Paulette Simpson: The ticking demographic time bomb



Years ago, I attended a college commencement where a Jesuit priest offered graduates some good advice:  When you’re about to make a big decision, first ask yourself, “How do I know, and what if I’m wrong?”

In short, consider the source of the knowledge that informs your decision and contemplate the consequences of getting it wrong.

Elected officials spend public money and allocate finite resources.  For guidance in getting it right, they sometimes defer to well-connected constituents, lobbyists, or “experts” who spend their careers arriving at predetermined conclusions. 

Currently, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau are experiencing declines in student enrollment.  These are not new demographic developments. There’s been plenty of time for local leaders to craft rational policies and plans to address this depressing, potentially devastating trend. But they haven’t.

In May 2018 the City and Borough of Juneau’s long-time trusted consultant Gregg Erickson warned that Juneau School District (JSD) enrollment counts have been in decline since 2004.  Last year, Erickson projected Juneau’s 2022-23 student count to be 4,225.  According to the state’s Department of Education website, it’s now 4,183 – once again proving Erickson’s estimate right on target. 

Juneau’s peak school enrollment in 1999 was 5,701. By 2032, the number is forecast to drop to 3,035. 

Ignoring facts doesn’t change them.  Juneau’s aging population and declining school enrollments have helped create a demographic timebomb that James Bond is not coming to defuse. The current Assembly didn’t create the conditions that caused this scenario. Nonetheless, it falls upon them to manage the fiscal pressures of reduced state funding for fewer students alongside increasing numbers of seniors. If their answer is to simply raise taxes, how many more people will be forced to leave?

Keeping the cost of living affordable in a town with sluggish growth that can’t even hold on to a Walmart is no small challenge.  But to tax and spend freely and force vanity projects on an unwilling electorate is cynical, disrespectful, and ultimately counterproductive.

In fairness, one CBJ Assembly member might have a clue. In a February 25, 2022, Juneau Empire letter to the editor, Assemblymember Carole Triem wrote, “Instead of being distracted by the shiniest new projects and the loudest voices, we should spend money where it matters the most.”

This past October, Juneau voters rejected spending money on a new City Hall. Previously, voters twice approved bonds to finance necessary upgrades to Centennial Hall convention center, demonstrating they are willing to spend money to fix problems, but not to create new liabilities.

In 2019, the Juneau electorate also said “no” to a new performing arts center.  In response, the CBJ went behind the voters’ backs. They linked the ratified Centennial Hall renovations to the rejected performing arts center and gave it a new name.  

To avoid another pesky public vote, the CBJ and “Capital Civic Center” promoters are seeking handouts from Alaska’s congressional delegation ($35 million) and the state ($10 million). Even if these windfalls come to pass, the facility will still need more money, as well as funds for furnishings.

Minimized, if not ignored, are the very real costs of operating and maintaining a $75 million facility, costs that will be borne by Juneau taxpayers for generations to come.

Bob Banghart, multi-talented proponent of the CCC was quoted in the Juneau Empire opining that the civic center “…is something this community needs to mature into.”  

Such an implicitly condescending statement suggests that those not yet convinced of the necessity of a $75 million facility obviously must be educated until they “mature” into agreement. But demographic data shows this community is already plenty mature.  

The revealing comment sadly reflects the attitude of Juneau’s “let them eat cake” ruling class that dismisses cost of living concerns as not relevant to their priorities. 

The Empire article also quotes civic center promoter/former mayor Bruce Botelho. Like a TV preacher hyping his crystal cathedral and promising salvation for anyone who will pony up, Botelho says, “I think it is visionary in the terms of what it will do not only this generation but future generations and the impact it can have in the state.”  So, the Capital Civic Center is good for Alaska?  Botelho may be right about it impacting future generations because they’ll surely be paying for it. 

Propaganda won’t stabilize Juneau’s population or subsidize our public facilities. Identified community priorities (housing, childcare, cost of living, landfill) should always take precedence over the shiny and new.  

Perhaps it’s time to subject our elected officials and ourselves to the scrutiny of “How do I know?” and consider the sobering consequences of “What if I’m wrong?”  

