Naomi Klouda

Unlikely pair taking Alaska hospitality to next level

Partners Jason Motyka and David McCarthy are changing what it means to pass on Alaskan hospitality one plate at a time. As what they call the “third generation” of Alaska restaurant owners, they’ve formed partnerships with lettuce growers, fishermen and meat producers. They helped a restaurant down the street — a potential competitor — just as in the old Alaska when neighbors helped neighbors. And they incorporate unique stories of the frontier to help customers walk away in understanding of what they hope is a deeper experience. That’s the philosophy of Denali Visions 3000 Corp., owners Motyka and McCarthy, and it earned them Small Business Administration Small Business Persons of the Year Award for Alaska in 2017. Under the heading of DV3 Corp, the partners own Prospectors Historic Pizzeria &Alehouse, Denali Crow’s Nest Cabins, the Overlook restaurant at the Crow’s Nest, the Denali Park Salmon Bake, 49th State Brewing Co., Miners Market at McKinley RV and Campgrounds in Healy, and the 49th State Brewing Co., in Anchorage located at the former Snow Goose Restaurant on Third Avenue. “By far, DV3 stood out among the other competition,” said Scott Swingle, the U. S. Small Business Administration Northern Area manager. “Their job creation and what they’ve provided, and not just rural Alaska but for the state, was amazing. They are a brick in our economy.” Their achievement is especially notable in a state wavering in its dependence on government and oil, Swingle said. Each business was reinvented or created anew. Community networking to help other small businesses succeed is a keystone SBA value. Another one is job creation. Between Denali Park, Healy and Anchorage, they employ upward of 600 people each summer season. Distinguishing their “brand” from big international chains at work in the Alaska tourism market, DV3 seeks out the small state producers and transporters to fill its daily fare at venues and give patrons a truly Alaskan meal. How this nest of companies came about is all under the heading of a “Alaska Hospitality,” McCarthy said, that seeks to go beyond what the cruise ship lines and chain companies market as Alaska. The first generation of café owners of the homesteading days are long gone now. A second generation that created many of the beloved establishments of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s are retiring now, “and there’s not a lot of young entrepreneurs to step in and take their place, Moytka said. “We pick unique historical businesses, like the cabins in Denali, and the history of that. If there aren’t enough companies like ours to preserve unique Alaska businesses, then they will be bought by chains or phased out,” Motyka said. “They’ll (chains) bring in their own labor force. There won’t be a lot left for young entrepreneurs.” But these unique Alaska businesses often need new ingredients for success based on how tastes changed over the past decade: a hamburger and fries isn’t just that nowadays. It’s a “brand” or needs to be an existential experience every bit as memorable as the filet mignon at a five-star restaurant, McCarthy said. The ol’ Salmon Bake start Under the ownership of Jason Motyka, 26 years old at the time, the business began with the Salmon Bake in Denali Park in 2005. The restaurant he purchased began with a dirt floor in 1984 by “two guys in the park.” A few cabins out back were rentals. In the ‘80s, people brought their own buckets of water to flush the toilet. The menu was written on paper plates. Its rustic frame was atop permafrost, which shifted above each frost and thaw so “there weren’t many 90-degree angles,” said Ellen Maloney, promotions director for DV3 Corp. But it was tall on Alaska character as a Denali landmark. Under Motyka, it was a thriving restaurant and the hub of nightlife at Denali Park, but the food had “quality issues.” The Salmon Bake had a flush toilet and a real floor by the time Chicago culinary artist David McCarthy rode up on his motorcycle in 2006. He had taken a trip north for a vacation. Conversations led to McCarthy taking over the kitchen at the Salmon Bake that summer. But as he set about revamping the menu, the graduate of Kendall College in Chicago with a degree in culinary arts questioned parts of the operation. “I asked ‘why were we buying Alaska fish from a Washington business that then ships the fish back to us?’” McCarthy said. Motyka, a lifelong Alaskan raised in Anchorage’s Airport Heights area, labored to explain that’s how it goes with Alaska caught fish processed Outside then sold back in-state. McCarthy wanted none of that. They began contracting with Homer fisherman Billy Sullivan for salmon, crab and other seafood. (Later they would buy all their produce from local farmers and meat from local producers.) “David was just what we needed,” Motyka recalled. “In the fall when he was heading back, I told him he could go back to Chicago and open his own restaurant, or he could stay, be a pioneer and become part of dynamic changes.” McCarthy, 32 at the time, chose to become a pioneer. It was in 2008 that Motyka and his partner won their first SBA Small Business Persons of the year award. At the time, the SBA press release stated: “During the three years since the team incorporated their business and leased the facilities, (The Salmon Bake) has shown a 350 percent increase in revenues over the previous owners’ best year and added sixty-five new full- and part-time seasonal jobs to the area.” Between 2009 and 2014, Motyka and McCarthy established the other businesses in Denali Park and Healy to serve the seasonal crowds coming from all over Alaska and via tour buses and the Alaska Railroad from cruise ships. Three years after McCarthy attended a Master Brewing program at the Siebel Institute in Chicago, they installed a 15-barrel system and started the 49th State Brewing Co in Healy, in 2013. By their own admission, they made an odd team. The big city chef whose urban upbringing taught him not to trust strangers thought that the object in business is to beat your competitors out of the market. A more trusting Motyka, who graduated with a business degree from Western Washington University, believed in the spirit of welcoming newcomers and that Alaska people tend to take care of one another. “On the way to Washington, D.C., (for the SBA award ceremonies,) I thought about that,” McCarthy said. Together they seemed to meld a new mentality for conducting business: “We need to help our neighbors succeed, then we succeed,” McCarthy said. Swingle said DV3’s operations fall under the category of “exports” in a new way to think of small tourism niches. “Dollars are coming into the state from exporting the Alaska experience,” he said. “Kudos to them for what they work so hard at.” Exporting the Alaska experience Food isn’t only about what’s on the plate for travelers, McCarthy said. All the DV3 businesses aim to export an intangible experience that travelers take home. “It’s all about authenticity — the cutting edge of food and all these things. But it’s also what the background came from. The historic value is a huge part,” he said. At their newest endeavor, the 49th State Brewing Co. in the home of the former Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage, DV3 purchased a 1918 building loaded with intrigue and past. In the basement of a basement, a tunnel leading somewhere in the direction of the old Federal Building across Third Avenue ends abruptly. Why is it there? “We don’t know. It’s covered with rebar,” Motyka said. “This was the Elks Lodge for a lot of years. We’re told that one out of every six pioneers who came to Alaska was a member of the Elk’s Lodge. The building had a bowling alley, three bars, a theatre where they had something called the Purple Bubble Ball. “Some of the most influential men of the day met here. It’s a very fascinating historic building, built like a bomb shelter. It survived everything since 1918 and the 1964 Earthquake as well.” After operating in Interior Alaska for the past 12 years, taking on an Anchorage business was a big plunge, Motyka and McCarthy said. The property overlooking Cook Inlet and Sleeping Lady Mountain came with the brewery when Snow Goose owner Gary Klopfer sold it to them. DV3 set to work transforming the 28,000-square foot interior to the 49th State Brewing Co. They went to Alaska materials artists for ambiance. Grady Keyser built antler chandeliers for each room out of caribou antler sheds he gathered in Bush villages. Keyser fashioned a greeter’s desk for the front entrance from repurposed wood and antlers, something he’d never done before, said Maloney. Just as the two men have a story for everything, their Anchorage establishment is a chapter in each corner you look. A whiskey wall behind the bar was built from old shed parts taken from Motyka’s childhood home by friend and artist Mark Wedekind. River stone and slate stonework mural, walls, and the pizza oven were done by Mitch Fairweather. (He gathered the stones from creek beds and other Alaska places.) A chalk mural by Abbie Cleek shows the brewery process from beginning to bottling. A large format photograph Front Range Mural by Charlie Renfro took several months to capture — and permission from the owners of downtown’s tall buildings. While an older Alaska is plenty represented, the 21st century is as well. Plug-ins for laptops and other digital equipment are beneath the bar. An interactive screen allows patrons to say what beer they’re drinking through their phone. Trending on jobs It takes a staff of 250 to run the Anchorage 49th State in the summer. It takes another 400 to fill jobs at the Denali and Healy businesses. They hire from their own website at Denali Visions 3000 Jobs and from walk-ins. “We’re an entry level employer and so we are training them and helping them in the direction we’re going. But today’s young people are looking for more than a paycheck in a job. They are looking for something that defines them or this chapter in their lives,” McCarthy said. Being on top of trends that energize the business also draws new employees. That means training them in the hospitality trade, as it’s envisioned by Motyka and McCarthy, to see fellow employees “as a family that is also a team.” McCarthy interviews chefs through the “stage” process; a full day’s pay to work alongside him showing them how they cook. If each side likes the other, there’s a hire. Passing on their “Alaska” entrepreneurial philosophy is another training tool. “If you break down on the side of the road someone else will be there to help you. Our unique relationship with others is you try to be savvy with things you learn in a big city and combine with what you learn about Alaska hospitality,” Motyka said. A case in modeling that concept came a short time ago when a restaurant down the street found its liquor license permit hadn’t been filed in time for an event. 49th State Brewery came to the rescue by hosting their event at the restaurant. “This is a competitor, but looking at the greater good of downtown business success, we wanted to help,” McCarthy said. As for winning the Small Business Person of the Year Award 2017, the men say it validates their vision in a powerful affirmation. “At the Washington, D.C. awards, something they said was very powerful,” McCarthy said. “They said ‘you spend your life thanking all the employees working for you, and now it’s our turn to thank you for doing for our country.’” Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech about the importance of small businesses as a critical block in the American economy. The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, also gave a speech on entrepreneurship. All politics were set aside during the April 30 to May 6 National Small Business Week in D.C. “In hospitality we love everyone,” McCarthy said. “We don’t talk religion and politics in restaurants and bars. They talked about how we are the backbone, that small business drives America.” “It’s a tremendous honor especially after growing up in Anchorage, being able to write the next 20 years of Alaska history,” Motyka said. Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected]

