Opinion

GUEST COMMENTARY: Don’t settle for naysaying. Alaskans can get the job done.

The main criticism surrounding the commercialization of the North Slope gas reserves is that the state would never find investors. Many also believed that if the project was not economical under the private sector, it was not economic at all. Neither belief is true. The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) is on the cusp of signing deals with investors who will pour hundreds of millions of dollars into our state. That is an immediate path forward for the Alaska LNG pipeline. We don’t have to wait and wish for another mega-project anymore – we already have it. In preparation for advancing the project, AGDC recently asked the Legislature for authority to receive outside funding. This request is not an attempt to exclude the Legislature from the process. Rather, it is but another step towards the AKLNG pipeline and the 20,000 new Alaskan jobs, a steady flow of low-cost energy, and increased revenue for schools, roads, and troopers that come with it. The Legislature will still be the appropriating body, and they will still need to approve any additional state spending or issuance of debts or bonds. Critics, inside the Legislature and out, have recently asserted that we Alaskans are incapable of managing anything of significance on our own. On that point, we both take exception. I’m Rep. Gary Knopp, a Republican from Kenai. I came to Alaska thirty-odd years ago as a young man without connections or wealth. The same things folks are saying about Alaskans working on the gasline now, they could have said about me back then. I was young and unqualified, with thin financial resources - the biggest thing I had going for me was my will to succeed. Since that time, I worked with other Alaskans to build a construction company that has completed hundreds of jobs on time and on budget across the Kenai Peninsula. Don’t tell me that Alaska can’t handle big projects. And I’m Rep. David Guttenberg, a Democrat from Fairbanks. I moved to Alaska in 1969 after growing up in New York. Working on the pipeline gave me a foundation of financial security for the rest of my life, and showed me what Alaskans were capable of. We had a sense of wonder at the scale of the project and felt like there was nothing we couldn’t do. The life lessons from these early years led me on a path beyond anything I could have imagined. Alaska is the “Great Land” where anything is possible. For decades, Alaskan leaders who came before us, like Ted Stevens and Dan Fauske, made sure that Alaska and AGDC would be ready when an opportunity to commercialize Alaska’s gas emerged. That opportunity is now. Since when did Alaskan leaders decide it was politically important to undercut our team and second-guess our own accomplishments? Since when did we doubt our own ability to think for ourselves and determine our own path forward? We are our own worst enemies if we resort to taking potshots in an attempt to sink the project that holds the key to our economic security. Some of this is being done for personal political gain, which is particularly unsettling. Let’s instead look to the leadership of our Republican colleague from Nikiski, Rep. Mike Chenault, who hit the nail on the head when he recently spoke out against cutting AGDC’s funding, saying “If we continue to be afraid to make that investment to get to a point where we see if we have a viable project or not, in 30 years we’ll be saying the same thing we’re saying today, is that: ‘We should have went forward and completed a project.” Questions about this project from lawmakers and everyone else are welcome. Every aspect should be thoroughly examined and the Legislature must play a critical role in vetting decisions that will impact Alaska’s financial future. That is exactly what is happening. On this effort, we must work together and act as leaders, not politicians. The Alaska LNG Project is far too important to our state to undermine for partisan gain.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Trade with China benefits Alaska and should be encouraged

