OPINION: Fahrenheit 99501
The crux of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451 is his simple yet brilliant inversion of the traditional fireman from a protector to a destroyer.
Firemen in Bradbury’s dystopian American future don’t put out fires or save property and lives. They burn down houses and the books within.
Those who resist setting the fires or the government prohibitions against preserving written knowledge are now criminals targeted by a police state aided by supine citizens content to engross themselves in television and report on their neighbors.
As it goes in Anchorage, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and his pals on the Assembly are treating diners and dive bars as if they are secret stashes of ink and paper that must be scorched to save society.
Those who protested by opening for indoor service were summarily felled by a flamethrower of fines, injunctions and threats of contempt of court should they risk their livelihoods to keep up the fight.
Much like Bradbury’s firemen, Berkowitz and his uncaring cohort have turned the job description of a public servant on its head with their dismissal of public opinion, open derision for their critics, and disregard for the consequences of their actions or lack thereof.
Should that sound hyperbolic, it is difficult to fathom what the mayor and Assembly would do differently if their goal was to destroy small businesses while concurrently creating despair and dependence on government.
Look no further than the way the mayor and Assembly plan to distribute more than $156 million in CARES Act funds intended to be prioritized for economic relief and not progressive pet projects.
Just a bit more than $14 million, less than 10 percent, has been scraped together for the hospitality industry that was already reeling before Berkowitz’s Aug. 3 “reset” order that reset to zero many of its members’ revenue and their employees’ paychecks for another four weeks.
Meanwhile, $8 million, or more than half of what is set aside for the hospitality industry, is going to temporary government make-work jobs to line union pockets for recreation trails, “green” jobs and an “Indigenous Wayfinding” project.
Rather than preserving permanent jobs by ensuring shuttered businesses can break even on expenses and provide for their employees, the Assembly is sidetracked with building singletrack bike trails.
Winter is coming, which will mark the end of these seasonal jobs as well as the ability for restaurants to comply with the mayor’s mandates for outdoor service. Even the ones with enclosed heated tents.
But for every day between now and Dec. 30, and every day since March 1, the municipality will use $21 million in CARES funds to cover the previously budgeted payroll for police and firefighters by exploiting a perceived loophole in the Treasury Department guidance to claim all of those expenses are related to the coronavirus response despite the fact they plainly are not.
The beak-wetting union jobs and payroll backfilling alone total $29 million that could go to economic relief, and we’re not done yet.
We haven’t gotten to their plan to divert $12.5 million in CARES funds to address long-standing homeless service issues that should be paid for with municipal revenue such as the recently-approved retail alcohol tax that is specifically dedicated to funding first responders and “substance misuse treatment, prevention programs, detoxification or long-term addiction recovery facilities, mental and behavioral health programs and resources to prevent and address Anchorage’s homelessness crisis.”
They are going to use $3 million in CARES funds to start up their mental health first responder program that is also supposed to be paid for with the alcohol tax.
For those keeping track at home, that’s another $15.5 million on top of the above $29 million to total $44.5 million not going to economic relief.
A new health clinic in Girdwood is included for some reason at $5 million to bring a partial price tag for funding this Nero fiddling to nearly $50 million in non-economic relief.
All of this is bad enough, but worse is that there is still no way to access the meager economic relief funds that have been appropriated. The Assembly website simply says “This page will be updated with more information on programs as they roll out, with links to resources specific to each program. For example, if an application becomes available for Small Business and Nonprofit Relief grants, it will appear within the Small Business and Nonprofit Relief program section.”
When you check that line item on the page, it helpfully notes this money was appropriated in May and June. As of Aug. 24, there was no link to a grant application on the page. Same goes for the rental and mortgage assistance page that is supposed to have $20 million available.
The Mat-Su Borough had a grant application online Aug. 10 after approving a $13 million business relief program using its CARES funds in July.
No matter how much the mayor’s eyes well up with his crocodile tears or his voice quavers with contrived emotion, it matters little to the people he is hurting for their own good.
His concern is belied as counterfeit when compared against his lack of urgency to help businesses as he helps himself to federal economic relief money to pay for his political agenda while proclaiming he is above petty partisanship.
Berkowitz and his Assembly allies are no more public servants than Guy Montag was a real fireman, but at least Montag stopped lighting matches.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].