Curtis Thayer

GUEST COMMENTARY: The deception of Stand for Salmon

The Alaska Chamber has long been an outspoken voice for pro-business policies that grow our economy and create economic opportunities for Alaskans. For several years, especially during the recent economic slump, we’ve advocated for a state fiscal plan that limits government spending and supports private sector growth. Our annual public opinion survey found that 60 percent of Alaskans rate the state’s economy as poor. It’s a shocking number, and an indicator of how pessimistic Alaskans are about their ability to work and make a living here. Alaska already has the unwanted distinction of having the highest unemployment rate in the country. Getting our economy and our state back on track requires some hard decisions and a vision for the future, but, in the short term, we have some serious obstacles right before us. Alarms now are sounding on an issue that few Alaskans are aware of. The Stand for Salmon ballot measure, a misguided attempt to improve salmon habitat protections, is slated to be on the November general election ballot. Alaskans will get to decide on this issue that chamber members believe to be among the most serious threats to our state economy in years. It only takes one read of the eight-page document to convince most Alaskans that this ballot measure is both un-Alaskan and unsound. Legal experts have analyzed the ballot measure’s language and are shocked by its breadth, complexity, vague undefined terms and its unstated presumptions. Alaska is already home to a world-class permitting system that allows responsible development and successful fish habitat management to co-exist. This ballot measure is a radical overhaul of a system that works, and it provides no additional benefit to the environment. But that isn’t surprising since neither Alaska businesses nor leaders were consulted in the drafting of the measure. Outside money and outside influence led to the creation of this measure and the result is a dumpster fire. It is unwieldy, unpredictable, and dangerous. The fish habitat measure ensures that our economy will continue to shrink, joblessness will grow, and our state will continue to see an out migration of people. Outside environmental groups and their wealthy outside benefactors are not the people who should be weighing in on policies in Alaska. These are people with a longstanding agenda, and they don’t care if they sabotage economic growth and jobs in their misguided mission to enforce extreme fish habitat regulations to the exclusion of everything else. These activists, whose single largest donor is a Boston billionaire, don’t live here, so why would they care if our current economic recession deepens? They would rather turn Alaska into one giant, inaccessible national park. When the leader of an Alaska Native corporation warns the public, “there will not be another significant project built in rural Alaska if this ballot measure passes,” that’s a serious matter. When the construction industry says that building or improving roads, bridges, and runways will become exorbitantly expensive or impossible if this measure passes, that should provoke a sustained outcry. When the president of the proposed Alaska LNG project says that passage of this ballot measure would make the gas line project “darn near impossible” to build, that should convince us to take action now. And, when all four leading candidates running for governor, including our current governor, are unified in stating their opposition to this measure, that must motivate us to band together to ensure its defeat in November. Alaskan voters need to get up to speed on this issue. Once they do, I believe they will firmly reject it. You can learn more about this misguided ballot measure at standforak.com. Curtis W. Thayer is lifelong Alaskan and serves as president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber

GUEST COMMENTARY: Wealth creation, not taxes, is the solution to state fiscal woes

