State Report AK 3: A Short Report on Alaska
A Short Report on Alaska
by Doug RuzickaI have read many of the reports concerning the target states for the Free State Project and I am compelled to offer a short report on my home state of Alaska.
This report will not throw statistics around nor is it a "for or against" report. I am submitting it to dispel the somewhat rosy picture that the two Alaska reports paint. This report is a "reality check".
The reports previously submitted are to be commended in regards to statistics and facts. Mostly, they are accurate. Yet, neither report tells anyone "how it really is" to live in Alaska.
Let me begin by saying that I am a resident of Alaska having moved here from Nebraska in the fall of 1992. I am married with six children. At present, only the youngest three remain at home.
I live on the Kenai Peninsula near a little place on the map called Anchor Point. I live on the road system in a small cabin with my family. If you live in a city you are an urban Alaskan. If you live on the road system you are a rural Alaskan. If you live off of the road system you are a bush Alaskan.
I am a public speaker and travel "Outside" (anywhere outside of Alaska) twice a year on speaking tours. The Kenai Peninsula is sometimes regarded as the "Banana belt of Alaska" with winter temperatures that can get to 35 below zero and as high as the low 80's in the summer, but it is usually not that extreme. It is typically rainy in the late summer with large amounts (12-16 feet) of snow in the winter.
The southern coastal area is called the South Central part of Alaska and the climate is controlled by the Japanese current which carries much moisture and milder temperatures to my area.
North and west of the Alaska range is considered the Interior of Alaska. It is here that Alaska sees temperatures as low as 50-60 below zero (the record is -100) with summertime highs in the 90's. It is a drier climate with less snow and rain.
The northern most part of Alaska (north of the Brooks Range) is considered the "slope". It is here that the temperatures are the most extreme. It is not a highly populated area.
One factor that affects some people are the long winter nights. The lengthy darkness in the winter affects many people. The old timers call it cabin fever. There is a medical term for it, but I can't recall what it is at the moment. It is a depletion of the vitamin balance in your body that sunlight usually gives you. It doesn't bother me at all. It can be treated by installing full spectrum lighting in your home or going to a tanning salon. The long winter nights seem to be particularly hard on the women. Where I live the sun rises just at 10 a.m. and sets just after 3 p.m. on winter solstice. The days are even shorter the farther north that you go until you reach the Arctic Circle and beyond that the sun doesn't even rise. The opposite is true in the summer.
At present Alaska does not have any state income or state sales taxes. This may be changing in the not too distant future as Alaska is experiencing a runaway budget. However, when, not if, these taxes are imposed they will most likely be the lowest in the nation in the beginning. Many cities have a city sales tax and many of the boroughs have a borough sales tax. (We have boroughs, not counties). It is no longer true that mineral royalties pay for 85% of the budget. A great part of the state budget is now carried by the rapidly depleting Constitutional Budget Reserve, our state savings account.
Alaska is an "owner state", meaning that the people own the mineral rights collectively and rarely individually. Very few landowners own their mineral rights. Alaska does not control the destiny of its oil. It cannot be exported by law. It is for domestic use only. My understanding is that this is a federal thing and not subject to change.
Employment is a bleak proposition in Alaska. While professionals, construction trades and those businesses supporting them flourish to a great degree, a very large portion of the remainder of Alaskans struggle with seasonal work at low wages. Here on the Kenai Peninsula we have a 4% unemployment rate in the summer and a 14-17% unemployment rate in the winter. 58% of the kids at the local school are at or below the poverty rate. It is a little better up north. All industries, or what is left of them, are fully manned. Don't come here believing that you will get a job on an oil rig or on the slope. It won't happen unless you know someone. Fishing is a dying industry. Timber is history. This year's tourism numbers are down 30%. Far too many jobs are seasonal service jobs at minimum wage. The opening of ANWR will not create a boom economy for Alaska like the pipeline did in the 70's.
Our legislature is predominately Republican, with most of those being moderates. The Alaskan Independence Party would be sympathetic to the free state cause, but the agenda of all AIP members is a new statehood vote with many AIP members embracing secession and nothing else. I believe that the AIP, as well as the Libertarian Party, would expect FSP'ers to join their ranks and not the other way around. Many AIP'ers reject the Libertarian Party because it is a national party, while the AIP is only a state party. They are not as chummy as they would have you believe.
Contrary to what you may believe, there is no free land in Alaska. 97% of the state is publicly owned. Do not expect this to change, even with 20,000 new voters. The Natives hold a great portion of it and they eagerly prosecute trespassers. The Homestead programs are history. All state land is disposed of by lottery or over the counter sales, with prices based on current assessments and requires a survey and sometimes some type of development at the cost of several thousands of dollars before title is given. Bush land is incredibly expensive to access. Some good wilderness land is available this way, as well as some rural and urban parcels. But, it is not free. Right now, real estate in Anchorage is at an all time high. House prices in Anchorage are through the roof. If you are a seller, good for you. But, if you're a buyer, good luck. Bring lots of cash. Lots.
