Thursday, July 11, 2019

A Teacher Explains Alaska’s Financial Situation


Shameful antics by wannabe anarchists disrupted the third day of a Special Session of the Alaska Legislature called by Gov. Michael Dunleavy for Wasilla Middle School July 10. Because this was not Juneau, Wasilla Police and Alaska State Trooper security allowed a spectacle of civil disobedience to occur in the makeshift chamber.

Had it been Juneau, theatrics would have been designated to the plaza in front of the capital. But here in Southcentral Alaska, some people who do not respect Rule of Law demonstrated their stupidity.

That is what Alaskans saw online and in the news. This is part of the hysteria generated as a result of June 28, 2019 vetoes:
“Alaska Governor Michael J. Dunleavy today shared the following message with Alaskans after signing the FY2020 budget with approximately $400 million in line-item vetoes. With an overall reduction in state spending of $678 million, the Governor’s actions eliminate nearly 50 percent of the state’s deficit this year. Dunleavy says he hopes a “two-year process will put Alaska in a position of balancing the budget without new taxes or a reduction of the traditional Permanent Fund Dividend.”
In Juneau, on Wednesday 37 of 38 lawmakers voted to override Dunleavey’s budget vetoes. They needed 45 votes to do it, but again theatrics is everything when you are simply throwing a temper-tantrum.

Gov. Dunleavy the teacher also on Wednesday transmitted a narrow Fiscal Year 2020 capital budget, sending a message to the Legislature that – by failing to capture more than a billion dollars in federal infrastructure dollars and to provide an adequate funding source – their work constitutes an incomplete.
“Unfortunately, the capital budget I received back from the legislature lacked the support needed to fully fund projects and programs critical to the development of Alaska, ”wrote Governor Dunleavy in a letter to the Legislature today. “I look forward to a swift resolution on the 2019 Permanent Fund Dividend, so the legislature can quickly move on to fully funding a capital budget to support jobs and families across Alaska, and ensure Federal funds are not forfeited and critical road, infrastructure, and life, health safety projects receive funding.”
Antics of protestors came into perspective later Wednesday evening for some other Alaskans when the governor himself spoke to a Susitna Rotary Club meeting at the Extreme Fun Center in Wasilla. There Dunleavy outlined the history of the Alaska Permanent Fund--founded when production was running at 2 million barrels per day during the early 1980s--to the decline in production since. 

“I made some promises during the election and the crime legislation was a very difficult accomplishment.” explained Dunleavy, “It was done in Juneau with passage of HB 49 after 151 days in session.”

His choice to move the next special session to Wasilla was based on Dunleavy’s belief that more Alaskans must participate in the discussion when it comes to the budget and the Permanent Fund Dividend. During seven previous years in Juneau as an elected official the former state senator from the Mat-Su Valley says he believes more Alaskans should have direct access to the process.

You might say cutting $678 million from the budget was Dunleavy’s clarion call.

Dunleavy answered a range of Rotary Member questions, including specific details about how the new crime legislation will make Alaska safer, what his administration is doing about Alaska Psychiatric Institute, and what we can expect to happen with the University of Alaska system. Medicaid expansion under the previous governor is requiring work between the Dunleavy administration and the federal government. Dunleavy said he hopes to have some announcements this fall in this regard, as his goal is to have “more access and better care.”

How the state spends money is particularly important because the vast majority of money in this state goes to government. Alaska does not have a strong private sector infrastructure, the teacher explained.

The University of Alaska has expanded beyond efficient delivery of programs and services over the decades. Some of the system must return to a community college model, according to the governor, whose budget director Donna Arduin directly provided hard numbers to back up his assertions. UA is running 250 percent over the costs of other state universities.

Each question was asked in measured tones and each response was conversational. The governor was upbeat, and optimistic about how the current budget impasse would be resolved. He said the legislature is having a difficult time and will have to compromise because “Alaska must right size our budget.”

The handful of protesters who had stood outside the building prior to the meeting had left once their media enablers didn’t show up to glorify them.

One Rotary member asked: “What happens if the legislature doesn’t approve a PFD this year?”

“Alaskans will be sad,” Dunleavy said. “But that is the conversation we are having.”