Future economic development in Alaska relies on outside customers; Alaska’s resources are so vast that their market is worldwide. We should celebrate being an international exporter and be concerned when local voices speak negatively about our business partners around the world. Discouraging outside investment will not build a stronger Alaska, but prevent our resources getting to world markets and to Alaskans. Disparaging our customers shrinks our economy at a time when we desperately need growth. Here’s an important headline: Alaska exported $4.93 billion of goods in 2017, with over $1.32 billion going to China. China has been Alaska’s largest export partner for the last seven years. They benefit from the abundance of our fisheries, mining, oil and gas, and timber. Gov. Bill Walker’s trade mission to China presents an opportunity to further engage with this economic powerhouse. The federal administration has made it clear that our country benefits from selling more goods to China, especially the energy Alaska has in abundance. For natural resources, China is an import nation and Alaska is an export State. In fact, the U.S. trade deficit with China was a key component of President Trump selecting the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. to participate in the U.S. trade mission to China last fall. There, President Trump witnessed the signing of the Joint Development Agreement between Alaska, AGDC, and China Petrochemical (Sinopec), CIC Capital Corp., and Bank of China in a historic step to advance the Alaska LNG project. These three Chinese companies do business all over the world and recognize that Alaska has a bright future as a reliable export partner. This kind of economic cooperation and trade is not new. China is the biggest customer of Alaska seafood, buying over $796 million of our products last year — more than any other country and an increase of 27 percent from 2016. Relationships between Alaskans and their customers in China are growing as this business grows, and for decades Alaska has fostered these same relationships with markets in Korea, Japan, and other countries. And yet, China or other Asian customers does not manage our fisheries. They do not count our salmon to ensure proper escapement, nor do they schedule when our families can dipnet on the Kenai or sink a lure in Auke Bay. The State of Alaska manages our fisheries for the benefit of Alaskans, and Alaska will never cede control our fisheries to foreign markets. We also profit from selling other resources to China, including over $355.8 million worth of metal ores and millions of dollars of forest products in 2017. China’s purchase of these resources adds significantly to a healthy and diversifying state-wide economy across Alaska, without ceding control or management of these resources either. For exports of Alaska’s beauty, representatives from Alaska’s tourism industry have been working for years to draw more Chinese visitors. After Chinese President Xi’s visit with Walker last April, both Fairbanks and Anchorage reported an immediate increase. Tour operators are fielding more inquiries from Chinese tourists, and the State of Alaska is working on setting up direct flights from Alaska to China to further stimulate this influx of economic activity for our communities. To be clear, these comments are not about the federal administration’s recent trade announcements. Our focus is on Alaska and Alaskan opportunities. Regardless of what happens at the federal level, the opportunities for Alaska and Asia to partner together are clear, providing we take our shot with the can-do optimism our state is built on. As Alaskan economic development entities, we envision a future where we see more and more headlines telling a positive Alaska-China story. China’s longstanding consumption of Alaska products has been creating benefits across the state for years, and the upcoming trade mission to China is a clear opportunity for us to strengthen this bond and continue to grow our economy. Finally, while the Alaska-China relationship did not start with the Alaska LNG project, it is a huge step forward we need to carefully encourage. Doug Griffin is the executive director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference. Tim Dillon is the executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District.

OPINION: Gasline project shouldn’t require a Pollyanna press

Other than projecting relentless optimism about the prospects for the Alaska LNG Project, the second constant from its leadership and proponents has been criticism of the press coverage it receives. Over and over we’ve heard Alaska Gasline Development Corp. President Keith Meyer rip the news coverage of the project as overly negative and damaging in foreign markets. In this issue we share an opinion piece by two advocates for the Alaska LNG Project who are now channeling Meyer’s press critiques, this time on the topic of the state’s trade relationship with China. “We should celebrate being an international exporter and be concerned when local voices speak negatively about our business partners around the world,” write the authors Doug Griffin and Tim Dillon of the Southeast Alaska Municipal Conference and the Kenai Economic Development District, respectively. “… As Alaskan economic development entities, we envision a future where we see more and more headlines telling a positive Alaska-China story.” Touting Gov. Bill Walker’s upcoming trade mission to China, the authors note the country’s status as the state’s biggest export destination with $1.32 billion in products last year, just more than 60 percent of that in seafood. Meyer spent a lot of time in China over the past year-plus working on a deal that culminated in the signing of an agreement last November outlining a framework that could have the country investing in up to 75 percent of the project costs in exchange for 75 percent of the LNG it will produce. On the surface, anything that helps turn the dream of unlocking the vast North Slope gas resource into a reality is a positive step. China does need cleaner energy as it has begun literally choking on its own pollution and has more than enough financial resources to invest. Beyond that, there is every reason to air concerns about the terms China will attempt to extract in exchange for its majority-share investment and what the Walker administration would cede to China in the name of building the project he’s pursued for some 30 years. And let’s get real: China is not Japan or Korea, Alaska’s No. 2 and 3 trading partners who are also geopolitical allies. The list is virtually endless when it comes to China’s human rights violations, its cyberattacks on and intellectual property theft from U.S. companies, its currency manipulation, its evading of sanctions on North Korea, its military aggression and expansion in the South China Sea, and so on. Griffin and Dillon don’t even acknowledge China’s bad behavior on these numerous fronts, and appear to want the press, legislators and business stakeholders to ignore these issues entirely in the name of increasing Alaska trade regardless of who it is with. They also don’t mention that the vast majority of those seafood exports are reprocessed in China and sold elsewhere through value-adding that we should aim to happen in Alaska and not celebrate as a penultimate trade achievement. China is ruthlessly aggressive in pursuing its economic, political and military interests and it does not make deals that go against them. A healthy concern or even skepticism is hardly unwarranted when it comes to making a $40 billion-deal with the Communist leaders of the world’s largest economy. The Walker administration is also asking for unlimited receipt authority for AGDC to accept third-party funds as its stash of previous state appropriations dwindles and its leaders have made the political decision to not seek more money from a cash-strapped state treasury. Preserving legislative oversight of the deals AGDC is making and what pieces of state resources it contemplates trading in order to advance the project are entirely appropriate and vital to upholding the constitutional mandate to develop resources for the maximum benefit of Alaskans. Just four years ago Walker was accusing former Gov. Sean Parnell of playing election-year politics for his moves to advance the Alaska LNG Project as an equity consortium with the three major North Slope producers and TransCanada. Now as Walker pursues reelection his surrogates are asking critics of his plan to be quiet about the path he’s pursuing and with whom he is pursuing it. The Alaska LNG Project will not — and should not — rise or fall based on the press coverage it receives or the amount of skepticism voiced in the Legislature or business community about its economics or the prospect of dealing with China. Working the press and leaning on skeptics to keep quiet in the name of more “positive headlines” isn’t going to get the Alaska LNG Project built and it comes off as a sign of weakness more than strength. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Medicaid not about saving money; it’s about serving people

