John MacKinnon / Commentary

Vote and get others to vote too

There’s a saying that goes “Get involved in politics or get out of business.” That doesn’t mean you need to run for office, though many of you reading this would be good, no-nonsense politicians. What it means to “get involved in politics” is to learn about the issues. It means getting to know who your elected representatives are and what they stand for. If you agree fundamentally with them, then support them any way you can. That support can include contacting them and donating time to their campaign, a sign in your yard and attending a fundraiser or getting online to donate. Most of all, vote for them. If you don’t vote for your own interests, who will? The Nov. 8 election may be the most important election in recent years. You hear that every election, but this one is different. It is important because we have the opportunity to change the direction of the country for at least the next four years, and hopefully beyond. The national press will be calling the election long before the polls in Alaska have closed. But just because the presidential election will have been decided before our polls close, don’t let that stop you from voting. Alaska has a lot at stake as we elect a U.S. senator, a congressman and 50 legislators. For the past few months, candidates have been spending afternoons, evenings and weekends walking, going door to door, knocking and talking, being received warmly or getting a door slammed in their face. When they’re not walking, they’re home stuffing mailers in envelopes, studying precinct maps, answering the countless surveys sent out by as many special interest groups. They’re making phone calls when they can’t walk and they are having fundraisers to help support their campaign. They’re going to so many events and meetings; they start thinking about joining Meetings Anonymous. The Aug. 16 Primary Election had one of the largest slates of candidates we’ve seen in years. In 11 of the races, there was no opponent in either the primary or general election. Just filing for office in May made them a winner. After the August primary, six others are unopposed on Nov. 8. Seventeen of the races are already decided, but that leaves 33 races that will be decided on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Some of these are hotly contested and will be close. The August primary also had an unimpressive voter turnout. It’s not unusual to have less than a third of registered voters take the time to vote in an election. History, especially recent history, is full of examples in which an election was decided by very few votes — even a coin toss in the case of a tie. Voting is a right, a privilege and one of the most important freedoms we have. Unfortunately for many, it is more important to exercise the TV remote than the right to vote. Why does it matter? In the 2012 Presidential election, there were 218 million eligible voters in the United States. Only 124 million voted in the general election that year. Fifty-one percent voted for Barak Obama. Doing the math, the direction of our country was decided by less than 30 percent of the eligible voters. Look at a few key states where the electoral votes swung the election: a handful of additional voters in every precinct could turn the district which could turn the state, which could turn the election. To paraphrase Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.” There’s a lot of truth to that. Get involved! Get informed on the issues and the candidates. Talk to your family, your friends, your co-workers. And all of you vote on Nov. 8. The rest of us are depending on you. John MacKinnon is the executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska.  

On the ballot: Bonds will help address Alaska's transportation needs

Alaska is both blessed and cursed by its geography. Blessed with such a beautiful land, abundant resources, vast distances and a small population. Cursed by those same vast distances and small population. Because of these distances, the efficient transportation of goods and services is needed for economic stability and growth to continue in our state, whether that transportation is in the large urban areas or in smaller rural communities. Unknown to the casual observer, there is a General Obligation (GO) Bond Initiative coming up on the Nov. 4 election that will help address some of our critical transportation needs in Alaska. When a GO bond was first proposed last December in the governor’s budget announcement, many people asked the obvious question: “Why would we borrow money when we can pay cash?” There are a couple of good reasons. It’s good for the state to have some debt. With no debt, we have no credit history or rating. The state needs a good rating for its own needs, and it is important for all the public corporations and political subdivisions within Alaska. A good rating for Alaska helps with a good rating for a borough, a municipality and for the Alaska Housing and Finance Corp., Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, and others. Being completely in debt or out of debt isn’t good, but some debt keeps all of Alaska active in the market and helps our local governments borrow to expand sewer and water systems, build schools and fix roads. The state of Alaska is a tax exempt borrower and a tax exempt investor. As an investor, the state is able to take its cash and invest it, and in a normal market (and we all hope we soon return to a normal market) make a return in the 8 percent range, tax free. It does this on a continuous basis with its state retirement accounts and the Constitutional Budget Reserve. As a borrower, the state can sell tax-exempt GO bonds in the market, and with the fine rating we have, pay around 5 percent on the debt. That 3 percent spread is what makes it worthwhile for the state to issue debt for some of our projects. It’s also good to let the voters decide on a slate of construction projects. Usually it is the administration and the various departments that decide which projects proceed (although only after considerable public input) and they need the blessing of the Legislature before the necessary funds can be appropriated. With a GO Bond package, it is up to the voters to decide, and it is good to give the voters the opportunity to validate government decisions. Alaska has had the luxury of incredible support from the federal government in developing our transportation infrastructure, but there is much more to do than the limited federal funds will provide. It is time for us step up to the plate again and contribute to be drivers of our economy. The demand for transportation services is directly linked to the level of economic activity in Alaska. The cost of transportation is an important factor in economic development in the state. An efficient and reliable transportation system that provides access to local, national and international markets for Alaska’s goods and resources, and supports the visitor-based economy and federal government activity is critical to Alaska’s economy. The last statewide bond issue was in 2002 and included more than $200 million in projects throughout the state. As we saw in 2002, the use of state funds allowed projects to move from design to completion much faster than the lengthy process that federal funding entails. GO bond-funded projects are cost efficient by the mere fact they are completed sooner and therefore subjected to less cost escalation. Like any statewide bond issue, there is a wide range of projects on the list, and a wide range of geographical support. There is something for most people, whether it is an Anchorage congestion relief project, a badly needed bridge in rural Alaska, safety improvements on the Seward Highway, traffic improvements in Fairbanks and Ketchikan or statewide emergency bridge repairs. I urge you to become informed on the bond projects for the November election and vote to keep moving Alaska forward with improvements to transportation. John MacKinnon is the executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska. He is the former deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
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