Paulette Simpson is a Juneau resident.


  1. Politicians only know how to spend money and that is suppose to fix everything. Voters must like it to see the politicians getting rich spending everybody’s money.

  2. Our assembly is disconnected from reality. The fault is ours, however.

    We keeping telling them no, but then put them back in office, basically saying we didn’t actually mean no.

    Sooner or later, meaning sooner, we are gonna run out of other’s people’s money.

  3. Paulette nails the issue with accuracy and common sense, as she usually does. Everyone holding public office right now in the municipality is where they are due to mail-in voting, counted in Anchorage, and questionable accuracy Dominion voting machines, that they selected for voting. Think about that!
    Every time Juneau residents oppose an expenditure, it magically continues to appear on the municipal agenda until it becomes a reality?

      • Billy, having lived in the Capital City for many decades I can attest that what SkyTrooper says regarding expenditures is absolutely true. I recall many projects that were soundly voted down, which later became a reality.

        The real issue facing Juneau is that the children born and educated there after coming of age are not able to provide themselves with that most basic of human needs, housing. Many leave Juneau for Northern or Southern climes just to be able to afford a home of their own.

        I might add that while Juneau’s elites pine for a grandiose Concert Hall wherein to celebrate their idea of Culture, what still remains is the Juneau garbage dump in Lemon Creek, or more commonly known as Mount Stinko, which is an affront to everyone’s olfactory senses and likely retards the maturing sensibilities required within a population to fully appreciate a Cultural Center.

      • Yanker – Explain valley waste treatment plant (still doesn’t work), a downtown parking garage on valuable Juneau waterfront, library (voted down 3 times) on top of that parking garage, a police station built on tide flats, Centennial Hall that’s never paid its way (but it has $100K marble floors in restrooms?), ski resort that’s never paid its way (now with multi-million dollar used gondolas, yet to be operational?), $80M middle, and high, schools to accommodate a declining youth population (not enough high school students to fill one school, much less two!). Municipality attempted its own money losing real estate venture at 9 1/2 mile. (How’d that work out?) Bartlett Hospital losing over $1m per month for how many years now (but it has a useless helicopter pad on top of the building).
        Jump in any time you THINK you know what you’re talking about! heh-heh

        • You’ve given a few examples of projects that have turned out less than you wanted but why haven’t you given us any examples of “mail-in voting, counted in Anchorage, and questionable accuracy Dominion voting machines?”
          Is that because you suddenly don’t “THINK you know what you’re talking about?”
          SkyTrooper, all you’ve got is a few anecdotal examples of city projects turning out less than expected-so what?? Surely you can give us a few examples of voting irregularities or are you waiting for Rudy to come up with some of his magic, like he did for Don Trump? Heheh!

          • As eyes on the ground who educated themselves on elections from the ground up, from Election Day to counting votes…

            Juneau’s decision to usher in mail-in voting during COVID, puts the counting of votes in the hands of a few, behind closed doors. Juneau has their own verification process of mail-in envelopes that is overseen by (surprise) behind closed doors employees. Now, I’m not saying that those ‘volunteers’ or ‘employees’ are doing anything nefarious, but the law put in place is not a checks and balance procedure. It’s loophole crazy. And like I said before, slipped in while everyone was at home with no in-person access to the assembly meetings that covered this issue.

            And rank-choice voting is decided by a computer…. A freaking computer!! Because there is no way possible to sort, re-sort, over and over and over by hand. So a computer is in charge of our state elections.

            All this being said. We are broken. Beyond repair unless something changes.

            But most of all, unless someone else steps up to run against all this crap, we’re doomed.

            But those who are trying to survive this Juneau hell, are busy raising families, working multiple jobs and taking care of our parents. No time to run for office. Maybe that’s the way some like it.

            Something’s got to give.

            Juneau can’t spend us into happiness. We have to cut these dumb projects and stop spending.

          • You clearly don’t know a thing about how RCV works. But “fear” is your friend here-be very afraid Gen-Xer.
            You also could educate yourself as ignorance is never your friend IMO.

