Issues, in the news

Saturday, January 24, 2015

This article by Dermot Cole was posted in the Alaska Dispatch News.  It is based upon an interview with Mr. David Teal, Legislative Director, from Juneau.  Mr. Teal is a very credible man with a stellar reputation and many, many years of state service.  Session Watchers will definitely want to read his opinion.

Mr. Teal thinks additional revenues should be considered as well as cuts, immediately.  I agree with him as far as revenues should be on the table this session; however, unlike most people, I’m not thinking of traditional revenue streams such as a raid on the PFD, income and/or sales taxes.  Mr. Teal did not suggest anything that specific either; he just spoke of ‘revenues’.

All in it Together

All in it Together

In my opinion, the revenue side of the budget is the unfinished business of the past legislature.  As the appropriating body, the legislature did not finish their job before passing SB21.  They need to do so now.  I know some individual senators and representatives tried. I don’t fault anyone individually. I’m aware of the bully tactics used by the Majority under the Parnell administration.  It was disgraceful – but it is time to put that aside and move forward.

Because the Body did not connect the dots,  and the Body did not address what it knew would result in great negative impacts on the budget, it’s actions did great harm to all Alaskans.  Collectively, it did not do it’s duty.  It was irresponsible to say the least.

On the up side, most of the ones who pushed through the out-of-balance tax regime are still there and may choose this opportunity to redeem themselves.

This session, the legislature should look at all industry and program tax credits, loopholes and state subsidies, and close them – including those under SB21. That should off-set the deficit somewhat.   All those millions will add up.

At the same time, we the public need to support Governor Walker.  He has a rough road to hoe.  If we see our elected leaders being bullish, or anything acting less than statesmanlike, we can call them on it via email, social media, letters to the newspapers, etc.  Anything less than vigorous, healthy, debate from elected leadership is unacceptable.

All efforts combined should get us through this until next year and we can see where we are then. It isn’t the same as the crash in the eighties, we have some money saved and it isn’t time to panic.  It IS time to hold the legislature accountable for this budget mess and open up industry tax regimes and state industry specific subsidies for corrective action.

We are all in this together.  Let’s do our part and keep Session 29 on it’s toes.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Governor Bill Walker delivered his State of the Budget.  His message was reassuring.  His administration stands ready to make the hard decisions needed to weather the fiscal storm.  He leads by example and takes a frugal approach first, before asking others to do the same.  He then challenges others to do the same; that’s leadership.  And, I like his analogy of himself to a carpenter with a tool box.  He will use the hand tools necessary now, and break out the heftier power tools as needed; that’s process thinking.Waiting is over

Governor Walker speaks like the rest of us; straightforward, confident, and determined.  He understands process.  Many of his critics do not.  After his State of the State speech, he was criticized in the Majority press conference for not providing a detailed plan.  Details will come – it takes time and thought to get the details if you are a deliberate and thorough man.  I appreciate deliberate and thorough decision makers faced with such a serious task.

Governor Walker’s State of the State delivered renewed hope for so many Alaskans; his State of the Budget delivered confidence – together, he underscored trust.

The Governor received an overall passing grade from legislators.  From this voters point of view, I think not – for my renewed hope, confidence in the administration, and, finally, trust in the Governor, I give him an A++.  Governor Bill Walker, you knocked it out of the park.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Governor-Elect Nov 14_2014

Governor Bill Walker delivered his first State of the State and it moved me to tears.  Thank you every single voter who voted him into office.  Thank you every volunteer who lent a helping hand.  We now have a Governor who is trustworthy, humble and smart.  He will never forget he works for the people and will always have the people of this state in his heart.  I like his mantra “let’s get to work”.  Whether you voted for him or not, all Alaskans now have the Dream Team at the helm and we should all be thankful.  I agree with the Governor; it is time to put party lines aside and get to work!  It’s time.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The comments in this article are more interesting than the article itself.  I do like articles like this one Alaska Dispatch News publishes that bring hard topics into the light of day.  Nothing can be made better until it is open for discussion.  Kudo’s Dispatch.10313974_291490021015562_5618556076462250486_a

Sexual abuse allegations expose simmering racial tensions in rural Alaska

Institutionalized public policy that says to brown people “you don’t count as much” has been happening for generations and can’t be fixed overnight. Boarding schools, supported by many, tear apart the fabric of a family and is not the answer.