Murkowski: Spending bill funds ‘Alaska priorities’

The U.S. Senate passed an omnibus appropriations bill May 4 in a vote of 79-18 that funds major Alaska programs for the remainder of fiscal year 2017 — a save from the chopping block for threatened line items such as Essential Air Service, the Denali Commission and energy assistance grants. The legislation, now on its way to President Donald Trump’s desk, prevents a feared and much-discussed possible government shutdown. But that was never an option in her mind, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a May 4 morning press conference with the Alaska media. When asked about Trump’s tweet that ““Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix (sic) mess,” Murkowski said it’s not at all well-thought out. America wastes money when it shuts down government and taxpayers pay the bill. “I think you need to look very critically at the few times we did shut things down. It’s not saving money. It’s not being responsible,” she said. “As a Congress we are the ones who set the spending bills and we do what our constituents tell us. I’ve never been in the shutdown camp.” The vote of 79-18 in passing the bill showed a good margin, Murkowski said. Despite numerous obstacles caused by stalls and politics, “we passed it and the president will now sign it into law and we will be able to say we kept the government running.” The bill funds the federal government through Sept. 30 Because Alaska is in the midst of a fiscal crisis, Murkowski believes the fiscal year 2017 budget infusion will provide a much-needed boost to the economy. “The bill provides new investments for our military, increased funding for fighting wildfires, and it will help Alaskans who grapple with some of the highest heating costs in the nation,” Murkowski said. “This bill empowers Alaskans to strengthen our economy and create safe and healthy communities at a time when we need it most.” Among the budgeted items funding for an active duty force of 476,000 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and firefighting grants in preparation for the wildfire season ahead. An 11-page summary provided by Murkowski details broad categories for spending. Here are some Alaska highlights: • Defense: A $4.8 billion national Air Force appropriation includes funding for F-35A aircraft. It also funds an active duty structure of 476,000, which reverses the downward trend in active duty and enables the retention of the 4-25 Airborne Brigade at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. It includes $968 million for sustainment of the ground-based missile defense facilities at Fort Greely and in California. Funded also is $170.1 million to support the design and procurement of new radar equipment at Clear Air Force Station. It also provides $150 million for the Navy to procure materials needed for construction of a polar icebreaker and $10 million through the Air Force for state-operated launch facilities that contribute to national security, including the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak. Communities: The bill fully funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, program at $465 million, which provides monetary compensation to local governments throughout Alaska for vital services, such as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search-and-rescue operations. This includes continued funding for Essential Air Services, which maintains commercial flights in 60 small Alaska communities. The legislation also allocates significant resources to the EPA’s program to construct or improve wastewater and drinking water systems in Native villages and throughout rural Alaska. In addition, the bill enables the Denali Commission to continue to build infrastructure in rural Alaska, and be the lead agency in assisting environmentally threatened communities with issues such as coastal erosion. Funding for that agency is $15 million. EPA budget: “We made clear there should be a focus on the EPA’s real mission as clean air and clean water,” Murkowski said. Fairbanks has air quality requirements from the EPA. The budget includes clean air grants for that city. Wastewater grants continue through the Alaska Village Safe Water Program. Harbors: Army Corp of Engineers Operations and Maintenance funding includes $10.6 million for the Port of Anchorage and nine other Alaska harbors, including $2.4 million for evaluation of a deep draft port at Nome. Labor Health and Human Services grants include funding the Low Income Energy Assistance Program and impact aid for school districts. It also funds after-school programs that help keep kids engaged through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. It makes available funding grants to address substance abuse such as Alaska’s opioids crisis and behavioral health treatment as well as block grants for preventing illnesses, chronic diseases and rape prevention. Transportation and housing: TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Development) grants make $500 million available for capital projects that generate economic development and improved transportation for communities. Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) received an allocation of $950 million to fill affordable housing needs. Firefighter grants: $690 million available on a competitive basis to staff and equip local fire departments. Prohibits spending: Prohibits the Fish and Wildlife Service from using funds to conduct a costly caribou hunt on Kagalaska Island in the Aleutian Chain. The FWS has previously estimated that it would cost $71,000 in taxpayer money to send four employees to the island to hunt and process the caribou. The legislation also prohibits costly and impractical efforts to remove cattle from the remote Chirikof Island. Murkowsk said she didn’t get everything she wanted in the bill. But as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, she worked to fund key Alaska priorities. “A level of compromise was required and that’s what we did. I worked with the ranking member (of the Appropriations Committee), from New Mexico, (Democrat Sen. Tom) Udall, working through priorities that were important to New Mexico and Alaska and all the other 48 states. We did it in a way there was give and take,” she said. Though this year’s potential spending crisis is averted, there won’t be time to rest between preparing the budgets for fiscal years, she added. “Today we finished the FY 17 budget; tomorrow, work on FY 18 starts,” she said. Naomi Klouda be reached at [email protected]

Northern Edge exercise takes to Alaska skies, seas

Alaskans looking to the skies this week will witness military jets acting out a war scenario in rare training opportunities meant to sharpen tactical combat skills. The Exercise Northern Edge May 1-12 includes an exercise that pits blue team against red team and involves about 6,000 U.S. military personnel. The combat zone is above central Alaska ranges and the Gulf of Alaska. Though Lt. Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach couldn’t give a lot of specifics about the actual plot acted out in sky and sea, he told a room full of reporters May 2 that the Red team was simulating the aggressors leading to a conflict. Led by Col. David Mineau, stationed at Eielson Air Force Base, the team is trained in realistic combat adversary training in air, space and information operations. “The Blue Team takes down in a simulation of integrated air defenses,” he said. Over the past several decades of conducting the exercises in Alaska, pilots of F-15s, F-16s, F-22s and now the new F-35s improve crucial skills. “About 50 percent of the pilots are inexperienced and early in their careers. They are learning these lessons for the first time,” Wilsbach said. Simulating cyber attacks are also part of the scenario. Personnel play both sides: they act as hackers breaking into a system or are victims of hackers so that defensive tactics for stopping them are exercised. Perhaps the biggest first for this year’s training is the use of the fifth-generation fighters, the F-35s, flown in from Japan for the exercise, Wilsbach said. Alaska will receive its own batch of F-35s at Eielson in spring 2020, a fact that is eagerly awaited in Fairbanks, said Mineau. “For now, we will get to see how they operate for the first time,” he said. Although plagued by cost overruns and technical issues, the aircraft are considered the most advanced fifth-generation multirole fighter jet. The F-35 is designed to perform ground attack and air defense missions utilizing stealth technology. At JBER, the first time military were seeing F-35s fly the sky was May 1, the first day of the training. Practicing for war in Alaska gives the best training range in the U.S., far away from heavy civilian and commercial traffic elsewhere in the country, military officials said. It is preparing joint forces to respond to crises in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. They utilize 67,000 square miles of land and sea, a size equivalent to the state of Florida. “We’re operating where there is not a lot of people or marine mammals,” Col. Christopher Niemi said. Though Northern Exercise is frequently criticized for disrupting migrating whales and nesting birds, the command insists that environmental protection is an integral part of the exercise. Based on environmental impact studies, the routes are planned to avoid harming wildlife, Niemi said. Since the Exercise Northern Edge began in 1993, the military has been able to avoid major harm to the environment, the officials contend. Nevertheless, the military meets with protests and environmental scrutiny each time they stage the 200 aircraft, three-ship engagement in Alaska. People in the more populated areas will no doubt hear and see – even feel the ground shake – as the jets are flown in training sessions, Col. George Dietrich III told the reporters. Rather than feeling inconvenienced, “we hope you will tell your viewers they can be proud of the military service men and women” as they become more skilled at protecting the U.S., he said. Given today’s global climate where people worry over the many emerging conflicts, including North Korea, the Middle East and even Russia’s recent air aggressions south of Kodiak, the exercises take on more importance in the public eye, the commanders acknowledged. “The goal is to anticipate any future national security threat or challenge,” Niemi said. That involves training preparation on-going, not just during the exercise. Though, current global conflict concerns are not the immediate reason for the exercise. “Northern Exercise is to continue to build,” our defenses, he said. Certainly, when two Russian TU-95 Bear bombers were spotted flying about 41 miles off Alaska in late April, JBER pilots and command were able to react protecting America’s sovereignty in the area. The Russians penetrated U.S. air space twice in 24 hours. In those cases, the command reacted with “real world response.” “What does that mean?” Niemi said. “It means we are always ready to respond to real world events. “(Reacting to) planes in U.S. space turned into an exercise to hone better skills.” With Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson hosting the event, military personnel scrambled to come up with housing for an additional 2,000 participants. Some 900 of them were placed in hotels Downtown. Another 1,100 were accommodated in barracks and other quarters. Participating units include U.S. Pacific Command, Alaskan Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pacific Air Force, Air National Guard, and U.S. Naval Reserve. One participant at JBER’s press conference May 2 was a photojournalist from the Netherlands. Arnold Tenvween’s photos of multi-generational fighter jets are shared with NATO and global publications. “I feel proud. I feel safer,” Tenvween said, referring to watching the jets take off. “I am glad to see this show of strength.” ^ Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected]