  4. We have to look at the spiritual side too. In alaska its peoples been okay with killing pregnancies, we can’t expect God will move in our childrens hearts to return and stay in alaska while alaskans are okay with abortion. We will continue seeing the decline by kids aging, growing up leaving alaska, even moving away or adopted outside alaska. We can’t expect a boom of kids while alaska is okay killing pregnancies.

  5. Gregg erickson – faux economist – lied about the impact of raising oil taxes in Alaska. Many major projects were cancelled because of the constant increases in oil taxes.

  6. Like radical leftists everywhere, the arrogant and midwit rulers in Juneau fail to consider the long-term costs and ramifications of their proposals, ‘thinking’ (if that is even the appropriate word) in the most shallow and short-term manner. But as long as it “feels” good, it IS good, according to those who value emotion over logic and rationality.

  7. It is 30 years past time to move the Capitol to Anchorage. The buildings are already here. In an egalitarian society we do not need a governor’s mansion. Juneau would revert to a fishing/mining/logging/tourist economy and get the exact level of representation they deserve.
    We also then could stop per diem payments for all Anchorage to the Palmer/Wasilla based legislators. Think of the airline savings alone.

  8. The drop in student enrollment isn’t all about an aging population. It’s the schools themselves. Parents had a very rude awakening when we had Zoom classes at home, myself included. I know many parents who are homeschooling or using other alternatives to keep their children out of the woke mess.

  9. “The current Assembly didn’t create the conditions that caused this scenario.” Let’s suppose that statement is true in context. Then, ask what have we done about it? Since this is a nation-wide trend, those communities able to eke out real economic growth are those that will survive the best. Our school population would actually grow if we affirmatively seized opportunities to foster and support tangible economic initiatives. Examples of missed opportunities are misguided opposition to: a proposed navy port,
    Echo Bay’s proposal to re-open AJ Mine, the Capital Access Road to Skagway, the N Douglas Channel Crossing, the Archipelago Project, Knik Construction’s proposed asphalt plant at thane, navy port. Are we currently seizing opportunities to support the Huna Totem waterfront development proposal? And the USCG breaker proposal? Or, are we discouraging these initiatives with more foolish process and red-tape? Pay attention Juneau homeowners; your economy is more fragile than you may think?

  10. “The current Assembly didn’t create the conditions that caused this scenario.” Let’s suppose that statement is true in context. Then, ask what have we done about it? Since this is a nation-wide trend, those communities able to eke out real economic growth are those that will survive the best. Our school population would actually grow if we affirmatively seized opportunities to foster and support tangible economic opportunities. Examples of missed opportunities are misguided opposition to: a proposed navy port, Echo Bay’s proposal to re-open AJ Mine, the Capital Access Road to Skagway, the N Douglas Channel Crossing, the Archipelago Project, Knik Construction’s proposed asphalt plant at thane. Are we currently seizing opportunities to support the Huna Totem waterfront development proposal? And the USCG breaker proposal? Or, are we discouraging these initiatives with more foolish process and red-tape? Pay attention Juneau homeowners; your economy is more fragile than you may think?

    • My oldest son and his, now, wife returned to Juneau after graduating from college. We as well as her parents still lived there. There were no parental illusions about their relationship but they couldn’t live together in Juneau. Armed with college degrees and the courage of their parents’ connections they had better than average jobs with the State and local government. Had they gone out together into the Juneau economy they’d have had a not very nice one-bedroom apartment with bedsheets for curtains and eaten top ramen more than one night per week. So they each lived with parents and busily made plans for grad school in the Fall

      They’ve been back to Alaska for a visit or two. They both have post-graduate degrees and very good jobs in Tucson. They have a very nice house and a very nice life in Tucson, and Alaska couldn’t buy them back.

      A few years before we’d taken my biological daughter to dinner at The Baranof to celebrate her graduation from UAS. Over dinner she announced that she had a ferry ticket to Bellingham and this was it for her and Juneau. She and her husband, also a Juneau kid, have been quite successful, and Alaska couldn’t buy them back either.

