
I became something of a disciple of Carl von Clausewitz in my early days with State Labor Relations in the 1980s. Clausewitz’s book “On War” has guided much of military strategy since the mid-19th Century and is still taught in U.S. military academies today. His analytical method was called “Critical Analysis.”
For me, it was a planning methodology. Courage is a precious commodity in political management in government, so if you’re going to do something that might cause tumult and controversy, then plan it out in great detail. When your political principal freaks out, you point him/her to the place where you told them that was going to happen and show how you are prepared for it.
In the late 1980s, the walls of the Labor Relations conference room on the 10th floor of the Juneau State Office Building were covered with butcher paper that was covered with “if – then” statements.
We looked at the forthcoming year or two and worked out “if they do this, then this is what we do.” What that really did was enable us to deal with our linguine-spined political principals by saying, “See, here is where we told you that was going to happen, and this is what we do next.”
Thus, we got through the mid-1980’s oil price crash without significant labor strife, although with a lot of litigation, most of which we won. We had our moments; we got a temporary restraining order against implementing terms on the General Government Unit at about 4:15 pm on a Friday and it sent our political principals into a fit of apoplexy. But we were able to point to one of the sheets of paper on the wall and say, “see, we expected that and this is what we’ll do.”
We lived that way for the better part of a decade. Then the unions bought a governor and nobody in the Executive Branch gave much thought to labor relations policy beyond, “ask the unions what they want.” We all went on to other things.
I came back to the Executive Branch to try to fix the mess in 1999, but I didn’t have anybody working with or for me that you could even discuss strategic planning with. I kept it all in my head until I became director under Gov. Frank Murkowski, and even then, planning was a commissioner’s office and Governor’s Office duty, not a staff exercise.
In the six years between my return to the Executive Branch and my retirement in 2006, I built a staff that knew how to do things, but I didn’t have the time to build one that knew what things to do. After I retired, the State just threw money at problems, so until the price of oil collapsed in 2014, you didn’t need to do a lot of that “thinking stuff.”
Now we’re back into a “thinking” situation.
Gov. Bill Walker gave the unions several million dollars worth of sweetheart deals on his way out of office. The Legislature took no action to disapprove the budget increments required to pay for those sweetheart deals, but it really didn’t put any extra money in for them.
Gov. Michael Dunleavy has made pretty dramatic line item vetoes in the Operating Budget. The smart money says the Democrats don’t have the votes to override most, maybe all, of the vetoes. That would mean there would be program cuts and layoffs of State employees. We’ll see; I remain to be convinced that anyone in the Legislature can give up 20 years of bad habits. If I had to put my money down, I’d bet that they spend the money to avoid the upset and hope it becomes somebody else’s problem.
The University of Alaska deserves the cuts. They have more overhead than a coal mine and their 17 campuses are to make sure teachers don’t have to spend a single night away from home to take their continuing education classes that get them paid more. The university provides jobs to highly paid sinecures of failed, former Democrat elected and appointed officials and leftist professors.
My biological daughter is a University of Alaska graduate but I would have sent her to school Outside if I could have afforded it. I was a single parent at the time and even with a State range that starts with a “2,” you don’t have any money to spare when you’re living in Juneau. She’s done well but in reality her success has been more as a result of the computer lab work she did for student financial aid than from the “education” she got there.
I don’t know what the mission of the University of Alaska should be. It hands out participation certificates in “communications” and “studies” to people who showed up sometimes, but in reality those only get you a government job or an affirmative action hire. It would be nice for Alaska to have a liberal arts school that was aimed at inculcating something about Alaska’s lifestyle and ethics, but the reality is that anybody who could afford to go to such a school would go Outside.
Alaska Pacific once fulfilled that role, but I don’t know what it does now other than ski programs. Really, sending your kid, especially your male child, to college these days is a form of child abuse unless they’re in the STEM areas and they should actually be there on merit.
The University of Alaska should have only one four-year and post-graduate campus and it should specialize in doing things relevant to Alaska, not in producing studies degrees for people who aren’t qualified to be on the grounds crew.
I don’t care about cuts to the K-12 Education racket; giving them money is just rewarding failure. Maybe dealing with some cuts will induce people to give up the pleasant fiction of local control in areas that make no contribution to education. Fifty something school districts with boards, superintendents, and administrative staff, is just spreading money around. Draw a line at, say, 25 percent local contribution. If the area doesn’t pony up at least that much, the board is advisory and volunteer and the schools are run by the State. I don’t have any illusions about the efficacy of State control, but it certainly won’t be any worse and will be cheaper.
I know State government well enough to know that a general decrement in DHSS will just result in eliminating delivery of service employees. That causes maximum upset for the constituency they serve and makes sure the palace eunuchs that run the department don’t miss a payday.
Alaska needs to have a conversation with itself about why being on welfare pays better than almost all the jobs an Alaskan can qualify for just out of high school. If you’re an entry/low-skill employee, only your pride and personal discipline makes you take the jobs you can get at that skill level; you’ll live a lot better on welfare and won’t have to pass a background check or pee in a bottle. We’re subsidizing a seemingly permanent underclass of perhaps 30 percent of the potential workforce that lives on welfare, under the table wages, drug-dealing, and other crime. And we wonder why we have a crime problem.
It was suggested that I game out the next few weeks; the kind of if-then scenarios I started this piece talking about. I don’t think there is a lot of the “if – then” exercise going on.
The ultimate weapon, a government shutdown on July 1 was off the table with the passage of an Operating Budget.
We have a major ego issue over where the special session will take place. I don’t think there is any doubt that the governor can send the Troopers for them and herd them to Wasilla. If he does that, all they have to do is find that one more vote and they can just move the Session to Anchorage or Juneau.
And his doing it will just about guarantee that they’ll find the votes to move the special session.
I can’t dismiss the notion that they’re sandbagging the Capital Budget to try to restore some of the governor’s line item vetoes by amending the Capital Budget.
While the smart money says otherwise, I think the Legislature will override many of the governor’s vetoes; they just don’t have the stomach for taking on the powerful interests involved.
There really isn’t much downside to sacrificing the Permanent Fund dividend for them. It is a derivative of the “paradox of the commons.” The PFD belongs to everyone, so it belongs to no one. There are no powerful, well-organized and well-funded interest groups supporting fully funding the PFD; some of the most powerful interests in Alaska want their money for Medicaid, education funding, and avoiding layoffs of State employees.
The university is odd-man out because they don’t have a lot of friends these days, so my old co-worker Jim Johnsen may be the big loser here.
Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. He only writes for Must Read Alaska when he’s banned from posting on Facebook. Chance coined the phrase “hermaphrodite Administration” to describe a governor who is simultaneously a Republican and a Democrat. This was a grave insult to hermaphrodites, but he has not apologized.