Agriculture is a tough proposition. However, many folks do grow awesome gardens due to the long summer days, but many things require early starts in the house as well as a green house. It can be done and done well, but it requires a lot of attention. The Matanuska Valley is the agricultural center of the state. Dairy farming is one of the leading agricultural industries. Hay production also ranks right up there. Current hay (timothy grass) prices are $300 per ton. Alfalfa is shipped in from Canada. Pricey.
Hunting regulations are tough and strictly enforced. Poachers are scum here and few Alaskans think twice about reporting them. If you poach, be prepared to pay thousands in fines and confiscated equipment. Getting to game is the most difficult and expensive thing that I have ever experienced. The terrain does not favor the hunter. Fishing is very regulated and competitive as well.
There is lots of water here. Half or more of the state is marsh. Much, but certainly not all of the subsurface water has a high sulfur and iron content. My well is 18 feet deep and I have great water. My neighbor down the road had to go 100 feet and buy a filter system to make it potable.
Homeschooling is a breeze here, but will be facing local and state monitoring and accountability challenges in the near future. The public school system is good at the elementary level. Above that it's like anywhere else. If you live in a bush community it will be a native community and they can be very prejudiced against whites.
Yes, there is a dividend program here. This program pays each state resident a percentage of the mineral revenues received annually. This year's dividend will be about $1,100 for each Alaskan man, woman, and child. It can take up to two years to qualify. The politicians are trying very hard to take it away to cover budget deficits. They will succeed someday in eliminating it or diminishing it. DO NOT MOVE HERE FOR THE DIVIDEND! You will starve before you are eligible to get it.
Prices can be comparable to Outside (except housing). Anchorage has every store known to man, including Costco and Wal-Mart. A gallon of milk is near $3 in Anchorage. It's more where I live, close to $4. Gas is $1.81 a gallon. Propane is $2 per gallon.
I know that I do not paint a good picture of Alaska. I do this on purpose. What I want to impress upon everyone who considers Alaska as their state of choice is that they need to understand that this is a tough place to live. Do not come here expecting to live like Jeremiah Johnson. I tried. it didn't work. You will be separated from your family in the lower 48. You may not see them for a long time. Some of you will be resented by your family for leaving and taking the grand kids away. When you get here you most likely will not have family here or know any one. It will be tough to find affordable housing. It will be tough to find work. 20,000 people looking for work in Alaska at once or even over a long period may cause problems. People will distance themselves from you for a while; first to see what your game is, secondly because very few people here stay and folks are reluctant to make friends when they might leave next year. The town of Homer has a turnover rate of people moving in and out of 65% annually. If Alaska is chosen as the state to go to expect half to return back to their original homes.
The military presence is here to stay. They contribute greatly to our economy and are very welcome by nearly all Alaskans.
On the bright side, Alaska is like no other place on earth. It is the living embodiment of wild. You can live how you want with little criticism from anyone. The man with a $250,000 log home may live next door to a family that lives in a school bus, with no sense of arrogance. If you pull your own weight, you're OK. If you're on welfare, you're out. You can walk across the yard and encounter a mama moose and her calves. You may go fishing at the river and encounter a grizzly. With one inexpensive hunting license you can hunt moose, black bear, blacktail deer, caribou, sheep, and goats in some areas, without special permits. If you love to fish, there's no place like it. If you love to hike it cannot be beat. If you think earthquakes and volcanoes are cool (I do), then this is the place.
The people of Alaska are fiercely independent. Much of the "code of the north" still remains, but is being diluted by newcomers. Our famous Senator Ted Stevens does an awesome job of bringing Federal money to the state, but the state has become dependent upon it and sadly, all this federal money has made Alaska dependent upon the Feds. A lot of Alaskans want this Federal money. (I don't.)
One thing that I found very unique to Alaska was the ease of buying property. A very large percentage of property, including turnkey homes are owner financed, making it much easier to buy your own place here than any other place. I would have never been able to buy my own place Outside, but here I own 10 acres with a cabin and a house slowly under construction.
Some of the discussion on the forum talks of secession. There seems to be quite a bit of support for it by some of the Alaska advocates. Let me say this: forget it. While there are some here in Alaska that are secessionists, they are few in number. It is not as prevalent of a sentiment here as some would lead you to believe. Everyone I know and talk to is an American first and Alaskan second.
A voting force of 20,000 people will make a huge difference and thwart the moderate and liberal influences at work here in the state. Spread out in strategic areas, these voters will turn the tide of power away from those influences and establish a very welcome relief for many Alaskans. Forget the arguments of which party to join. There will be enough to start a new party, the Free State Party. (Just a thought.) Every election will reflect this influence. Personally, I pray for it to happen.
But, let me remind you all, IT WILL BE DIFFICULT.
If Alaska becomes the state of choice, let me help you move here. I can tell you what to bring and what to leave behind. I can tell you how to get your guns here. DON'T BELIEVE ANY STORIES ABOUT GUNS! I cross the international border eight times a year. I know. I can tell you what you need when you get here. I could write a book on how to move to Alaska.
If you all decide to come, count me as your first friend and neighbor. But, really think about it first. It's not like moving across the county.