Merger creates largest real estate firm in state

Dar and Ed Walden, co-owners of the Anchorage-based Dar Walden Team at Keller Williams Realty-Alaska Group, announced their acquisition of Fairbanks-based independent brokerage Madden Real Estate on April 25. The move positions Dar Walden to rank as one of the highest producing realtors in the state, according to rankings in Real Trends and in the Wall Street Journal. “This places us close to 800 sales (annually), assuming we keep the same pace as last year,” Dar Walden said. “Then we will be the No. 1 team in Alaska covering a broad area from Fairbanks to Kenai.” For the calendar year 2016, the unity group of Keller Williams Realty-Alaska Group achieved the most sides, or properties, sold, 477, according to the revised Jan. 31, 2017 report created by the Multiple Listing Service. The projection of 800-plus properties sold for calendar year 2017 is based upon the 2016 sales for both parties in the merger, meaning that the Madden team achieved approximately 325 sales in 2016. Rankings also are based on sale volumes. Collectively, the Walden Team and Madden Real Estate produced approximately $198 million in volume for 2016. While the Anchorage economy suffers a downturn of employment layoffs in multiple sectors — petroleum-related workers, teachers and government employees — the realty market remains “tight” in Anchorage, the Waldens say. Currently, the real estate firm has 2.2 months of inventory on hand while during harder times, the inventory volume can stretch several months. “This is a seller’s market,” Dar Walden said. “The buyer gives a little; the seller gives a little. To have 40 to 60 properties on hand would be normal but now we’re at 29 and we have three in escrow. As fast as we put them on the market, we’re selling them.” By way of one example, a $255,000 property put up for sale on a Monday went into contract with a buyer on a Tuesday, Dar Walden said. Parts of the Lower 48 are seeing a depressed realty market, a fact that was discussed at a recent Alaska Economic Development Forum. But the “mindset” that Alaska is following suit isn’t accurate at the moment, the Waldens say. When the state and oil patch layoffs started, Ed Walden said the company hedged its bets. “We were working with a developer on a 99-lot development at Resolution Point priced per unit at $550,000 and up. In 2014 we had heard rumors it would be bad, so we hedged for 2015, but we did better than the previous year,” Ed Walden said. “In 2015 we hedged again, but didn’t see it as deeply as people in Juneau are saying we should be seeing it.” Sales are on track with last year. The average sale price was down 6.76 percent depreciation at the first of the year, but is now down 4.38 percent, which means prices are gaining, the Waldens say. A changing real estate market in Fairbanks coincides with the merger. An expected 3,500 active military members are anticipated to join the Fairbanks North Star Borough population of about 100,000, a number that doesn’t count the multiplier factored in for family members and civilians. Eielson Air Force Base has been preparing for the arrival of two squadrons of F-35 interceptors, with $298 million in projects underway involving building or renovation of 35 buildings. The first jets are expected to arrive in 2020 and the population of Eielson is expected to double once the squadrons are fully deployed by 2022. That means Fairbanks real estate needs in the next few years could boom, boding well for housing on the market and new construction, the Waldens note. Nevertheless, realty investments will be cautious until 2019 to account for possible fluctuation in the economy there, Ed Walden said. Madden Real Estate already sells 67 percent of the Fairbanks area properties and reports that housing sales are brisk. Wes Madden, who will remain part of the leadership team and minority owner, said his business ran like a mega realty team, so although he spoke to other traditional brokerages about a merger, he chose the Walden Team of Keller Williams. The co-owners of the Dar Walden Team at Keller Williams Realty in Anchorage are also co-owners of Keller Williams brokerages in Reno and Sparks, Nevada, as well as a Business Center in Elko, Nevada. “We have worked with Wes over the years, referring business from the Anchorage, Eagle River and Mat-Su Valley area as well as partnering in many professional marketing and business relationships,” Dar Walden said. “We are absolutely thrilled to introduce our franchise to the Fairbanks area.” Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected]