For starters, all federal and state policies that result in the economic separation, imposed poverty, degradation and dis-empowerment of Alaska Native peoples needs to be scrubbed off the books and made right.  Start scrubbing lawmakers!

People in the villages have the answers to what is needed within each village; they need to be left to do it. Village residents can, and will, do what they need to do to restore a great rural lifestyle.

Government can only strive for equal protection, equal education, and equal economic opportunity under public law. And, the controversy over subsistence must be resolved too so rural residents can harvest plenty of food without so much stifling regulation.

Community wellness, I’m all for it.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

I hope readers join me in Session Watch this year.  Facebook, E news, and Gavel Alaska bring state government into our homes and makes it so much easier to be civic minded than in years past.  Session Watch can be exciting, interesting, confusing, boring, and fun to talk about – all at different times.  But, state Government doesn’t feel far away anymore.

Apathy no more!  Apathy is everyone’s enemy.  Get informed, get involved, get busy:)

A list of pre-filed legislation is featured in today’s news.  I’m watching for bills that may harm rural Alaska, those that look like simple distractions from the Budget discussion, and bills that may grow some feet and get some traction.

Of the list in today’s article, the only bill I think will get any traction is HB60.  This bipartisan legislation aims to reform reporting sexual assault and abuse in the Alaska National Guard; its got some good stuff in it, but I think it falls short.  HB60 needs to define the powers, duties, and responsibilities of the Commander in Chief  just in case we ever get another governor that doesn’t understand his/her role as Commander. Perhaps, a definition for what constitutes a cover up should also be included.

Read the entire article on the Alaska Dispatch News:  Pre-filed legislation made public

Second round of pre-filed legislation made public

Thursday, January 16. 201510313974_291490021015562_5618556076462250486_a

A cut to Revenue Sharing is the headline that caught my eye this morning; this cut is nothing new or original.

It’s so easy for legislators to go to Revenue Sharing first. I hope they are reminded of the devastating impacts of Governor Murkowski’s de-funding of Revenue Sharing for three years in a row had on small local governments.

Without ANY visible champions for rural Alaska in elected leadership at this time, this cut will be a no-brainier – and only the first of many others for rural affairs I expect.

Why not amend the law to exclude cities with a population over 2500 and/or those with a tax base, or something else more creative? Lawmakers must keep in mind the state’s constitutional responsibility to provide essential public services to local governments. Many very small local governments need Revenue Sharing to have enough money to pay a a few administrators to operate its public utilities and keep up with its basic paperwork.

Without our vibrant rural character, we become nothing more than an industrial export park of Seattle; champions are badly needed. Please stand up.

See the entire article on the Alaska Dispatch News:

Senate leader proposes cutting municipal revenue sharing, other programs

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Another big inherited mess for Governor Walker to straighten out. I am confident he is up to the task.

The National Guard scandal still hangs in the air unresolved but now one part of it has reached the state court system. I’m glad. AG Richards has also announced in a separate article that the scandal will require public airing for healing to begin.  I couldn’t agree more.10313974_291490021015562_5618556076462250486_a

This article a few weeks ago in the Dispatch reports on a lawsuit challenging the legality of a termination by then-Governor Parnell of National Guard Officer Jorgensen.

Blameless or guilty, Jorgensen deserves her day in court and the general public deserves to know ALL the facts around the entire NG scandal. Governor Walker and AG Richard’s appointment of a special investigator is the only way to go to begin the healing process from this terrible scandal. I hope an investigation results in making whole all victims, punishment of all guilty parties, fixes of systemic problems identified, and satisfaction for the general public that this won’t happen again.

It seems to me the parties referenced as incompetent in the federal OCI report had to have been a reference to then- Governor Parnell and his senior staff. I can hardly believe how badly he botched all this as a man who claims to be a lawyer.

You can find a link to the state court documents related to the Jorgensen side of this lawsuit at

https://www.dropbox.com/s/5q5c9c5zqufcv5e/Jorgensen_v_State.pdf?dl=0

Any future documents regarding this lawsuit and any other National Guard scandal subject matter will be dropped at this link as they become available.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A large cut back for UAF is reported in the Alaska Dispatch News today by Dermot Cole,  “UA Prepares for hundreds of job cuts.”10313974_291490021015562_5618556076462250486_a

This is a very large lay-off; the kind no one wants to read about. We won’t know the actual economic impacts on people or community for awhile or until the newspaper provides an update.