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Historic Talkeetna Roadhouse


The romantic notion of owning an historic Alaska Roadhouse became a reality for young Trisha Costello in 1996 with the help of a personal loan from her dad.

Over the decades since she has kept the Talkeetna Roadhouse open year-round, paid her father back, provided jobs for a community of some 800 people, and learned a lot about what it takes to prosper as an entrepreneur who loves Alaska and the community of Talkeetna.

She reflected: “The idea of a roadhouse was appealing, it made sense: A place where travelers would stop for a decent cup of coffee, and a warm bowl of soup, and meet other folks to find out how the trail was north and south, share stories, have a decent place to sleep—that’s what I thought I was getting into.”

But she quickly realized she had gotten into the restaurant business, and had to figure it out.

I really didn’t have that kind of experience, Costello admitted. I didn’t have a business degree or restaurant management experience. I had cooked for employees as an employee at the Mt. McKinley park concession but I didn’t have much experience. So I gratefully learned (how to run a roadhouse) as the community grew--as tourism grew in Talkeetna--I grew with it.

That meant Costello, during her 30s and 40s, spent 15-16 years running the business from the baking table. 

I was the early baker; cinnamon rolls are kind of our thing and did everything from scratch, Costello continued. I pulled all of the old bread pans out of the barn—they had been used back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and we started baking bread again from scratch. Taught myself recipes, started collecting recipes and figuring out with various employees what worked best as we went along into the early 2000s—spent a handful of years just being an entrepreneur, figuring it out as I went along, you know?

At other times, while rolling silverware into napkins, she kept an eagle eye on the floor of her dining room during the summer hubbub of guests and employees coming and going.

I think we remodeled the kitchen consecutively each year for the first 8 years. It was a lot more like a “home kitchen” when I first got here. Even today I say we play the Hokey Pokey; we have one foot in a commercial kitchen and one foot in Grandma’s Kitchen.

 By 1998-99 the large tourism lodges opened up and that changed the tourism dynamic, according to Costello.

When I first got into it I didn’t understand the industry of tourism, she explained. I have since really come to enjoy all the people I have met in that industry—the idea of promoting people traveling and experiencing communities, to land in a spot and experience a community, to really unpack and become part of the town—is something I enjoy sharing a lot!

Some say the tourism industry doesn’t contribute in a big way to the Alaska economy because so much is owned by big corporations that run it and leave the scraps at the end of the season. How do you see our tourism industry beyond your place in it?

 Well, I definitely keep all my scraps here—right in this town! There is a lot of money that comes in and a lot of money that goes out, Costello explained, but I believe a lot of those big players are very conscious of their footprint here and contribute a lot.

Alaska doesn’t have a lot of people to pull from for the workforce here; it would be great if a lot of the tourism jobs could be filled by people who actually live here. A lot more money would then stay in the community.

 Costello continued: I call this the ‘accordion style of doing business. I had to learn a painful lesson when I had to buy my dad out after he had helped me with the initial capital to purchase the property and business. He was not an on-site owner and looked at it from a business perspective while I looked at it from a community perspective. My commitment to keep the place open in all seasons wasn’t something he understood. He saw that in the winter it really didn’t make any money.

 In fact, we still don’t make any money in the winter but we don’t lose as much anymore! she quipped.

After all of these years you have learned the tricks for making a seasonal business work?

 Being in business means being innovative. Also, I believe in the (traditional Alaskan) Roadhouse as a place that is always open and is a community living room; it takes me 50 people in the summer to make this place work, staffing wise, and I keep 20 on through the winter. In a town of 800 people that’s not too bad! Costello declared: That’s 20 jobs for the community that I am proud of providing.

 Continuing: Maybe that is part of what has kept me engaged—that challenge: How do you make it work in the summer; bulk up to accommodate all of the people who come here in a community like ours during summer, and be efficient (during winter) so you can still provide open doors without draining all resources. When you add on to that the fact of our historic 100-year old building requiring maintenance and upkeep, this business is like an accordion. It is not for the faint of heart but the years have clicked by!

It’s also a place year-round climbers of Denali can get a last great breakfast before taking on the largest mountain in North America.

 Did I already mention The Talkeetna Roadhouse is for sale?

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