      The middle daughter we got out of Juneau-Douglas High and Juneau’s “A Clockwork Orange” youth culture and sent her to live with her bio father in Eagle River; that got her a HS diploma which she’d have never gotten in Juneau. She’s married, has kids and has a good relationship with her in-laws, better than she has with us. She and he are enduring the grind that faces the HS graduate trying to make it up the food chain in Alaska. Paulette talks about the demographic time bomb in Juneau, all of urban Alaska has already felt the explosion of the demographic time bomb. Alaska gets dumber every time “Pomp and Circumstance” gets played. The kids with something on the ball leave for school or other opportunity Outside and few ever come back unless they have some family situation to plug into.

      We got our youngest out of Juneau before he got into Lemon Creek and got him, first, in the Military Youth Academy and then in the US Army. We were so proud of how squared away he was when he was discharged in ’07. That lasted about thirty days before he was flopping around like a dying Humpy in the shallow end of the Juneau gene pool.

      We got him out of Juneau and into school in Anchorage. It didn’t take long for him to find trouble in Anchorage. One thing about spending a few years in a Muslim country is that there is little for a young man to spend his money on, so he came home with a lot of money. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long in the Anchorage fleshpots.

      We managed to keep him from getting a felony conviction until it was obvious that he could no longer live here; when the cops know your name, you need to move. It was only a short step from kidnapping but we sent him to his brother in Tucson who delivered him to the Emergency Room of the VA hospital and basically said, “fix him.” The VA here in Anchorage had been almost no help, even with some encouragement from the Congressional delegation.

      It wasn’t an easy path but they have made great strides in “fixiing” him. He has a good job, lives on his own, and has stayed out of trouble for the last three or four years. There is hope.

      That is the demographic time bomb. Ours were children of privilege; there was little that we couldn’t give them and in retrospect too much that we did give them. In ’87 I found myself the suddenly single father of a teenaged daughter. I sat and had a talk with myself about what my expectations should be. I came to the conclusion that if I could get her to 25 without a felony conviction or an unwanted child, she’d be OK. That isn’t as high a bar as I might have liked, but at least we made it with all of them.

      • Not all with our children of privilege turn out so poorly Art.
        Juneau’s main issue is affordable housing and nobody has an answer for it, so far. Without help from family it’s difficult for those starting out to afford a decent home, even with both working. Not much better in Los Anchorage either.
        My son returned to Juneau as a single electrical engineer and bought his own home with his own savings and no college debt. He’s now married and the sky is the limit for his family-somehow it seems he was not subject to having to suffer financially, but I think he will survive. Older daughter became a school teacher in Kenai and married a local guy from there and they are happy.
        Neither kids have the slightest inclination to leave Alaska (or Juneau).

        • You are a classless piece of trash for commenting on Arts kids the way you did.

          I suspect you would not have the balls to say that to him in person. People who troll others children usually don’t.

          But you are a leftist troll, so you gotta be you. I expect nothing less, yet often you manage to lower your low bar anyway.

          • Boy who pissed in your porridge MA.
            Art and I go way back to the days of when Art used to brag about shagging the wives and girlfriends of those that disagreed with him. And further, it’s no surprise that his kids would struggle as the tree doesn’t fall that far from the apple.
            You must have just been born recently. Heheh!

        • Billy Boy, “Juneau’s main issue is… affordable housing, I commend you Sir for pointing out the obvious. Where you fail is that next sentence where you say “nobody has an answer for it”. I disagree, think back Billy, North Douglas was a wasteland until a road was built and Land subdivided along either side. Firstly veterans got the pick of the litter, followed by the General Pubic. With land beneath upon which to build folks got busy and provided housing for themselves. The Hippies migrated north in the sixties and added to the neighborhoods ambience.
          Bottom line Billy, remove prohibitive zoning ordinances and provide land and your housing troubles will be a painful memory from yesterday.

          • Funny Bobby Boy that you think your answer might fly like Dumbo. Nobody, but nobody, expects CBJ or anyone else to put up private property to give away to veterans or anyone else.
            There is much Native land further out on Douglas but, as I understand it, they will only give out 100 year leases on their land. Again, Bobby Boy, who is going to provide the land?

