Sen. Pete Kelly and the discipline to spend every last dime


Sen. Pete Kelly, a government employee for a quarter-century, is using his government job to wage a holy war against government and taxes. 

A skilled performer before the camera, he uses the skills he learned long ago as a TV adman in Fairbanks, repeating simple phrases over and over.

One of his biggest fans in 1994, when Pete ran for state House, said his TV ads "espousing the virtues of the Chrysler automobiles" had led to a big increase for the local dealer. 

Alaskans aren't taxed too little, Pete said 24 years ago. The state government spends too much. He is still selling the same ideas, riding on a smile and a shoeshine.

With his elevation to president of the state Senate, he gained a statewide platform for his crusade, the anti-tax and anti-government leader of the Republican Party in Alaska. 

When Pete pontificates, he sounds like a lost Koch Brother,  a guy who sees government and the people who draw paychecks from federal, state and local sources as an unnecessary evil.  He is Mr. Capitalism, preaching that any private sector job, no matter how humble, is morally superior to any public sector job, no matter how difficult.

Pete's speeches can be boiled down to: Government bad. Taxes bad. Democrats bad. Environmentalists bad. Private sector good. Republicans good. Oil companies good. Freedom good.

But the truth is that Pete is a career government man.  He's been at the trough much longer than many of the Alaska Democrats he says are opposed to freedom. One of his stories is that Alaska Democrats are Socialists, while Republicans are righteous.

Pete was elected to the state House in 1994, the state Senate in 1998, and became a lobbyist for the University of Alaska in 2003, starting at $75,000. (He also tried to get a government job as mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, but lost.)

In 2009, former Gov. Sean Parnell gave him a cushy post as "liaison between the governor and the university system and the departments of education, labor and natural resources," Parnell's spokeswoman said at the time.  Exactly why the state needed that job filled was never explained.

The job description changed over time. By 2011, Pete was still a Parnell special assistant, working in Fairbanks as "liaison to the  Department of Military and Veterans Affairs," earning between $50,000 and $100,000. (The exact amounts are not listed on state disclosure forms.)

When he first ran for office in Fairbanks, he said the state should fund "one or two campuses adequately" and shut down the rural campuses. When he became the lobbyist for the University of Alaska and upped his pension potential, he didn't say things like that. He said the university needed more money.

On the financial disclosure form that Pete filed with the state last year he said he is a full-time legislator.

He listed his sources of income as his paycheck and other compensation as a state legislator, his Permanent Fund Dividend and his defined-benefit pension from the state of Alaska. He made between $20,000 and $50,000 a year on his state pension.

I find it impossible to  reconcile Pete's long government track record with his endless harangues about the virtues of private employment and the evils of government.  He is one of that elite group of government officials in Alaska who act as if they detest government, but they never fail to cash their government checks.

The warring camps that Pete describes—government on one side arrayed against freedom-loving private-sector Alaskans on the other—exist only in his imagination. The lines have never been that clear in this state. Only in the oversimplification befitting a TV ad.

 He refers to government workers as "they," as if he's not one of them.  He's got his personal pronouns mixed  up. Like all of us in Alaska, Pete depends on government a great deal more than he cares to admit. His vehemence is misplaced.

The other day Pete and fellow GOP legislators praised themselves as models of discipline for refusing to enact taxes or raise taxes in Alaska.

Pete and Co. have displayed discipline alright—the discipline to spend every last dime of state reserves. The Senate Republicans refuse to deviate from this goal, putting the needs of the moment first and neglecting all of those who will follow. 

Thanks to this disciplined approach, the state has blown through $14 billion over the last four years. That money could have easily generated $750 million a year in perpetuity, enough to pay more than half of the costs of education in Alaska. It could have helped keep future taxes down in Alaska, but it would have required real discipline. 

That we've dissipated that earning potential—with its inestimable value to future generations of Alaskans—is not evidence of discipline, but of recklessness. Some of that $14 billion—and its earning power—should have been saved to help all future generations. Squandering this wealth is nothing to boast about.

The steadfast opposition of Kelly and nearly all Republicans in Juneau to any taxes means we will have more of the same this year. The GOP has the discipline to continue to spend about $7 million a day of an irreplaceable inheritance, hoping that no one will notice.

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Dermot Cole6 Comments