Oil wealth plans; OK, we've got a lot of money, now what do we do?
''Statehood was about the worst thing that happened to Alaska.'' Cliff Hudson , a bluff bush pilot, takes another bite out of a taco and glances out the window of his Talkeetna home, not far from the snow-shod foot of Mt. McKinley.
Though his eyes follow a bird pecking away at a slab of bacon on the porch, his thoughts are more on an Alaska unencumbered by rules, regulations, and man. ''Statehood,'' he says, retrieving his complaint, ''has brought taxes, politicians, and more people.''
Alaska is no place for understatement. Passions here run as deeply as the permafrost about subjects ranging from hunting rights to highway building.
Today the swirl of frontier politics surrounds what to do with the biggest booty in Alaska's history--oil revenues from Prudhoe Bay. The battle of the revenue bulge grips everyone, from trappers to taxi drivers. It is a debate the rest of recession-pinched America would love to indulge in.
To some environmentalist ''greenies,'' more money means more people tromping around the woods. They'd just as soon see the oil stay in the ground. At the other extreme are the ''boomers,'' who would like to see the oil riches used to underwrite a great industrial leap forward.
Until recently world oil prices had ratcheted relentlessly upward, allowing the state to excite--but not please--almost everyone. The budget ballooned from Legislature often left clutching funds for favorite projects.
At its most extravagant, one lawmaker suggested the state bail out Chrysler Corporation. ''There was a sense that there was enough money to do everything,'' says Rep. Hugh Malone, a land surveyor from Kieni. ''You didn't have to fight with anybody--you just said yes.''
The Detroits were green with envy, if not crimson with anger. In fiscal 1979- 80, the most recent year for statistics, total state and local spending in Alaska (per $1,000 of personal income) ran four times the national average and more than double the rate of the next biggest spender, the District of Columbia. This year, even after slimmed-down revenue projections, the state will have more than $4 billion in its till--close to $10,000 for every person. Yet Alaska is shifting anxiously as world oil prices, and thus state revenues, drop.
With revenue estimates for 1982 and '83 down $3.7 billion from what was expected just nine months ago, funding strategies are sharpening. At least two broad approaches prevail: build up a tidy nest egg for the future, or spend now on capital improvements (such as roads and sewers).