The rumors swirling around about yet another special legislative session devoted to a broad-based tax are both troubling and wrong. This whole narrative, concept and belief coming out of Juneau that “we can tax ourselves into prosperity” is a shortsighted plan that in the long term is simply not sustainable. Alaska is a wonderful state with abundant resources, vast amounts of wide-open spaces, pristine water and a global position of strategic and geographic importance. Instead of talking about taxes, new taxes and more taxes that will likely cause our economy to further constrict, we should be talking about plans, opportunities and incentives to create new wealth. New wealth, not more taxes, is the only real answer to our state’s fiscal woes. We’ve just experienced back-to-back special sessions that mark 2017 as the year with the most legislative days since statehood and not one of them was spent discussing a vision of hope and prosperity. The concept of wealth creation was never even discussed let alone put on the table. Government seems to suck the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit out of the best of our elected officials. That’s too bad. Because, now more than ever, we need big thinkers with the courage and vision to cut a sustainable path for our state’s economy and treasury by creating new wealth. New wealth can come in a variety of ways and from different sectors. Let’s talk about how to expedite getting the newfound North Slope oil into the pipeline and to market. Let’s talk about what will it take to increase the activity in our oil fields — such as honoring our commitments on tax credits, create some tax stability, and truly being a committed and reliable partner. Let’s talk about new and creative ways to expand and make more of our tourism — we have so much more to offer than being just a “bucket list” destination. We also need to talk about our other natural resources — mining, fishing, and forestry and growing these sectors for the benefit of all Alaskans. It’s time to wake up, roll up our sleeves and help develop the many opportunities right under our noses. To continue the narrative about taxes, new taxes and more taxes without talking about capitalizing on new economic opportunities is a disservice to the working men and women of Alaska and to our future generations. Some say we have a fiscal crisis, I say we have a fiscal challenge. I believe that the challenge is manageable and presents opportunity. With the right vision and desire, Alaska’s best days are still ahead of us. Our government needs to start thinking more like the private sector. It needs to learn how to live within its means and how to create new opportunity and wealth. It also means that sensible planning is a necessary element of success. Senseless, conflicting goals need to better be vetted and thought through. Our elected officials are good men and women. They just need to realize that we are facing a new dawn, with new challenges that require new, maybe outside the box thinking and innovative solutions. They need to realize that we can’t tax ourselves into prosperity and instead we need to focus on creating a better, more prosperous Alaska by finding the means to creating new wealth. Alaskans are a resilient people and are willing to meet challenges head on, overcome them and build a better economy for tomorrow and future generations. Together, we can create new wealth that will fill our state treasury, provide profits for our businesses while providing good meaningful jobs for our working men and women. It’s time to change the narrative from one focused on taxes to one that is sustainable and create new wealth for Alaska. Curtis Thayer is the president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber.

COMMENTARY: Determined optimism moving forward

Having spent time in Juneau at the beginning of the legislative session for the Alaska Chamber’s annual Legislative Fly-In, I’m pleased to see that my enthusiasm for 2017 is reflected in the halls of the state capitol. There are some optimistic new faces in Juneau this year. And I saw confident, determined looks on the faces of veteran legislators. Over the past several years, Alaskans have watched as state government argued over the size of our public spending problem. In rare cases, some questioned if the state truly faced fiscal challenges at all. But the paralysis of indecision that plagued the capitol appears to be behind us. As Alaskans, we are blessed in so many ways, including the resources needed to fix our fiscal problems. Our financial reserves are most certainly under strain and we can’t live off savings forever. But our resources are considerable and by working swiftly, collaboratively and wisely, we can close our fiscal gap while encouraging future investment. Alaska needs a fair and balanced approach to solve our fiscal crisis. The options for balancing the budget remain viable. 1. Cut the cost of government. We must live within our means. 2. Restructure the Permanent Fund to protect the dividend and include controlled use of the earnings reserve account to pay for government services. Alaskans have made it abundantly clear that new and increased taxes are an option only after steps one and two are complete. While the state has made some cuts, we have yet to tackle the large-dollar, formula-based spending items. Similarly, recent budget reductions are the result of pushing obligations off into the future. When the bill eventually comes due, we must have a fiscal plan that accommodates those obligations. Restructuring the Permanent Fund can help us close the gap. Moving to a percent of market value plan — as proposed in the Senate — or similar structure is a part of Alaska’s blueprint for economic stability. When paired with spending limits like those proposed by both the House and Senate, Alaska can again be a stable and predictable partner for investment. Sustainable state spending isn’t the only issue for chamber members and Alaska’s economic future, and it’s not the only issue moving in the capitol this year. Workers’ compensation reform is a perennial top priority for both employers and workers. Workers’ compensation is a complicated system and one with universal impact on Alaska’s workforce. It’s taken years to bring the stakeholders to the table and to lay a foundation for systemic, comprehensive reform. Expect more from the chamber on this topic over the coming months. And look forward to a workers’ compensation system that better protects employees and employers while getting Alaskans back on the job. Seeking to grow our economy we are working with our federal delegation on access to lands and resource development for the benefit of all Alaskans. We’re working with within our fisheries and with our maritime, tourism, mining, and timber industries to ensure Alaska’s economy is diverse, robust and marketed successfully to the world. But stability for the future starts with a predictable and sustainable state government. With stability comes investment and economic health for Alaska. That’s a goal that crosses party lines. It’s important for employers and workers — public and private. It’s something that Alaskans are demanding more and more vocally. And I’m optimistic that we’ll get there this year. Curtis W. Thayer is lifelong Alaskan and serves as president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber.