Bills aimed at conflicts stall out

Two bills aimed at potential legislative conflicts of interest are stranded or buried in the legislative heap of last minute work hurtling toward the May 17 deadline for the end of the 2017 session. Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, introduced Senate Bill 5 to close a loophole that currently allows lobbyists to donate to legislators outside their districts. SB 5 passed 20-0 on April 7, and made it to the House three days later. There it was read and referred to the Community and Regional Affairs, State Affairs and the Judiciary committees and has yet to receive a hearing. The bill appears to be aimed at Gabby’s Tuesday PAC, a political action committee formed by Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, that has raised $26,565 and distributed $14,892 to campaigns since its formation in July 2016. In Alaska, individual candidates are more restricted than political action committees. Lobbyists may not donate to candidates outside their district, but they can donate to a PAC, and that PAC may then distribute funds to candidates in any race. A PAC can also accept donations during the legislative session while a legislator cannot. SB 5 would prohibit a PAC controlled by a legislator from accepting or spending donations during the session, and would also prohibit lobbyists from donating to a PAC controlled by a legislator or a candidate for office unless the lobbyist lives in the same district. State law already prohibits LeDoux or any other sitting legislator from accepting donations during the session, even for her PAC, a key fact that isn’t noted by critics, she said in a May 1 interview. In closing the loophole, however, Meyer said he is stopping a practice that creates a “bad impression,” and left open the possibility of lobbyists’ influence. There are currently three PACs run by legislators: LeDoux’s, the Alaska Conservative Leadership PAC by Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla and the Sustain Alaska Fund formed by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer. Eastman raised $1,585 prior to the legislative session, while Seaton took in $7,714. Currently SB 5 is stuck in CRA with the clock ticking toward a May 17 session end. It’s unlikely the bill will clear hurdles in all three committees prior to adjournment, LeDoux said. Then there’s House Bill 44, sponsored by Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage, and co-sponsored by LeLoux and 12 other House members. The bill is titled “An act requiring a legislator to abstain from taking or withholding official action or exerting official influence that could benefit or harm an immediate family member or certain employers; and requiring a legislator to request to be excused from voting in an instance where the legislator may have a financial conflict of interest.” HB 44, like SB 5, appears to be aimed at a particular legislator: Meyer. Meyer is employed as the investment recovery coordinator at ConocoPhillips Alaska, where he has worked since 2000. He’s held his current position since 2007. Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, also works for ConocoPhillips. Critics of the current oil tax policy often point to their employment as conflicts that should have prevented them from voting for its passage in 2013, but under current legislative rules any member can object to a request to abstain and require the legislator who declares a conflict to vote. The bill would have expanded conflicts to include immediate family and would have required members to declare conflicts in committee votes as well. HB 44 passed the House and is currently in Senate State Affairs where it was referred on April 10. Meyer chairs that committee. Senate committees are now shut down except for those working on the 2018 budget, so that bill is effectively dead until next year. In tandem with HB 44 was House Concurrent Resolution 1, also introduced by Grenn, that would have changed the House rules to require a majority vote to allow a member to abstain. That measure failed on April 10 when it received only 21 of the needed 27 votes to change the House rules, with Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau, joining the Republican minority to oppose the change. Gabby’s Tuesday PAC LeDoux is the first sitting legislator in Alaska to form her own PAC, which declared its purpose to “raise money for common sense conservative candidates.” The concept she had in mind was to support colleagues and candidates in their races, in much the same way it’s done on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Cementing alliances and gaining political clout is one of the goals, often criticized for re-enforcing a too-chummy system. “I wanted to help some of my friends and my colleagues. This is such a normal thing that virtually everyone in Congress has a leadership PAC, every senator has a leadership PAC,” she said. “Sens. (Dan) Sullivan and (Lisa) Murkowksi, and when (former Sen. Mark) Begich was in office he had one, so they could help their colleagues. I wasn’t thinking it was a big deal.” APOC statements show she supported 19 incumbents and new candidates for their primary and general election campaigns. Her initial contributions were to fellow Republicans, but she also donated $1,000 to current House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, on Oct. 29, 2016, and raised money for Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, after the election with a December fundraiser. The donation to Drummond put the PAC on both sides of that race, as LeDoux had also donated to her challenger Mike Gordon in the general election. “I support the most qualified candidates who I feel have the most to contribute,” she said. After the Nov. 8 election, LeDoux was among three Republicans including Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Seaton who switched sides and joined the Democrats to form a new House Majority. Between Nov. 9 when the new Majority announced itself in a press conference, and Dec. 31, her PAC received $15,553 in donations according to APOC reports. Most of her expenditures were $250 to $1,000 checks written to 19 campaigns. Two, Reps. Seaton and Grenn, returned $1,000 contributions. As for why the two legislators returned the campaign donations to Gabby’s Tuesday PAC, Grenn said he did so because he wasn’t certain at the time that the PAC would pass a legal test by APOC. “I didn’t ask for the money, and I didn’t need it,” Grenn said. “I also wanted more examination of the set-up of such a PAC in the name of transparency.” A Seaton aide said the representative did not have time to return press phone calls since he is at work on the FY 18 budget in Conference Committee. Gabby’s Tuesday PAC gave away a total of $13,835 in campaign contributions between July and January, all before the legislative session began. But it’s been a headache withstanding the political backlash — mostly from colleagues, she said. The state Democrat Party challenged the legality of Gabby’s PAC in an APOC complaint last August. It alleged that her PAC should be considered part of her campaign and was illegally accepting money from lobbyists outside her district. But APOC disagreed and ruled 4-0 in her favor. After she joined the Democrats in the House, then the Republicans decided to “beat up on me,” LeDoux said in an interview. “Both parties beat me up over this. I see no difference in this than how either party does with fundraising,” she said. “When the session is over, you will find a whole bunch of invitations.” The invites from the Republican Party of Alaska and the Democratic Party seek lobbyist contributions, legislator donations and from the public. It’s hypocrisy to lob mud at her PAC, she says, and ignore the same fundraising tactics of the political parties. But the issue of where her own Gabby’s Tuesday funding comes from also is at the heart of criticisms leveled her way. Some 25 registered lobbyists donated funds and unions also donated $5,000. The total donated by the 25 lobbyists came to around $12,500. They represent a wide range of clients from oil companies, Native corporations, cities, boroughs, utilities and other corporations. These Alaska lobbyists’ total combined earnings will come to $7.3 million in 2017 from 185 clients, according to filings with APOC. The debate prior to passing SB 5 centered on the potential for corruption to enter the PAC donation process. LeDoux points out, however, legislators won’t know where their donations come from. “It’s all thrown into a pot. Then it’s given out,” she said. “It comes from wide range of donors.” APOC Paralegal Tom Lucas spelled out what Alaska law prohibits. A legislator isn’t only barred from taking contributions any time the legislature is in session. They also cannot spend the money collected prior to the session’s end for anything other than administrative costs. A “meet-and-greet,” for example, isn’t allowed. If a legislator such as LeDoux, Eastman or Seaton were to return home to their districts during a break, they couldn’t spend PAC money on a town hall. Current law spells out that PAC money is not meant to fund the person or organization in charge of the PAC. Reaction to SB 5 Rep. Eastman said the goal for forming his Conservative Leadership PAC is to “make an effective organization where anyone in Alaska can contribute in support of traditional conservative ideas.” He declined to financially support any legislative incumbent, but did support new candidates or challengers, he said. SB 5 makes a fundamental mistake, he said, in assuming PAC money comes from lobbyists. He hasn’t received money from lobbyists, either individually or his PAC. “The main thrust for Meyer’s bill is that it’s aimed at lobbying and political action committees and the nexus between those two things. He (Meyer) runs the mistake of bringing anyone’s PAC into his cross hairs as he fires against people who might try to do something” with lobbyists’ influence, he said. Wasilla Republican Eastman was drawn toward creating a PAC to offset disadvantages as a new, unknown in politics now serving his first legislative term. “It’s very difficult to be a new candidate running for office unless you have a party machine behind you,” he said. “Without pros behind you, it’s hard to avoid making mistakes. I’m looking for ways to make that easier for new candidates to get their voices heard.” Yet, Eastman is also critical of the system that allows the chair of the House Rules Committee to keep legislation such as SB 5 from hearings. Under Alaska’s current system, powerful Rules chairs can keep bills from ever reaching the floor. “Rep. Ledoux made it abundantly clear that bill (SB 5) will never be heard simply because she doesn’t like it. I will always disagree with that. It gives unlimited power to committee chairs,” Eastman said. He advocates that Alaska follow the Colorado legislative model, which, for example, has ruled that all bills receive a hearing. Then if fails, it does so on its lack of merit, not on its lack of debate. LeDoux said she “wouldn’t speculate” on what she would do with the bill if it makes it to her committee. HB 44 Many legislatures in the past took up conflict of interest bills similar to HB 44, which asks for “assurances that legislators are representing the public interest, would promote transparency within our state government, and bring Alaska’s laws into conformity with most other states,” according to Grenn’s sponsor statement. Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said legislators already operate with a uniform rule that asks members to declare conflicts and to abstain from voting. During his 18 years in the legislature, he’s seen commercial fishermen vote on fisheries taxes, public employees vote on union wages, teachers vote on education bills, a policeman working on retirement funding. “They vote all the time and never or seldom declare conflict,” said Coghill, who believes the bill seems aimed at legislators who work in the petroleum industry such as Meyer. Observers muse on whether the legislation is a tit-for-tat or a larger philosophical difference on the greater kind of harmful conflict potential in the legislature. The bill strikes Coghill as “petulant” in tone and “mushy in broad language” that you could never totally comply with. “It’s a way to bully people in a way that is improper. It’s a whip just for certain people – in the oil industry – and I find that distasteful,” he said. Yet, in his sponsor statement, Grenn wrote that Alaska appears to be the only state that requires unanimous consent of the House of Senate before a legislator with a substantial conflict can abstain from a vote. In other words, everyone has to agree you have a conflict before you can abstain from voting. In fact, according to Grenn’s research, it’s not clear that anyone in the past has been allowed to abstain from a vote. Currently, a single legislator can force another legislator with a serious conflict of interest to vote. “Having more in-depth dialogue about the conflict in question and a vote on the record should be required before a conflict is deemed unsubstantial,” he said in the sponsor statement. Grenn said he’s looking forward to HB 44 undergoing more debate next year because it was brought about at the request of public members concerned about conflicts of interest by legislators. “It isn’t about any one particular legislator or any one particular industry,” he said. “Thirty states have the language in the bill and it’s time to update Alaska to rebuild public trust.” Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected]

Entrepreneurs awarded at UA competition

Congressional budget cuts mean fewer federal funds will be flowing to Alaska projects, but a 30 percent tax incentive for private enterprise on infrastructure investments lends a potential ace for rural Alaska. That’s one of the concepts behind a winning idea at the 2017 Alaska Business Plan Competition April 21 at the Beartooth Theatre hosted by the University of Alaska Anchorage Business Enterprise Institute. Piper Foster Wilder carried away first place in her plan to help far-flung Alaska communities create their own mini renewable energy grids, and find private funding to do it. The idea also is to ease reliance on government funding. Wilder, currently deputy director of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, leaves her position this summer to launch 60 Hertz full time. She won $2,000 prize money for her plan. Another idea caught the six-judge panel’s attention: a trio of Alaska Pacific University students who came up with a shoe that expands for swollen feet won second place. Pandere Shoe inventors Laura Oden, Cecila Crossett and Ayla Rogers also carried away the Best Student Business Plan, InnovateHER, and the Manufacturing Kicker awards. Backed by Reebok, Pandere would market a new kind of shoe that isn’t restricted by length and width measurements dominating shoe design since the Middle Ages. “Traditional sizes don’t address volume: swelling from pregnancy, diabetes and edema,” Oden said in her Beartooth stage presentation. “These are dimensionally expandable shoes that expand vertically and outwardly around the ankle.” Shown in fashionable designs, the footwear also avoids any similarity to the unattractive orthopedic shoe. The Alaska Business Plan Competition attracted 64 entrants, more than double previous years. Contestants hailed from Unalaska, Ketchikan, Juneau, Fairbanks, Akiachak, Anchorage — and Afghanistan. Marine Keith McCormick delivered his “Quick Cup” pitch via Facebook Live from Afghanistan at the event. (more about him in a minute.) Of the 41 who qualified for review, nine finalists selected by a panel competed on April 21. Entrants submitted plans to overcome current entrepreneurial hurdles. Your Kitchen Startup, a business plan for connecting small food providers to commercial kitchens, took third place for solving a “kitchen problem.” Conceived by Tammas Brown, the plan helps small culinary businesses contract with commercial grade kitchens. “A lot of these aren’t big enough to build kitchens yet and several commercial kitchens aren’t being fully used,” Brown said. “We will have standardized contracts and checklists to take the risk out of renting out the commercial kitchen for a business. We would qualify each kitchen and provide (or screen) information on the startup.” All the resources are in place. Brown, with her husband Lance Ahern, opened with a small pilot group to work out the kinks and grow from there. The idea is to be running by June. Because the 2017 competition attracted more than twice the usual number of participants, the competition illustrates how many people are interested in starting their own businesses, said Gretchen Fauske, associate director of the University of Alaska Anchorage Center for Economic Development, and the competition’s organizer. “I think there is an upswing of people interested in their own startups for two reasons: many people in Alaska have been working to advance entrepreneurship for many years and we’re starting to see that pay off,” Fauske said. “And as jobs are going away, people get creative with business ideas. During challenging economic times, startups are more important than ever and will play an essential role.” The panel of judges consisted of Northrim Bank’s Kelly McCormack, JL Properties’ Jimmy Miner, angel investors Eric McCallum, Gary Klopfer and Angela Astle, and First National Bank Alaska’s Chad Steadman. First place winner Wilder’s business concept carries particular gravity at a time when state funding for remote Alaska infrastructure projects could be left dangling in the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts that would shut down the Denali Commission. Wilder cites overcoming obstacles such as the 200 villages currently disconnected from traditional energy grids in Alaska’s vast geography. “Dependence on diesel fuel is expensive. People are looking for renewable energy as a way to decrease reliance and costs,” Wilder said. At the same time, Alaska spends more per capita on renewables than any other state, garnering $259 million for renewables that has enabled 70 remote communities to have a renewable input. That’s a good start for each of those to areas to gain its own mini-grid. “We have a good distance to go. There’s a lot we can do to increase penetration or bring renewables to communities that don’t have it,” Wilder said. “A community is a mini-electric grid. They have traditional powerhouses and can upgrade diesel generators, adding solar array and wind to the fuel mix.” Blended with other financials such as federal investment tax credit of 30 percent on wind and solar, investors should see a good return on their dollar. Wilder doesn’t believe this tax credit will go away under Trump. “(President Trump) signaled early on this tax credit wouldn’t be touched since it’s in the name of infrastructure investment,” she said. 60 Hertz, which partners with McKinley Capital, would also supply maintenance software along with a checklist and structure to make the required reporting to the Alaska Energy Authority easier. “I am grateful for the (competition’s) endorsement,” Wilder said. “I will use the $2,000 prize in the startup budget. It means a lot to me to have the affirmation and support of business people who understand the concepts. That’s what meant the most to me.” As for McCormick, the Marine based in Afghanistan, his Quick Cup concept didn’t win a prize, but it captured the audience’s and judges’ attention. His business plan cuts the wait and waste time for coffee buyers and sellers by utilizing an app he invented to assist both sides of the coffee cart. It would allow a customer to order coffee using the app, even pay for it, then arrive at a designated time to pick it up. The coffee business doesn’t lose as much money because it cuts down on the waste of unclaimed, unpaid orders. App users would pay 10 cents per cup to Quick Cup, as would the individual business that signs on. He figures start up costs are $30,000, he told the audience from his Afghan quarters. It was a good week for McCormick. He left Afghanistan on April 24. As he was flying out, he told his Facebook friends, “Good bye Afghanistan… forever. And thanks for letting me leave alive and intact.” McCormick is headed for Anchorage. He wrote to the Journal that he has served in the Marine Corps Infantry for five years and one month. Most currently he worked in Afghanistan as a private military contractor for the Department of State as a combat medic on security detail for the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. “I was born and raised in Anchorage, and so was my wife. We graduated from South (High School) in 2009 and married right after. We now own a home in the Klatt area where we raise our 2 children,” he wrote. “I did concept the idea while in Afghanistan. I was sitting in my armored vehicle texting with my wife about how (do) shops accept ‘text-in orders.’” Fauske, the competition’s coordinator noted there were so many “side stories” in this competition. “Each one is a great story,” she said. Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected]