Around the Capitol, there has been talk about “the high cost of Medicaid” and what can be done about it. Just the other day legislation was introduced in the Senate that would institute work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Let’s be clear: kicking the economically-vulnerable off Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program might be one way to reduce healthcare costs, but it is undoubtedly not the right way. And in the end, is very likely to cost ratepayers more. There is no honor in reducing enrollment when it means the neediest among us suffer even more. Our Medicaid system is a safety net which most of us in the legislature are lucky enough never to have needed. In a recession, like the one we are in now, it is even more important to ensure that we don’t rend that net. For some it might mean that a family is only a medical disaster away from finding themselves on the street — damaging families and potentially costing us all more through unrecoverable costs to emergency rooms. There are real problems with our healthcare system in this state, but it isn’t Medicaid, and it isn’t CHIP. Increases to these programs are symptoms of deeper problems. Rather than covering fewer people, to reduce State Medicaid costs, we need to both fix our economy so people have good jobs, and figure out how to make healthcare more accessible and affordable. In Alaska, 35 percent of the total state budget is devoted to health care, and that number will continue to rise. It’s driving up costs to our education system as health care premiums take a bigger and bigger bite of our budget. Healthcare is affecting our local communities, our businesses, and nearly every aspect of our economy. At the same time, the recession has caused dramatic job loses forcing many Alaskans to turn to Medicaid for health coverage. It’s as simple as that. Some legislators blame Medicaid rather than looking at these underlying issues. Further, they forget access to basic health care is a good thing, not a bad thing. The goal of Medicaid is to provide health insurance to low-income Americans. The benefits of this access go far beyond just preventative care, reducing the financial burden of chronic conditions, and of people using emergency rooms as their primary source of healthcare. It gives people access to financial security, making it easier to find work and stay employed because those covered can afford to get treatment. It also means that all of us with insurance pay less because we don’t have to cover uncompensated care. This year, Medicaid will bring about $1.4 billion of federal funds into Alaska, money that rolls through our economy creating an even greater impact as dollars get spent and re-spent (some estimate as many as seven times in the state). This “multiplier” effect shores up our private economy as well. The Department of Health and Social Services estimates that Medicaid expansion alone will bring an additional 3,700 jobs to Alaska by 2019, meaning an estimated $1.2 billion more in Alaskan salaries and wages, and $2.49 billion in increased economic activity across the state. So, how do we continue to provide care and save lives while reducing the cost of healthcare? Alaskans are innovators, so let’s innovate. Let’s talk about bending the cost curve of all healthcare spending, rather than denying our fellow Alaskans basic healthcare. Already, Alaska’s reinsurance program, separating out our “high-risk pool” of patients, has reduced costs for ratepayers and is a model for the rest of the country, with the full benefits still emerging. Another idea the state has been exploring is creating larger insurance pools to include all school districts and state employees, spreading out risk, buying in bulk, and driving down costs. This could save the state and school districts millions of dollars a year. It is also time to examine the business model of our healthcare industry. Right now, doctors and hospitals make money when people are sick, rather than by keeping people healthy — an inherently flawed system. In Alaska, we could move away from expensive fee-for-service payment and towards “accountable care organizations” which are paid a set price to serve a set population, regardless of whether someone seeks care or not. They have a financial incentive to keep their patients healthy and out of costly hospitals — a win-win situation for business and people. Payments are linked to improved quality of care and reduced costs. The best way to reduce the total need for Medicaid and CHIP is to get our economy back on track with a comprehensive fiscal plan which will provide a stable and safe Alaska — showing the private sector the stability they need to invest in our future for the long term. A key part of that functioning economy will be ensuring that we get control of our health care costs at the front end through lower prices and prevention rewards, and maintaining a security net for our citizens when times are tough. ^ Sen. Olson is a Democrat from Golovin and Sen. Begich is a Democrat from Anchorage.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Time is right for infrastructure investments