          • To Billy Boy Yankee,
            Sir the CBJ owns what 18,000 acres? It’s been years since I studied it so I might be off my kilter, but I think they have substantial land above North Douglas Highway alone for example. Suffice it to say that there is a thing called Land Trades and Transfers with different entities, including the Forest Service and yes even Native Corporations. These trades can be accomplished and a road could be built, much like North Douglas was back in the Day.
            It’s never bad idea to put land in the hands of individuals and on the tax rolls.

          • Why Bobby Boy, and here I thought that you were going to contribute some free land-NO? But you want someone else to do it? Heheh!
            “I’ve seen everything, when I’ve seen an elephant fly!”

        • I’m old enough to know you truly are an a– of the first order.

          I’m frankly surprised Suzanne let that comment stand.

          Going after people’s children the way you do is unconscionable, but par for the course for a progressive.

          • Bill, if you had ever been remotely competent to be across the table or in a hearing room with me, I probably wouldn’t have been interested in whatever skank you had carrying your briefcase.

          • I think you’ve lost your touch Art. It must be tough being out of the loop of hearing rooms (and all) but you used to be somewhat funny in your sick form of humor.
            By the way, are you able to buy your suits off the shelf these days? Heheh!

  11. This is the city government that gave a grant of taxpayer money to “teach drag-queen lessons.” This is the very Assembly that is spending $20 million importing a huge tram from Europe, constructing it at the city-owned ski resort, and then waiting for snow. This is the city government that manages high schools in which students who achieve no better than average scores on standardized tests are given 4.0 grade-point results for their entire 4 years. Only the wisdom of the voters saved this city from committing property owners to paying $80 million in debt service to construct a new city office building even though the city is consistently losing population. This city government builds new apartments to give to its homeless at no cost to them but at a cost to taxpayers of $300,000 per apartment. This is the city government that spent $17 million on a brass whale, to then be sued over it by the cruise ship association, paid $900,000 for the litigation, and then LOST ON SUMMARY JUDGEMENT. How can anyone spend almost $1 million in legal fees, to be sued by its main income-producing industry, to lose on summary judgement? If there is a more poorly run municipal government between Juneau and San Francisco I cannot imagine what city that might be. This is where all the woke clowns of Alaska come to live and change partners. And it’s the state capital! Your state capital.

  12. As much as I love Juneau, often in spite of itself, there are inescapable conclusions here.

    1-Juneau is in economic decline. A limited population base, more than 1/2 can’t afford a house, is being taxed at an unsustainable rate.

    2-Part of the decline is stubbornly willful. A left of center community who refuses to do the things necessary to bring in commerce. A common comment is we like things as they are. As they are is a community in steady decline in all important demographics. Our only growth industries are drag shows, SERHC, and homelessness.

    3-We suffer from several factors outside our control. Federal “management” of our resources, a state government who will not allocate the resources necessary for sustainability, much less growth, and a cratering economy.

    4-Juneau is hostile to healthy families.
    Cost of kids, housing, activities outside of sex and drug use, limited choice of healthcare providers. Plus a left of center population which doesn’t see much value in having kids anyway.

    • Fundamentally, Gov. Palin decapitated Juneau. She allowed her appointees to live wherever they chose and most chose Anchorage rather than Juneau. Some commissioners maintain “ceremonial’ offices in Juneau that they use during rare visits and during the Session but most maintain their offices and staff in Anchorage. Most division directors also have relocated to Anchorage other than those that have to deal with the “infrastructure” divisions such as Admin’s ministerial divisions and OMB.

      I could have given myself and my staff a 25% pay raise and saved the State millions in travel costs if I had moved my division to Anchorage, but I needed to be where the Commissioner of Administration, the Governor, and the Director of OMB were. But, that is about all that remains of the central government in Juneau. Everything else is pretty much delivery of service units that typically are associated with a regional center, which is what Juneau has become except for the Legislature still meets there for a few months.

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