AJOC EDITORIAL: Wrapping up a wild year from ANWR to Zinke
Just a few days remain in 2017, and what a year it has been since the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
While the Alaska Legislature still can’t agree on a solution to the state’s budget woes and has nearly run out of the politically-accessible savings accounts, in a welcome change it has had no bigger friend than the leader of the executive branch in Washington, D.C.
As this column was being written the news came that a bill is on its way to Trump’s desk to massively overhaul the tax system and hand Alaska its longtime, No. 1 goal of opening the coastal plain of …
ANWR: The Democrats in the Senate couldn’t stop it this time, nor could their allies in the environmental extremist movement. We are a long way from first oil, and the lawsuit machine is no doubt cranking up, but there can be no doubt that the prospect of opening up another Prudhoe Bay bodes well for Alaska’s future.
Budget battle: The Legislature spent a record 211 days in session this year, partly thanks to its divided houses’ inability to compromise and partly because of Gov. Bill Walker’s October special session that transformed from a supposed “revenue” session to a referendum on the criminal justice reform bill passed barely a year earlier.
Cannabis: The sky hasn’t fallen in Alaska after the legalization of cannabis in 2014, with the first legal sale in October 2016. Prohibitionists have attempted to overturn the state vote in the Mat-Su, on the Kenai Peninsula and in Fairbanks, but voters have resoundingly rejected every effort to turn back the clock.
Dean Don: Rep. Don Young assumed the title of “Dean of the House” after Michigan Rep. John Conyers was forced to resign amid multiple sexual harassment allegations and settlements of those allegations. There’s no shortage of legendary stories about Young over his four decades in Congress — including one that surfaced this year about brandishing a knife at former Speaker John Boehner — but thankfully none that resemble the daily revelations coming out of DC, Hollywood and New York.
EIS: Probably more Alaskans know what EIS stands for than any other state population, and environmental impact statements are now underway for the Liberty offshore Arctic project, the Nanushuk onshore discovery by Armstrong and the 211-mile road to the Ambler mining district.
Fake news: The media created this term in order to discredit Trump’s win, and the president has turned it into a club to bash the ever-shrinking credibility of an industry once regarded as a check on power that is not even bothering to hide its progressive agenda anymore.
GDP: After never crossing the 3 percent growth mark in eight years under President Barack Obama, GDP has steadily averaged 3 percent under Trump as the stock market soars. Even before tax reform passed the Federal Reserve now estimates fourth quarter GDP will be 4 percent.
Harassment: The story of the year, as the mountain of allegations against Hollywood mogul and Democrat heavyweight Harvey Weinstein has unleashed a tsunami of pent-up accusations that shows no signs yet of ebbing that have brought down some of the biggest names in media, politics and entertainment who have largely spent years portraying themselves as champions of women’s rights.
ISIS: After Obama downplayed the rise of ISIS and sat by as it ran roughshod over Iraq and Syria committing atrocity after atrocity, less than a year after Trump became Commander-in-Chief the “caliphate” has been routed from its capitals of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. Although much like the GDP numbers, the media isn’t much interested in reporting on this tremendous military success.
Jerusalem: Yes, it is the capital of Israel and yet another example of Trump keeping a promise where his predecessors going back to Bill Clinton have not. If you haven’t watched UN Ambassador Nikki Haley give it to the Security Council, it is worth a view for the refreshing sound of a nation that is unashamed of exercising its sovereignty rather than be cowed by the constraints of “international opinion.”
King Cove: The road is on its way to being built, again to the consternation of environmental groups who care not a whit for the people of the region and would not live for a minute under the conditions they want to impose on others.
LNG: Gov. Bill Walker got some serious face time in China with its president and Trump. Whether the joint development agreement with the Chinese corporations is simply a memorandum of understanding by another name will become more clear in the coming year.
Media meltdown: A continuation on the fake news, the more the media protests like Fredo Corleone that it is smart and wants respect, the more they trample on their own feet trying to unearth the smoking gun on Russian collusion by Trump. There have been nearly as many corrections, retractions and resignations surrounding the Trump-Russia story as there have been sexual harassment allegations.
Nanushuk: The discovery by Armstrong Energy keeps getting bigger. Now estimated at more than 2 billion barrels while still barely delineated, the record amounts bid per acre in the formation at the state lease sale bodes well for future production regardless of how long it takes to develop ANWR.
Obamacare: The biggest GOP debacle of the year, Obamacare still exists as the law of the land after Congress failed to repeal and replace it this past summer despite seven years of promises of what Republicans would do if they had the House, Senate and White House. The individual mandate repeal is a start but fixing the broken system is a huge item still on the to-do list.
PFD: For the second year in a row it was set below the statutory formula, this time by the Legislature after Walker vetoed half of it in 2016 and had his action upheld by the Supreme Court. The fight to enshrine it in the Constitution is now on, and is likely to be led by the unlikely duo of arch-conservative Sen. Mike Dunleavy and staunch liberal Sen. Bill Wielechowski in the coming year.
Quintillion: The Anchorage telecom has completed its Arctic fiber network around the coast of Alaska and turned on its high-speed service Dec. 1. By any measure an impressive infrastructure accomplishment, rural Alaska has another entry to the information superhighway.
Rocket Man: Trump being Trump, he called the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man” in a speech to the UN after several missile tests and a nuclear test over the past year. The missiles are showing increasing ability to reach the US mainland and that means a huge amount of federal dollars are going to be flowing to Alaska as the first line of defense at Fort Greely.
Salmon: A bountiful harvest of salmon in virtually every area of the state was a highlight of 2017, with record harvest of chum in the Northwest in a boon to that area’s limited economy. The downsides were Cook Inlet reds and Southeast kings, neither of which look better in 2018.
Tax cuts: The media has trashed the tax overhaul constantly, and is pointing to their polls of the public who has heard nothing good from them about the bill. We’ll see how the polling looks as soon as February when nearly every paycheck gets bigger thanks to less withholding.
Uber: Alaska became the last state in the nation to allow ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft to operating here. In a rare wise move, the Legislature prohibited local jurisdictions from piling regulations on top of the companies.
Virgin: Alaska Airlines closed on its deal to acquire Virgin America and is still experiencing some growing pains, but the company has the cash, the assets and the management to iron them out.
Waiver: One of the few worthwhile aspects of the Affordable Care Act ended up benefitting Alaska when Health and Human Services approved an innovation waiver to help cover the costs of the state reinsurance program. It’s a simple redirection of federal subsidies from premium support to paying high-cost claims, but it is a model that can work elsewhere by giving states more control.
Xtra revenue: Better prices and higher production have the state projected to take in $250 million more than previously expected after the Revenue Department released its latest forecast on Dec. 12.
Yakutat: An interesting exploration project is going on at Icy Cape near Yakutat with potentially huge deposit of heavy minerals such as garnet. The big positive is that no major processing or leeching is needed to extract what could produce millions per year in revenue for the Mental Health Trust that owns the land.
Zinke: Nearly an honorary Alaskan at this point, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has ordered the resource review of NPR-A and ANWR, elevated the King Cove road to a high priority and tapped Alaskans Joe Balash, Tara Sweeney and Steve Wackowski to join his staff.