From the White House to the steps of the Alaska State Capitol, the need to maintain and improve our roads, buildings, and other critical infrastructure is evident. That is why Gov. Bill Walker introduced the Alaska Economic Recovery Act, which would establish a payroll tax capped at 1.5 percent that sunsets after three years. If approved by lawmakers, this proposal will inject $1.4 billion into deferred maintenance projects, improving dozens of communities across our state and putting more than a thousand Alaskans to work. At the federal level, we also need to recognize President Donald Trump’s efforts in proposing a framework to rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Under the president’s proposed Rural Infrastructure Program, Alaska would receive a portion of $50 billion. This program will generate block grants for governors to direct funding to communities with fewer than 50,000 residents. In other words, nearly the entire Last Frontier would qualify. This approach to funding enables the State to prioritize projects that matter most to rural communities and Tribes. Many villages face significant infrastructure challenges or will soon due to impacts of climate change. Roads, schools, and homes along Alaska’s sprawling Western coast are threatened due to coastal erosion, and a swath of our state that comprises urban and rural communities is grappling with the effects of thawing permafrost. We simply cannot wait years for federal agencies to get through a permitting process that could be put on a fast-track without negatively impacting the environment in any way. Alaskans deserve streamlined regulatory and permitting, particularly when it comes to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, or NEPA”) process which far too often causes public works projects to grind to a halt. Reduced bureaucracy is another key benefit of the proposed Trump infrastructure plan for Alaskans. The “one agency, one decision” process is welcomed and long overdue. Currently, many federal agencies would play a role in the issuance of permits for infrastructure projects under the current Federal process. Alaska’s experience has shown how big of a burden this can be. For more than four decades, federal agencies and others have attempted complete a NEPA document on a project to improve a dangerous stretch of road on the Kenai Peninsula: the Sterling Highway’s Cooper Landing Bypass. This month, the Federal Highway Administration completed the project’s environmental impact statement and allowed the project to move forward just six months after the process was restarted. Progress on the Cooper Landing Bypass is just one example of what is possible for Alaska under President Trump’s administration, a glimpse of what federal and state agencies are capable of when properly motivated and given timelines to follow. This is especially promising as we work with our federal partners to develop the proposed Alaska LNG Project, which will be one of the largest infrastructure projects in the history of this country. This project is too important to the future economic growth of Alaskan, and the recent announcement of an expected timeline for the Federal EIS is an encouraging sign. The introduction of permit fast tracking and infrastructure priorities at the Federal level combined with an infusion of badly needed monies at the state level promises a brighter future for economic growth in Alaska. Marc Luiken is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Dodd-Frank reforms show Washington can work