First blood test for breast cancer detection reaches Alaska

Blood tests let patients know if they have a vitamin B deficiency. Blood testing provides windows into whether a person has diabetes. But until recently, no blood test could tell if a person has breast cancer. New technology available for the first time in Alaska should help ease anxiety for women tested for breast cancer by providing clearer answers during cancer screening. Dr. Karen Barbosa at Alaska Breast Care Specialists on the Alaska Regional Hospital campus is the first in the state to offer the protein-based blood test for detecting breast cancer. Barbosa also introduced to Alaska patients another technology called BioZorb, which is used during a lumpectomy. She is the only accredited Breast Fellowship Trained Surgeon in Alaska, which means she has achieved a unique specialization and expertise in the treatment of breast cancer from detection to radiation/chemotherapy and surgery. “I’m really excited to bring these new technologies to Alaska,” she said. The technology is “so cutting edge, even many doctors don’t know this exists. We want to get the technology not only out to patients, but to let doctors know it exists.” Patients can make an appointment to have their blood drawn at Alaska Breast Care Specialists. The Videssa testing is then completed at a Provista Diagnostic lab, which also handles the billing and gives the results in 5 to 7 days. So far, only a handful of patients at Barbosa’s clinic have had the test. “It’s that new,” she said. Here’s the problem with current testing. For patients with abnormal or difficult-to-interpret mammograms, breast imaging has known limitations. Benign breast disease can mimic the appearance of cancer, increasing false positives and breast density can obscure cancers increasing false negatives. This can lead to uncertainty about whether or not immediate follow-up is needed, patient anxiety and unnecessary downstream procedures contributing to increased healthcare costs, according to Provista Diagnostic, which provides the Videssa testing. Nonetheless, Barbosa recommends her patients do the imaging tests or mammograms, in addition to the Videssa Breast blood test. The test detects the current status, but doesn’t predict future risk. The test was developed by advancement in understanding protein biomarkers in the blood. It detects and analyzes multiple types of tumor protein biomarkers for improved cancer detection. Unlike other liquid biopsy technologies, such as circulating tumor cells and cell-free DNA, breast cancer proteins are more abundant in the blood, offering a more effective approach for cancer detection, according to information published by Provista Diagnostics. “In a nutshell, the Videssa test is looking at protein levels in your blood for Bi-Rads 3 or 4, which would suggest a biopsy,” Barbosa said. A low protein signature indicates you likely don’t have cancer. Therefore, no biopsy is necessary. A high protein signature (Bi-Rads 3-4) means it’s important to follow up, but is not conclusive for cancer. “Every case varies,” she said. Barbosa also is using BioZorb, a device used in lumpectomies. After a lump is removed, the surgeon inserts the device, a spiral the size of a walnut and six little titanium clips. “This does several things from a cosmetic standpoint,” said Liz Dowling, the communications director for BioZorb through Dowling &Dennis Public Relations in San Francisco. A “divet” is implanted in the area where the lump was removed. It acts as a scaffold for reconstructive surgery. “Radiation is the next step after a lumpectomy, but with BioZorb implanted, the radio oncologist can target exactly where the cancer is so the patient doesn’t need as much radiation,” Dowling said. “The clips are the only things that stay. After a year the coil is absorbed by the body, like sutures. So when a radiologist does a scan, they can see where the cancer was removed (by the remaining clips’ placement). And they can check it much more carefully.” Barbosa has used the BioZorb technology about six months longer than she has used the blood testing. She found out about the technologies at specialized cancer conferences out of state in 2015-16 and signed on to use them in her practice. Most of all now, Barbosa is eager to share the technology with not only her patients, but the larger Alaska health community, she said. Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected]

Minerals prices rebounding, but jobs still off from 2012 highs

Alaska saw a dip in mining jobs during 2016, numbers attributed to losses in the oil patch as well as hard rock mines when commodities prices took a dive. Employment numbers are tallied in different ways by various agencies. Alaska Department of Labor statistics show Alaska went from 17,400 mining jobs in 2015 to 14,200 jobs in 2016. That number lumped in petroleum jobs, said Alaska Economist Neal Fried, with “mom and pop” placer mines and large entities such as Usibelli coal. The Alaska Miners Association separates out minerals and construction materials mining to get its tally: Jobs went from a high of in 2012 of 10,000 to 8,600 in 2016, said AMA President Deantha Crocket. “But overall, it’s been pretty stable,” Crocket said. That outlook could change in the placer mining sector as new developments include a spike in the price of gold to $1,294 an ounce as of April 18. But at the only Alaska coal mine in operation, Usibelli Coal has no international trade partners for the first time in more than 30 years and has severely downsized. Last year the company sold its last trainload to Japan. “We have no export customers this year,” said Lorali Simon, Usibelli’s vice president of external affairs. Production fell to 1 million tons in 2016 when Usibelli lost trade partners located in Chili, South Korea and Japan. Customers now are located only in-state. “In our heyday, we produced 2.1 million tons a year,” Simon said. Currently, Usibelli supplies coal for six coal-burning power plants located in Interior Alaska. “We’re looking for trade opportunities but currently marketing conditions don’t support exports,” Simon said. “There’s a long explanation for that. It’s based on the strength of the U.S. dollar. It’s due to the fact there’s more natural gas on the market, and cheaper coal out of Indonesia and Australia.” The “onslaught of regulations” from the Obama administration is easing under the Trump administration, Simon said. “A lot of damage was done the last eight years to our industry,” she said. “Being able to climb out of that is a source of optimism for us. We’re looking for every opportunity to expand and the only opportunity is on the export market.” Employment at Usibelli fell from 150 in 2011 to the current 100 employees. Some were laid off, others involved positions that went unfilled after attrition, Simon said. Total payroll for all mineral resource mining saw a payroll of $675 million in 2016. The industry produces zinc, lead, copper, gold, silver, coal, as well as construction materials, including rock, sand and gravel. These are good jobs, Crocket notes, so losses are felt in the Alaska economy. The average annual wage is $108,000, or twice the state average income. A haul truck driver earns between $85,000 to $100,000. Diesel mechanics are in high demand. Jobs that require degrees such as metallurgists also are in need and pay well. “We calculate a diverse spectrum of jobs. Mines operate like small independent cities,” Crocket said. “They also employ medics, chefs, everything needed in the day-to-day life for the operation of a mine.” A McDowell Group study in 2011 had predicted a rosier future for mining based on several advanced exploration projects that had the potential to dramatically increase Alaska’s mining employment. The Chuitna coal project on the west side of Cook Inlet was predicted to create 300 to 350 jobs; Wishbone Hill coal project was to employ 100 workers once in production; and the Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska would require an operations labor force of 800-1,000, the study predicted. Now Chuitna’s prospects are shuttered, along with Wishbone Hill. Pebble may be on the comeback but that’s still years away. Yet another statistic collected by the Alaska Department of Labor looks at a narrow window into those employed mining hard rock and other minerals. Economist Fried notes those numbers have been stable. In 2015, the state counted 2,983 jobs. In 2016, the number was 2,943. The price of gold dropped in December to $1,130, then rose to $1,294 per ounce by April 18. “These are still good prices for gold. They’re not historic prices, but they have rebounded substantially. That’s a good trend,” Fried said. Non-production time when prices are good is a time for marketing mines to investors, AMA’s Crocket said. According to discussions at AMA meetings, investments have boded well in the past year for several projects, she said. New projects for other minerals are in development. The farthest along is the Donlin Gold project, which is nearing completion of its environmental impact statement. A graphite prospect near Nome, a copper mine at Ambler and more small gold operations in waters around Nome could boost state numbers in a new direction for the coming years. The state, through the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, has started the permitting process for the Ambler Road to reach the prospect. The scoping period for the environmental impact statement was recently extended to the end of this year. Overall prices have improved on commodities since a low in 2014-15, Fried said. “We can expect those numbers to go up again,” he said. “Price is a plus. As a result of prices, exploration activity should improve. I think there’s signs of that. Prices help make possible for other mines to open. It improves the economic environment for opening new mines. That’s one of the most important things.” Naomi Klouda is a correspondent for the Journal. She can be reached at [email protected]