COMMENTARY: Confidence in state govt. plunges amid budget concerns

A $4 billion spending gap isn’t the only crisis facing lawmakers and the governor this year. Elected officials are also facing a crisis of confidence. Each year the Alaska Chamber conducts a statewide poll to gauge voter perception of business and the economy. The results this year clearly show all eyes are on Juneau, and Alaskans are increasingly pessimistic that we are on the right path toward a balanced budget. Juneau, we have a problem... The state’s inability to restructure government to a sustainable level is reflected in Alaskans’ perception of the economy. Last year, most Alaskans held state government in relatively high regard, with 64 percent reporting a favorable or better opinion. The number of Alaskans with faith in state government has plummeted over 20 points in 2016. We’ve also heard increasing concern regarding the state’s money troubles impacting Alaska’s economy as a whole. In 2015, Alaskan’s were well aware that state spending had ballooned to unsustainable levels. More than half of voters polled recognized the budget was a problem; one-fifth said state spending was a crisis. But this year the number of Alaskan’s concerned about state spending is overwhelming. Voters declaring the budget as a crisis have more than doubled, climbing to 49 percent in 2016. What’s behind these big swings in public concern? Rewind to early 2015. Alaska had a new governor with tough talk on spending. Legislators were arriving in Juneau with commitments to make the difficult decisions needed to prune a $6 billion spending habit down to a sustainable level. Now — 15 months, two legislative sessions, and a bewildering collection of special session activities later — Alaskans no longer believe the state is willing to make lasting changes to spending. A universal concern When asked what the most important issue the Alaska Legislature should tackle this year, Alaskans resoundingly answered, “fix the budget.” In 2015, balancing the budget was already the most mentioned expectation for lawmakers. The issue eclipsed constants like education funding and even spending cuts; those two priorities were tied in second place. This year, however, 48 percent of Alaskans polled want the state budget deficit dealt with. The second most commonly volunteered priority is cuts to spending. Funding state services like economic diversity initiatives, and even education funding, are in the single digit percentages. These numbers illustrate a dramatic uptick in public concern. Last year, Alaskans were bullish about the economy, even while acknowledging that public spending was an item of concern. This year the number of Alaskans stating the economy is good or very good dipped below 50 percent. Correspondingly, 71 percent of Alaskans now believe that Alaska is on the wrong track, up from just 32 percent in 2015. So what do Alaskans believe is the solution to the state’s budget woes? More than anything, Alaskans want deeper cuts to state spending. More than any option, including new taxes or tapping into Permanent Fund earnings — more even than a combination of taxes and cuts — voters want a state government that Alaska can afford. And they are correct in wanting this. Efforts in Juneau this year are focused predominantly on “new revenue;” fees, cutting industry incentives, new taxes, and increases to existing taxes. But while debates over these catch-what-we-can revenue initiatives are dominating discussion, they fail to address the budget crisis. Using the fiscal notes from the Office of Management and Budget, all new revenue measures combined generate $855 million. That’s enough money to fund state government for a little over a month. Alaskans are concerned about the other 11 months of each year. The Alaska Chamber believes spending must be brought in line while Alaska savings are still available as a resource. To that end, we support efforts to reduce the state’s operating budget to a sustainable level by creating an endowment model or similar framework to use Permanent Fund earnings to support essential services. Only then should we explore new, broad-based taxes, if needed. Alaskans are aware of the problem. They’re accepting of the necessary solution. They’re just waiting for leadership with the discipline and resolve to get the job done. Curtis W. Thayer is lifelong Alaskan and serves as president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber.  
Subscribe to RSS - Curtis Thayer