A bipartisan group of senators — Democrats, Republicans and one Independent — voted to pass the first set of substantial reforms to our nation’s financial system since 2010. The bill that cleared the Senate was the result of multiple hearings, broad stakeholder input, and thoughtful negotiations between lawmakers of differing parties and views. As Senate leaders work with the House to get this bill to the president’s desk for his signature, we thank Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan, who supported this bill on the floor. Why should voters in Alaska care about this unusual moment of unity? The bill is full of targeted regulatory reforms that will help Alaska’s community banks better serve customers and communities. For example, the bill makes tangible improvements that will streamline the mortgage process and free up credit to help banks get borrowers into new homes with the right kind of mortgage. It will help small business owners get loans to expand and hire more employees. And it will help bankers devote more time to front-line customer service, rather than spending hours each day working to comply with federal regulations that were supposed to apply only to far bigger, more complex banks. Consumers, business owners and bankers have been saying for years that there are too many regulatory impediments to growth in their communities. Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan deserve credit for listening — and responding. Their support for this bill will help fuel economic growth and job creation in communities across the country. We join with people across the country to support this bipartisan approach to solving problems. And we support our senators and other lawmakers who chose the path of hard work and compromise. We look forward to the House building on the solid bipartisanship that achieved this important victory in the Senate, and the President signing this into law soon. And thanks again to Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Sullivan for leading the way and showing that Washington can work together on behalf of the American people. Joe Schierhorn is the President and CEO of Northrim Bank and President of the Alaska Bankers Association.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans align on many issues despite division in capital

Since 1953 the Alaska Chamber has been the voice of Alaska business large and small across Alaska with a mission to promote Alaska as a great place to do business. To better understand the concerns and needs of Alaskans, the Chamber conducts a robust annual statewide poll — and the 2018 numbers are in. As much as we’d like to dedicate all of our time and attention to issues like economic diversification, small business startups, resource development, and much-needed workers’ compensation reform, state spending is still the overwhelmingly dominant issue on Alaskans’ minds. The issues that unite us What is abundantly clear in our findings is that without a doubt Alaska’s state budget dilemma remains the top concern on Alaskans’ minds. Along with the budget there are several notable and important issues on which Alaskans are strongly aligned. Some issues that enjoy the support of two-thirds or more of Alaskans include: • Implementing a cap on state spending (78%) • A work requirement for Medicaid recipients (77%) • Making cuts to state spending (72%) • Exploration and production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (68%) • Offshore Alaska oil and gas exploration and production (67%) These are issues that Alaskans agree on so strongly that they are overwhelmingly likely to pass should they ever go before voters on a ballot. You’d think that this type of universal alignment would mean these issues are likely to be introduced and passed in the Legislature but, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Perhaps with education and strong advocacy from statewide constituents, these issues might advance through the legislative process. Economic perception Each year we ask Alaskans to rate the current condition of the state economy. Public perception has basically held steady at just over 60 percent of Alaskans rating the economy as poor. While Alaskans remain unhappy with the overall state of the state economy, public opinion appears to have hit rock bottom. Perhaps now we can start climbing back out. I hope that Alaskans see national trends and upcoming opportunities to improve state leadership as a chance to stabilize — and perhaps begin to improve — the health and direction of the Alaska economy. The elephant remains in the room Alaskans still believe that the road to a balanced budget must be paved with cuts to spending and services. Cutting the budget outstrips all other fiscal options, including use of the Permanent Fund earnings or new tax revenues, by an overwhelming 10 percent to 36 percent. Today, those cuts may look more like structural reforms such as workers’ compensation reform that will save Alaska and business money. I mentioned that Alaskans are still concerned that the state is on the wrong track (66 percent). We went one step further this year, asking for recommendations on what might be done to get our state on the right track. Cutting spending to balance the government budgets is the number one recommendation. For Alaskans, reducing spending and eliminating services are more important than increased resource development, economic diversification, new state leadership and new taxes. Moving forward For decades now the Chamber has advocated for a fiscal plan focused on Alaska’s future. Smart spending habits, responsible use of our savings, and pro-business policies that encourage the development of our natural resources to grow Alaska’s economic pie are the cornerstones of our advocacy efforts. And we now find that Alaskans agree. Over the remaining days of the legislative session, through the interim, and throughout the upcoming election season, we will continue to find shared, common ground and meaningful trends in the 2018 polling data. While Alaska is navigating a patch of rough road, the good news is that maybe we’re past the frost heaves. There are many issues that unite Alaskans. As individuals and as companies its time to come together to advocate for public policy that Alaskans from across the state can support. Curtis W. Thayer is lifelong Alaskan and serves as president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Time for conversation on climate change and resource development