Education funding in focus amid growing budget impasse

It’s either an education funding raffle, drawing Permanent Fund earnings or an income tax: lack of agreement on any one of these three solutions is stymying action in the Alaska Legislature this week while as yet no conference committee is named to roll up sleeves and get to work filling a $2.6 billion hole. Education forms 44 percent of the Alaska budget between K-12’s $1.3 billion need and the University of Alaska system’s $325 million allocation. That’s the elephant stuck in a keyhole, according to legislators working through three possible solutions under consideration. These are the bills put forth to help fund education in fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1: • House Bill 115: The House Finance Committee sponsored this bill and it passed 22-17 on April 15. Called the Education Funding Act, it seeks to gain $650 million in an income tax for education. This bill is now before the Senate and isn’t wildly popular there due to the philosophy that it hurts in times of recession to tax citizens, said Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River. Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, advocates HB 115 as a fair mechanism for securing a steady revenue stream for education in the years to come. • Senate Bill 78: A new bill produced in the waning days of the Alaska Legislature by Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, would allow Alaskans to voluntarily sign-up for a raffle to fund education — and possibly win big money — when they send in their annual application for the Permanent Fund dividend. The bill, which also carries other provisions, passed 19-1 in a Senate vote April 17. • Senate Bill 26: Using $1.8 billion of the Earnings Reserve from the Permanent Fund Corp. This would allow the Legislature reduce the draw from the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve savings account. For the past five years, $10 billion was subtracted from the CBR. The Senate is calling a draw from the earnings a cornerstone of the 2018 budget. This bill passed the House after amendments that increased the guaranteed dividend to $1,250 in the first two years, and required its oil tax increase and income tax in HB 115 to be approved by the Senate before SB 26 can take effect. “We’re at an impasse. The focus is on the cornerstone… through SB 26,” Sen. MacKinnon said April 18. “We’re trying to keep people focused on what we believe is a must-have in a fiscal construct.” A fourth partial aid for education is in the form of the MacKinnon-sponsored SB 103, which would eliminate some parts of the Alaska Performance Scholarship over a four-year period. That would add millions to K-12 education grants to motivate innovations in schools. After originally proposing to eliminate all of the scholarships, an amended version of the bill would keep the Tier 1 APS for students who achieve a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Currently, 54 percent of the recipients are at this level. Staff for MacKinnon emphasized the priority should be improving K-12 outcomes given that 52 percent of enrolling students at the UA require some kind of remedial coursework. According to MacKinnon’s office, only 5 of 100 average ninth graders now in Alaska will graduate from the UA system within six years. Senate and House leaders have not yet put together a conference committee to reconcile disagreements over the budget due to the funding questions deadlock. “Once we’re not deadlocked on that, we can then appoint a conference committee for the operating budget,” MacKinnon said. “The (budget) hole is so enormous. We need SB 26 to fill the hole.” Though the 90-day session is over, with the utmost issue yet to be resolved — how to fund the budget — there’s a flurry of last-minute bills on education and other matters to resolve. Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, chair of the House Education Committee, said with so many moving targets, it might not be bad news that it’s slow-going in Juneau. “There is a lot of work to be. Major bills are still under consideration,” she said. “There are a lot of moving parts.” The House’s solution for funding education to avoid the Senate’s proposed cuts that include 5 percent to the Base Student Allocation statewide came in the form of the income tax in the HB 115. Now it is before the Senate to vote on Drummond said, and could end up in conference committee with the overall budget if no consensus is reached. Meanwhile, the House will be analyzing and voting on Bishop’s SB 78 solution. Bishop touts that as a new revenue stream for education in a multi-layered structure, while providing a raffle drawing. First, half of the proceeds would go directly to the state’s annual education budget. Second, one quarter of the proceeds would go into an endowment that — after it grows to $1 billion — would spin off income to the education budget. The final one-quarter would go into an endowment to grow the prizes, and 20 percent of that fund would be used each year for prizes, according to release from the Senate. Under the bill’s provisions, Alaskans can dedicatee all or part of their Permanent Fund dividend, in $100 chances, to enter the raffle and support education. The bill structures the check-off in a manner similar to the familiar “Pick.Click.Give.” program. “The odds in winning are incredibly; good compared to other raffles,” MacKinnon said. “Only 700,000 individuals qualify for the PFD. Something like half are children. If that’s the case, 300,000 to 350,000 people would be able to enter. It would give payoffs for education and payoffs for individual Alaskans.” The option to take from the Permanent Fund faces big hurdles in the House. It is proposed “because of the enormous shortfall and how little we have at our disposal to fix the problem,” MacKinnon said. Education became the focus because it’s the costliest of the top five budget items. If $1.8 billion is taken from the Fund earnings, the need to draw from the CBR would be more minimal, MacKinnon said. “A dialogue is happening. Everyone is trying to move their members toward a conversation that unites us,” she said. While options are available to avoid K-12 funding cuts, not much is in the works to help UA. When the University of Alaska Board of Regents met in Fairbanks April 13, they listened to an assessment from UA President Jim Johnsen and campus chancellors on contingency plans if proposed cuts are passed by the legislature. The House passed a status quo budget for UA, leaving them at $325 million in appropriations. But the Senate slashed $22 million, proposing $303 million for fiscal year 2018. The Senate amount represents a 20 percent decrease in unrestricted general funds for university operations over the past four years. “We’re at a place now where we can’t take more incremental cuts. There are employees wearing multiple hats, doing so at less time per week in order to save the university money,” Johnsen told the board. Continued enrollment declines and a reduced ability to meet the state’s workforce needs were just two of the dismal outlooks for UA’s immediate future. Johnsen predicts discontinued degrees and certificates, reduced research, and fewer faculty and staff to serve students. From 2011 to 2015, UA’s enrollment dipped from a high of 34,983 students to 30,496 in 2015, the latest numbers available. That’s a 12.8 percent loss in the student body. Johnsen emphasized that to avoid this type of “hard landing” in the future, UA is working on a Strategic Pathways process to diversify revenue streams. Less reliance on state funds is the goal. In the spirit of optimism, regents in fact asked for an increase in the allocation for fiscal year 2018 at $16.3 million over last year’s allotment. The money would have gone for workforce development programs, facilities maintenance, research conducted by the Institute for Social and Economic Research, economic development and K-12 partnerships. Regents unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund, which provides revenue for the Alaska Performance Scholarship and the Alaska Education Grants. “If these programs were eliminated, it would be a triple whammy… It would lead to reduced access (and) yet another budget cut,” Regent John Davies said at the meeting. He was referring to the $22 million in cuts, plus the previous four years of cuts that represent loss of 14 percent of the UA budget. One funding piece may not be on the way out, however. If the legislature agrees to keep the Tier 1 level of the performance scholarship, UA will continue to benefit from those scholars.

