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Alaska Editorials

Associated Press Updated: February 11, 2015 at 1:34 pm
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Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Feb. 9, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner : Reasons to keep Fort Wainwright's brigade

Fairbanks already has dodged one economic bullet with regard to the Army's presence; in two weeks, the community will be faced with another. As the military scales back from its wartime peak, it's looking at substantial active-duty personnel reductions at bases nationwide. Here in the Interior, that translates to the potential loss of up to 5,800 troops from Fort Wainwright — essentially the 1-25th Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

The same process is playing out in communities across the country. The force strength of the U.S. Army peaked at 570,000 during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that U.S. involvement in those countries has substantially waned, the Army is drawing back from a force size it no longer needs nor can sustain in peacetime. By 2017, it plans to reduce overall soldier numbers to 450,000. By 2019, that number will be 420,000 — an overall reduction of more than 25 percent.

Fort Wainwright already faced a potential brigade-level reduction once in recent years. In 2013, the Army was looking at a less pronounced version of the nationwide reorganization and reduction — at that time, it was projecting a drawdown to 490,000 soldiers by 2019. Fort Wainwright not only survived that round of cuts but would have seen a slight increase in active-duty numbers. But federal sequestration cuts tightened the Army budget further, leading to its current process.

The question of whether Fort Wainwright will be spared from cuts or see the full 5,800 lost is likely to be an all-or-nothing question. Army officials have repeatedly said they are looking to preserve force strength as much as possible despite reduced numbers, and that means cutting whole brigades rather than a percentage of each brigade. Reducing the number of soldiers in each brigade would lead to a "hollow Army" that would have many units on paper but would be less effective overall than if some brigades were deactivated entirely while others maintained their entire force strength.

It's important to note the substantial cuts the Army is undergoing — while painful for the force itself, the communities involved and the soldiers who will face a potentially involuntary end-of-service date — are necessary. To return federal spending to more sustainable levels, as was forced into effect by the sequestration process, departments across the government are scaling back. The Army is not and should not be exempt from those requirements, nor should the Interior be exempt from consideration for cuts despite the 2013 decision Fort Wainwright's brigade would remain intact. The end goal of all involved, from the Army to communities involved and individuals affected by the process, should be to come away from the troop reduction with minimum reduction in military readiness.

That said, there are plenty of reasons to support the retention of Fort Wainwright's brigade, from cold-weather readiness to training opportunities to access to massive range space south of the Tanana River opened up by the rail bridge recently built in Salcha. If history is any guide, Interior residents are likely to turn out in force to fight to keep troops here. The hearing at which the Army will seek public comment on its action will take place at 6 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Carlson Center. If you're inclined to keep Fort Wainwright's soldiers where they are and have something to contribute to the discussion, it would be worth your while to make the trip.

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Feb. 8, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: State spending cuts will be felt in Alaska's interior

With the session underway for three weeks, clarity on the nature and depth of cuts to the state has started to emerge. One thing is clear: there's going to be plenty of pain to go around. Hundreds of job cuts across state agencies would result from the revised budget announced by Gov. Bill Walker Thursday, and more will likely emerge as cuts are sorted out in state-funded organizations that determine where the axe will fall themselves. The seeds for the state budget situation were sown with oil at oil near $100 per barrel, and now that its value is half that amount, the reaping is underway.

Many of the cuts will be felt close to home. The University of Alaska system will take a hard hit under the proposal, and many of the 85 full-time positions slated for cuts in higher education will come from Fairbanks. If the budget passes as it stands now, UAF will lose nine jobs in its Community and Technical College, four from its Cooperative Extension Service and three from the main UAF campus. And in a particularly difficult cut, 23 research positions will be lost at the campus. The loss of research jobs is something of a double-whammy, as each dollar invested in research at the university has historically brought in an average of $6 in grant funds. With that multiplier going into effect in the wrong direction, it will be a hard hit for the campus' West Ridge to absorb.

Other state departments will also face cuts. The departments of Environmental Conservation, Natural Resources, Public Safety, and Labor and Workforce Development will lose close to two dozen positions apiece. Only three departments — Commerce, Corrections and Fish and Game — maintained current staffing levels.

There is some good, or at least less-bad, news — of the 300-odd positions the state is looking to eliminate, about half are already unfilled. That means fewer pink slips for our friends and neighbors, and less reshuffling of duties. But knowing that only 150 people were fired instead of 300 is no consolation if the person losing their job is your friend, spouse, or yourself.

There's no question, however, that these cuts are necessary. The state faces a massive deficit that can't be fully addressed in the short term without seismic, impractical cuts to the level of services the government offers. Our savings, even at the $550 million reduction in spending proposed by Gov. Walker, will be depleted in a few years unless oil prices rebound, more drastic cuts are made or other sources of revenue — like state sales or income taxes — are brought online.

This isn't the end of the conversation, of course. Gov. Walker is handing the budget to legislators, who will make their own refinements and adjustments to try and adapt the document to cause as little disruption to the state's residents and economy as possible. But with nearly $1,000 in cuts to state services per person in Alaska, it's a sure bet we'll all be impacted somehow.

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