Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Budget Holes

 

June 1, 2020



Last month we said nice things about Washington State Governor Jay Inslee (Today’s Catch: Credit Where It’s Due), acknowledging his veto of a pair of pretty transparent power grabs put forth by some state legislators at the bidding of the Coastal Conservation Association.

No good deed goes unpunished. Shortly after we wrote our editorial, Governor Inslee proclaimed that he would only grant liberties to the locked-down “non-essential” taxpayers of the State of Washington, over the course of the next four months, if they behaved themselves and followed his directives until then.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Under the “Western States Pact,” the governors of Washington, Oregon and California have conspired to keep the West Coast closed to normalcy until they have wrested an as yet undefined measure of pain from the public and an equally undefined quantity of federal aid. A cynic would say that much of the aid the governors will be demanding will go toward filling holes in the state budgets entirely unrelated to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

There is one bright spot on the West Coast… up north. If any state can really use an injection of cash it’s the beleaguered state of Alaska, which is facing some difficult decisions on how to weather the dramatic decline in oil revenues and the increasing cost of the state’s operations.

So it’s refreshing that Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy has announced plans for reopening segments of the Alaskan economy, balancing the critical need to slow the rate of the COVID-19 infection with the equally important necessity to resume economic activity.

Much of this economic activity will take place in and around Bristol Bay, as the annual salmon season begins. Governor Dunleavy has issued a directive to manage the fishery, Health Mandate 17, which implements protective measures for independent commercial fishing vessels. More information can be found in the UFA’s guidance on page 24 of this issue.

Beginning Friday, May 8, 2020, Alaska allowed most “non-essential” businesses to reopen, with safeguards. These safeguards included 50 percent capacity for retail, restaurants, and similar businesses, as well as 50 percent capacity, or up to 20 patrons, for personal care services, social and religious gatherings and swimming pools. Fitness centers, bars, libraries, and museums were allowed to open at 25 percent capacity.

Contrast this plan to that of Washington Governor Inslee, whose budget is facing a $7 billion shortfall due to the pandemic alone. Inslee’s plan allows grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and food supply chains to continue to serve the public.

Governor Inslee, however, prohibits pretty much everything else. For example, gatherings of people are forbidden, until further notice, for social, spiritual and recreational purposes, including everything from weddings to kids’ playdates. The big hole in the Washington State budget won’t get any smaller as long as the state’s revenue producers are forced to remain closed.

At press time Alaska had no new cases of COVID-19 and the state was reporting a total of 10 deaths from the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began late last year. During the same period, Washington State had a total of 841 deaths from the virus. Using the standard formula of “per-100,000 population” Alaska’s 1 per 100k looks pretty good compared to Washington State’s 5 per. In 2018 the leading cause of death in both states was cancer, but Alaska saw 54 cancer deaths per 100,000 people vs. Washington’s 315. Heart disease was 71 in Washington but only 46 in Alaska. Accidental death in Alaska (23) was slightly higher than in Washington (19) but after that the numbers simply look much better for Alaska across the board.

Clearly the access to fresh air, clean water and wild seafood is keeping Alaskans healthy. Unlike those of us living under the Western States Pact, Alaskans are also allowed to go to the gym, the library and church. The ability of Alaskans to go back to work and support their families also helps the state budget.

Each community in Bristol Bay seems to have developed its own COVID-19 plan. West Coast fishermen are used to complying with byzantine and duplicative regulations, but this year’s season promises to be even more difficult, confusing and frustrating as fishermen and processors navigate the maze of local, state and federal quarantine and personal protective equipment mandates.

But fishermen are nothing if not adaptable, and the State of Alaska is working to make the process as smooth as possible under the circumstances. In fact, many fishermen from the lower 48 who get a taste of freedom this summer in the Bay might think twice before coming back behind the iron curtain to shelter in place while Governor Inslee continues to dig his $7 billion hole.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email: editor@fishermensnews.com

 
 

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