Education officials alarmed by proposed Senate budget cuts

Legislators at work reconciling budget differences between the House and Senate are hashing out a 5 percent cut across all 53 school districts in the state as a way to slash $69 million from the budget deficit. Several districts’ officials traveled to Juneau this week to make appeals: A 5 percent cut would turn education upside down, they told legislators. The House voted for a budget that allowed schools status quo with last year’s funding level, in keeping with Gov. Bill Walker’s spending request. But in the Senate, legislators decided on a 5 percent cut to the base student allocation or BSA. Another bill under consideration in the Alaska Legislature for fiscal year 2018 comes down to taking $100 million from the University of Alaska performance scholarship program to fund new 21st century innovative program grants for kindergarten through grade 12. The plan calls for phasing out the popular scholarship program over a four-year period. Sponsored by Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, a pair of bills eliminate the Alaska Performance Scholarship to fund competitive grant programs offered to K-12 throughout the state. In essence, it takes from higher education and gives to elementary and secondary education. “My sense is that everyone is caught off guard,” said Miles Baker, the University of Alaska’s vice president of government relations. Baker is in Juneau until the Alaska Legislature adjourns speaking with legislators about what cuts mean for UA system. To give perspective, he likened this year’s proposed $22 million in cuts to the budget for eight of its smaller campuses. That’s before any possible elimination of the Alaska Performance Scholarship. “It’s a bit like pitting K-12 and post-secondary education in a battle with each other for a pot of money,” Baker said. Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop likens the plan to “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” The concept ignores the cooperation between schools and the university that led to developing advanced courses the districts offer students in order to prepare them to be eligible for the highly competitive scholarships, she said. In the eleventh hour, Hughes tied Senate Bill 96 — an omnibus bill that creates a new virtual education program, among other changes — to a fiscal note in SB 103 that makes the proposal for eliminating the APS funding over four years. Another bill would create competitive grants available to school districts to take the sting out of reduced Base Student Allocation funding. But those bills are stuck in Senate Finance, while the Senate’s fiscal year 2018 operating budget is already before the House for reconciliation. “They (the Senate) passed major education legislation at the end of the session, and I don’t see how we can possibly do it justice in mere days left,” said Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage. Drummond heads up the eight-member House Education Committee. Impact of BSA cuts The per student formula funding proposed by the Senate’s operating budget seeks to chop 5 percent in an effort to peel back a total of $69 million in school funding for 2018. All 53 school districts in the state would see their budgets decrease by that amount, the highest student formula cuts ever imposed, said Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks. But Coghill noted that education is the costliest line item in the operating budget. Coghill is one of five members of the Senate Education Committee, and gave the sole “no” vote cast in Hughes’ funding plan eliminating the scholarship. He said he felt more questions needed to be answered. Yet he supported the 5 percent BSA cuts as a place to start the discussion. “This sets up a conversation (between the Senate and the House) on the difference between our cuts and their numbers,” Coghill said. “We felt the conversation was important, if we did a 5 percent cut, would it allow us to still maintain the education system we have?” Given other policy calls like creating an income tax and cutting the Permanent Fund dividend placed this year’s education spending under extra scrutiny, Coghill said. “We have to borrow money in order to make payroll. We took a lower number and said we think 5 percent is not unreasonable. The House won’t go higher than 5 percent and it might be less than that,” he said. The Senate is taking a load of criticism for its education cuts overall, Coghill said, for both K-12 and UA. “But everyone is being asked to make sacrifices,” he said. Drummond said the House has taken a completely different tactic. Their operating budget left both schools and UA in status quo flat funding with last year, after 2017 cuts had already bit into “muscle and bone” in the lay-off of 99 teachers in the Anchorage School District alone, she said. “We had districts’ superintendents and school officials for the floor hearing today (April 10) tell us $69 million loss will be absolutely devastating,” said Drummond, who served on the Anchorage School Board for a decade before taking her seat in the House in 2013. “Flat funding from the governor’s budget already had caused nearly 100 teachers to be cut from the Anchorage School District. Now, they would be looking at laying off 200 more.” The House advocated for an income tax to help cover the nearly $3 billion deficit gap and other measures such as the recently passed oil tax legislation, HB 111. That bill, now before the Senate, would add $130 million to state coffers by 2019 and increase incrementally each year after. The House also supports smaller Permanent Fund dividends. Republican leaders Sens. Pete Kelly and Peter Micciche led discussions in the Senate that favor cuts and leaning on Permanent Fund earnings with no income tax. Bishop had already factored in the 99 teachers laid off from Anchorage schools in last year’s budget cuts. High school and middle school classrooms saw an increase in student-teacher ratios, while the district sought to limit that impact on elementary schools. If the state reduces the BSA by 5 percent, it represents a loss of $26.9 million, according to an impact statement from the ASD to the Legislature. The loss would come from $21.9 million in state funds, and a loss of $5 million in matching municipal funds. The state can soften the blow if legislators resist tinkering with the BSA. A straight-across funding cut would save the district the $5 million in matching municipal money. ASD uses a formulua of 10 teachers per each $1 million. A loss in $1 million revenue means, in general terms, a loss of 10 teachers, said ASD spokeswoman Heidi Embley. There are currently 48,000 students enrolled in the district’s 130 schools and programs. It employs about 6,000 full time teachers and staff. Yet, balancing an academic budget is not so simple as handing out pink slips to teachers. “Programs are based on student needs. We would have to do an assessment and also speak to community desires,” Bishop said. “It’s not just me in this office deciding to cut this or that program. It isn’t as easy as looking at a program here or there and totally removing it. Teachers are the ones in our technology cuts, teachers are the ones in our abandoned orchestra, teachers are the ones on the soccer field.” Getting into a virtual classroom is a good concept and broadband access is essential for rural communities, Bishop said. “But if thinking of that as a way to cut back, the quality isn’t probably what we are looking at. If we try to innovate to save a buck, it probably won’t hit the mark. We can’t trade teachers for innovations,” she said. As for the performance scholarships, districts that worked hard on curriculum changes in order to help students meet eligibility requirements certainly do not want to see it go away. “It ensures a quality education for students entering the Alaska University,” and to help them stay and contribute to an educated Alaska workforce, Bishop said. “It wasn’t a handout.” UA cuts The Senate’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposes an across-the-board 7 percent cut from the Alaska University system, or $22 million. If the performance scholarships also go away, another $11 million per year will be lost from the Alaska Performance scholars’ tuition. An additional $5.3 million in needs-based Alaska Advantage Grants also goes away. Through SB 103, both would be eliminated over four years. This year’s high school graduates would be the last to qualify, said UA’s Miles Baker. “University officials have told legislators this would be devastating,” Baker said, “on top of the 14 percent cuts over the past three years.” Last year’s legislative appropriation of $325 million would be trimmed to $303 million under the Senate’s budget. The total UA system’s annual budget is about $900 million. Revenue comes from tuition, student fees, federal money and grants, which forms slightly less than two-thirds while the State of Alaska kicks in the rest. Putting the lost revenue in perspective, Baker points out $22 million is twice the amount it takes to support the entire UA athletics program. Previous annual cuts caused UA to suspend or reduce 50 academic programs. “We have 900 fewer employees today than three years ago,” Baker said. “Another 7 percent cut would represent a 20 percent reduction from four years ago. Fewer programs. Major enrollment challenges. We’re concerned about how to increase enrollment, how to increase marketing. We’re down to ‘what should we do?’” Currently, the UA system serves about 24,000 degree-seeking students or a total enrollment of 30,000 when accounting for all who take courses. Given the work ahead reconciling the budget and the outstanding issues of using Permanent Fund earnings to help fill the deficit, the April 16 deadline of a 90-day session will be missed. State law allows the Legislature another 31 days continuance before a special session must be called. That puts a new deadline on May 17. “Either way, the governor isn’t letting us out of here until we have a budget,” Drummond said. ^ Naomi Klouda is a correspondent for the Journal. She can be reached at [email protected]