I must commend UAF on its spirit of cooperation as described in this article. It sets a gold standard for other state agencies as Governor Walker and the Legislature grapple with low oil and large deficits. Kudos to UAF staff.

I hope most of the cut backs are unfilled vacant or temporary positions and not jobs that cut into program delivery. I also hope the cuts don’t fall squarely on the shoulders of rural campuses which, naturally, cost the most to operate.

I will be interested and following this story to learn how this is cut back is managed to mitigate the negative impacts of a massive lay off on the workforce and the community.

I expect the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development in partnership with UAF will offer a host of services (such as job search and/or job training) to the people and families directly affected by this cutback. Those services can help people who find themselves suddenly out of a job get through something like this; however, it is still a very hard situation no matter what!

I do hope UAF can save their Arctic research program. I can see UAF as the ‘go to’ University for students wanting degrees in this field.

My heart goes out to all the impacted workers, their families, and the Fairbanks community at large.

Read the entire article, Alaska Dispatch News:  UA Prepares for hundreds of job cuts…

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This article discusses a model from UAA/ISER economist for a sustainable budget.  It is about thirty years overdue. Now, the entire government culture of “use it or lose it” needs to be reset.  Unfortunately, there is not an easy reset button.10313974_291490021015562_5618556076462250486_a

Cuts need to be smart and gradual; every branch of government needs to be on board. We cannot overlook Federal funds that come to Alaska with plenty of strings attached, and that suck up unobligated general funds with their match requirements.

Lawmakers should begin with a definition of what is, and what isn’t, an appropriate and/or constitutionally required state expenditure. Also, a sustainable budget cap needs ample flexibility to adjust for inflation and population swings.

Lawmakers, the Executive Branch, and Law have big challenges in front of them; I have high expectations.  We need to elect leaders that can and will meet this challenge.  At least we have the Executive Branch covered with the removal of Parnell, and the election of Governor Walker.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the budget deficit alone ends up in special session

Read the entire article on Alaska Dispatch News at the link below.

http://www.adn.com/article/20150112/oil-price-decline-trims-500-million-previous-economic-forecast#.VLU9GWOIRss.email

LeadDog Alaska

 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Article of interest in today’s news discusses Alaska LNG.

Unfortunately for me, I am now a big fat skeptic of this project. First, I must ask “What gas?”. I need some assurance that the bizarre partnership created under SB138 has approval, or has applied for permission, to move gas off the Slope into any pipeline, to any market, any place in the world. Or, someone please report the appropriate time for that application to be received by the appropriate state agency. As of the Commissioner’s testimony last Session, no application had been received to date.
10313974_291490021015562_5618556076462250486_a
Secondly, I don’t believe our proximity to Asian markets will reduce the cost of transportation by one cent as claimed in this article. Someone would have to prove that to me.

And, finally, I don’t like the SB138 partnership giving the state a minority share in the project; never did. None of us general public people know the terms of the partnership, but, already, I don’t trust it as negotiated by the former administration (Parnell/Balash).

Hopefully, my skepticism will be swept away over the coming months with increased public disclosure.

Thankfully, I do have confidence and trust in Governor Bill Walker and his administration. Things are looking up.

Read the entire article on the Alaska Dispatch News
Despite falling oil and gas prices, Alaska LNG project on track

LeadDog Alaska

Sunday, January 11, 2015

An excellent article addressing the consequences of Alaska’s current oil tax structure, and what elected leaders need to do for the state to survive it, is available in the Alaska Dispatch News today.

I think any tax structure is written to be amended and updated as needed. And, given the state’s fiscal reality, it is time to amend SB21 now.

Fortunately, we have a new Governor with deep industry knowledge. I hope he offers a reasonable tax amendment to stop the bleeding, as well as cut state spending, and reduce the size of government. So far, I think he is doing a great job by suspending mega-project spending.

Unfortunately, we still have the same GOP majority (that helped Parnell create this fiscal mess) running the legislature. I can only hope for legislative sanity this year; unlike I witnessed last year. There must be a meeting of the minds during Session 29 in order to weather this storm; the general public needs to stay tuned and stay involved.

A must read:”Alaska has options to stall fiscal crash, but oil tax rewrite is a must.”

http://adn.com

OPINION: The first step Alaska needs to take is to begin collecting a fair return for our oil. No other immediate…

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