Hughes aims for more bang for education buck

Alaska’s achievement gap in education places it among the lowest test scores in the nation. Graduation rates also lag dismally behind. Severe budget woes mean the State of Alaska can’t mend its way to academic successes through hiring more teachers and creating more education programs anytime in the near future. But “transforming” education might have a chance, according to the ideas behind a Senate bill created by Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer. Senate Bill 96 is making its way through hearings to what Hughes hopes will result in House action before the Alaska Legislature adjourns. SB 96’s aim focuses on a number of shortfalls from making sure teachers are highly qualified in their subject areas to cutting requirements for how much school districts must pay their bus drivers. A dozen issues are taken up in this omnibus bill, which include: • Raising certification test score requirements in Praxis, a standardized test for teachers. • Incentives to districts to pool their resources with grants for cooperative agreements with other districts, government agencies, businesses and non-profits • Training teachers in virtual education at no extra cost to the district • Districts may hire bus drivers for less than the required amount (twice minimum wage) and allows for one inspection per year rather than two The centerpiece proposal seeks to solve a teacher-and-funding shortage problem through a virtual education consortium, or VEC. A VEC offers a chance to augment daily instruction through quality learning from a central source, and it means districts won’t have to hire more teachers in a specialized topic area, according to the bill’s premise. Hughes said a VEC solution evolved during numerous joint meetings between the Senate and House aimed at finding new ways to improve academic outcomes. A virtual classroom works in real time. It allows for multiple interactions — between the classroom teachers and the virtual teacher, between students in one classroom and students in another. “It doesn’t take away the teacher from the classroom,” Hughes said. “It isn’t parking kids in front of a monitor; there will be a teacher on the other side in two-way live broadcasting. Students from multiple locations will be in real-time communication. We’ve had testimony from students who have that. They forget they are in a virtual classroom and feel the human connection.” So far, the president of the National Education Association-Alaska likes several provisions in the bill. Tim Parker testified in Juneau before Hughes’ education committee March 30. The NEA-Alaska represents teachers and education staff throughout the state. “The concept of virtual education, that is my favorite part, though I do have a lot of questions about how it would be funded. Training will be needed. There will be infrastructure and start up costs,” Parker said. Digital and visual learning has proven a popular choice for districts throughout the state. The challenge is that sometimes it can be done poorly. “It comes down to implementation,” he said. Lower Yukon School District Superintendent Rob Picou isn’t impressed by the plan. “There is nothing inherently transformative about virtual education,” he said in written testimony. “Providing increased educational content from urban to rural Alaska without a sustained effort in staff development and increased broadband in a district with a 30 percent staff turnover… is not necessarily transformative,” he wrote. He recounted the impact of $1.3 million in deficits already impacting the vast district that encompasses 22,000 square miles. Monitors, equipment and training pose predictable costs, but Hughes said the biggest factor is obtaining affordable broadband Internet throughout the state. A number of agencies and legislators are now at work on that question because in Alaska, the “information highway is the economic highway,” Hughes said. Sen. Anna McKinnon, R-Eagle River, rolled out legislation hoping to ease broadband costs for school districts that would increase the minimum megabits broadcast to rural communities from 10 to 25 megabits. It provides funding through a Broadband Assistant Grant that comes from the federal government in much the way the free school lunch program is calculated per student. Though nationally there’s a teacher shortage, in Alaska the problem is even more acute, Hughes said. Teacher turnover was 100 percent in one of the villages. It costs $50,000 to recruit each new teacher. “We’re hoping we can bring in great certified teachers to help close that gap,” she said. Other aspects of the bill generated more controversy. The concept of combining schools that fall below a certain enrollment percentage has proven contentious over the past several years of proposed education budget cuts. Hughes had placed the formula requirement at 70 percent enrollment. But that section is being removed, said Hughes Aide Josh Banks. Instead, the Alaska Department of Education will be looking at ways to consolidate schools wherever feasible. Praxis, requiring a higher test score for certification, also raised concerns. The Anchorage School District worried that it’s already difficult to recruit teachers in a time of teacher shortage. Praxis requirements could discourage applicants, according to ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop, whose office responded in writing. NEA-Alaska’s Parker, representing teachers, supported the Praxis provision as a way to make sure an instructor has ample knowledge of the subject. A section dealing with school buses has raised a few red flags. Buses would no longer need to be inspected twice a year. Districts would not be required to pay bus drivers twice the minimum wage, which is the current guideline. Of the testimony so far, Teamsters Union Secretary-Treasurer Rick Boyles said the bus driver provisions are troubling. But the matter of high transportation costs was brought to Hughes’ attention by some of the biggest school districts in the state, said Banks, Hughes’ legislative aide. Mat-Su, the Anchorage School District and the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District all have expressed support for having more latitude in paying wages and inspections. The second-term senator said the impetus for the bill came from insights while raising her four children while living in diverse communities such as Hoonah, Bethel, Fort Yukon, Fairbanks and Palmer. “I remember the struggles and difficulties,” said Hughes, head of the Senate Education Committee. “As I was coming into the chairmanship, problems in (education) got worse because funding wasn’t able to bring up the quality of education. Yet, we have an obligation to our students to give them excellent education.” Closing that gap in Alaska’s dismal ranking is the primary goal. “Alaska has one of the lowest rankings, in a country that ranks lower than other countries,” Hughes said. “We can’t just reform education. We have to transform it.” Naomi Klouda is a correspondent for the Journal. She can be reached at [email protected]

Denali Commission directed to work on shutdown plan

Here’s the task handed to Denali Commission federal co-chair Joel Neimeyer: What would it take to shut down 17 years of the Denali Commission’s work in Alaska if funding is eliminated in 2018? On March 31 by close of business day, Neimeyer was required by the Office of Management and Budget to summarize how he would close down the federal agency created in 1999. President Donald Trump’s initial budget submitted to Congress, the so-called “skinny budget,” calls for eliminating the $15 million budget that funds a myriad of projects in rural Alaska. Moving the eroding village of Newtok, gaining flush toilets, replacing bulk fuel storage tanks, finishing 40 power plants are among the Denali Commission projects that would halt. “I had a Friday deadline to work on the shutdown plan,” Neimeyer said, referring to March 31. “We are doing this in a timeframe, along with the other 19 federal agency heads who are working on a shutdown plan.” Trump’s initial budget is to be followed by a more detailed budget in mid-May. In the meantime, the skinny budget shows a preview of what to expect. It proposes to shut down 19 agencies, including the three sister programs that shoulder similar funding work in disadvantaged parts of the US: the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Northern Border Commission and the Delta Regional Commission. Other agency heads under the same orders include the National Endowment for the Arts and the Public Broadcasting System, which have garnered the bulk of the publicity. While Denali Commission funding often came under fire as suspected pork, and was created by Alaska’s powerful late Sen. Ted Stevens in 1998, this is the first time the agency has been asked to visualize the tools needed for its own shutdown, Neimeyer said. “The agency is criticized as duplicative. Some believe other agencies can easily do the work that we do. We’ve had our funding (proposed for eliminating) a handful of times,” Neimeyer said. Each fiscal term around this time period in preparation for the president’s May budget, Niemeyer is usually outlining his budget request for projects. “This is the first time I’ve been asked to write a shutdown plan,” he said. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young’s offices have sought to calm panic by reminding constituents and agencies it’s Congress that ultimately decides the budget, not the president. Murkowski made an outreach to Alaskans early on in the budget process. “This budget request is the first step in a long process through which Congress decides which programs to fund and how much funding those programs should receive,” Murkowski said. “The President’s budget expresses his priorities, and we will consider them, but it is the congressional budget and appropriations committees that will establish our priorities and fund them over the coming months.” From the House, Young gave a similar message. “Congress holds the power of the purse and it holds top line funding among our agencies. Ultimately, we will see how that shapes out,” said Matt Schuckerow, Young’s communication director. “This is not the full budget. He (Young) doesn’t want everyone to get up in arms as he begins. He will keep the Denali Commission on his radar.” Currently, Young is working with House and Senate Appropriations on priorities and figures for funding. There will be major reforms and policy provisions that make changes to the way the previous administration operated, Schuckerow said, but he doesn’t support eliminating the Denali Commission. In defending the commission, a big obstacle is the constant need to educate colleagues about how Alaska differs from the rest of the country, Shuckerow said. “Of his (434) colleagues in the house, over half have served less than seven years. It is always an education campaign given the number of folks who are new here. Is it over? No, it’s always ongoing,” Shuckerow said. “Over half weren’t here when the Affordable Care Act took place.” Murkowski plays a vital role on the Senate Appropriations Committee, as did Stevens when the Denali Commission was created. She too has pledged her support, and it won’t be the first time she’s fought to keep its line item in the budget. Keeping the commission alive, however, meant devolving from an all-time $150 million budget at its peak to its current $15 million. The money went for building new clinics, teacher housing, new power plants, new fuel storage and new roads. Its mission under the Denali Commission Act of 1998 was to “deliver services of the federal government in the most cost-effective manner by reducing administrative and overhead costs.” Broadly, that meant providing job training and economic development in rural communities, providing power generation, transition facilities, modern communication systems, water and sewer systems and other infrastructure. The most critical projects on Neimeyer’s mind are the 55 villages in various stages of bulk fuel storage replacements and the 40 power plant projects listed for either an energy-efficient upgrade or replacement. He’s also concerned about all the years of funding and work that went into getting the sinking Newtok village to higher ground and three other villages slowly disintegrating into the sea. The herculean move to get Newtok’s 300-some villagers to their new site on Nelson Island (nine miles away) is further along than relocation efforts for Shishmaref, Kivalina and Shaktoolik, Neimeyer said. Newtok is becoming a tiny island between the Ningliq River and a sinking bog to the north because of melting permafrost attributed to climate change. The new village is named Mertarvik. “We’ve been helping Newtok the last two years in the move to the new site,” Neimeyer said. “Shishmaref, Kivalina and Shaktoolik, also want to move. Newtok has site control while the others do not have land selected. That’s the next phase of work. Land selection and securing the site. It’s a long process. It’s not a short process at all. That’s what we see on the horizon. Those three may not get assistance. No federal agency has the authority or funding to develop a new community site.” The biggest criticism of the Denali Commission is that it does work that could be done by other agencies. It was also criticized as a “congressional experiment that hasn’t worked out in practice,” by former Inspector General Mike Marsh. It’s an “unnecessary middleman,” Marsh wrote in a seven-page report to Congress. Alaska’s congressional delegation was able to raise a strong rally for the Denali Commission’s work, and saved its funding. Then President Barak Obama breathed new life into efforts prior to his 2015 Alaska visit. He designated the commission as a “one-stop shop for matters relating to coastal resilience in Alaska.” Neimeyer maintains the commission’s work isn’t duplicative. Federal agencies have a 50-state model with tight controls over what kinds of projects are eligible and how the funding needs to be spent. That model doesn’t necessarily allow for Alaska’s diverse economic, social and climatic plight. “It doesn’t work in rural Alaska; that’s the difference we bring. We can adjust our investment. We’re able to customize investments,” he said, according to the priorities seen in critical needs. Whether the Denali Commission can survive the upcoming budget process should be known or at least hinted at by October, Neimeyer said. “More likely we won’t know until the end of the year,” he said. Shuckerow notes that Congress hasn’t followed a set schedule for passing budgets in recent years. Deadlines such as the upcoming April 28 date for government shutdown if the budget for the remaining portion of 2017 isn’t passed are becoming more of the norm. “We’re funded until the end of April. Once we come up with funding for rest of 2017, then we will work on 2018,” Shuckerow said. Naomi Klouda is a correspondent for the Journal. She can be reached at [email protected]

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