For too long, there has been an awkwardness in the way Alaskans talk about climate change and resource development in the same conversation. But there is no question on the very real impacts of climate change on Alaskans, nor in the continued need for resource development in this state. This administration voices our commitment to not only deal with the impacts of climate change on the health and safety of our citizens and our environment, but also to provide our people a meaningful future with safe communities, quality education, a strong economy and good jobs. To make progress, we must recognize that both resource development and climate action are key parts of Alaska’s future. Climate change is affecting Alaskans right now. From erosion forcing entire villages to relocate to infrastructure damage from thawing permafrost, the physical and economic impacts of climate change are hitting Alaska faster and with more severity than most other areas of the world. To underestimate the risks or rate of climate change is to gamble with our children’s futures, and that is not a bet that we are willing to make. According to a 2017 poll, the majority of Alaskans are with me on this, recognizing that the effects of climate change have already begun and require action. On Oct. 31, 2017, the Governor signed Administrative Order 289, Alaska’s Climate Change Strategy, creating the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team. This team is charged with developing a range of climate solutions that help make wise use of our resources, provide for the health and welfare of Alaskans, preserve the social and cultural fabric of our communities, and meet our responsibilities to future generations. Creating these solutions will push us to build on past successes, using the same ingenuity and teamwork that has defined Alaska’s leadership in energy production. The question in front of us is not whether we can remain an oil and gas producing state or strengthen our commitment to addressing climate change — we must do both. The state will continue to be an energy producer for as long as there is a market for fossil fuels, and the revenue that comes from our resources will continue to spur economic growth and support essential public services. However, we will not ignore the fact that resource development contributes to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions. We should not use our role as an energy producer to justify inaction or complacency in our response to the complex challenge of climate change. Instead, we must leverage our expertise and resources gained as an industrial leader, creating solutions that empower individuals, communities, and businesses. A responsible energy transition will help us to envision and create a future for Alaska that is prosperous, just, and competitive in a global marketplace that is increasingly shifting towards renewables and energy efficient technologies. A 2017 report estimated that jobs in the solar and wind energy sectors are growing 12 times as fast as the rest of the U.S. economy. Not only will this energy transition create jobs and investment opportunities, it will also enable communities and regions to take control of their energy systems, reducing costs and increasing local energy security. Alaska has incredible renewable energy resource potential — our economic future must reflect that. We are confident that together we can have robust discussions, implement meaningful action, and make significant progress in our collective response to climate change. The Governor’s Climate Action Leadership Team has a lot of work ahead, and they will depend on engagement and partnerships with companies, communities, and philanthropic organizations, to ensure that their recommendations reflect a diversity of needs and interests. Let’s bring this important conversation about Alaska’s unique situation into our work places, our communities and our homes. Our future depends on it. ^ Bill Walker is a former oil and gas attorney, and the 11th governor of Alaska. Byron Mallott is the Lt. Governor of Alaska, and chair of the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team. For more information see climatechange.gov.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Stakeholders not far apart on oil transport in Prince William Sound

If you’ve ever owned horses, you probably know that cleaning the barn first thing in the morning is good for the soul. I use that time to think. Recently, before going out to take care of my four-legged friends, I started pondering the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council’s recent resolution, the response from industry, and had a good shovel session to sift through it all. For those who may not be aware, in January the council passed a resolution stating that oil tankers and escort vessels should not be permitted to transit through Prince William Sound and into the Gulf of Alaska in weather conditions which have been determined by industry to be unsafe for training. Some have focused on the differing viewpoints between the council and industry. In truth, we are more in alignment than not. We both want the highest level of safety within the oil spill prevention and response system for Prince William Sound. We agree that crew safety is the first priority. Alyeska Pipeline Service Company has also committed to training new crews to demonstrate tanker escorts in a variety of weather and sea conditions in the Sound. Our resolution is a request for industry to determine their safe limits of training, clearly define them, and then evaluate the need to limit laden tanker transits through Prince William Sound and into the Gulf of Alaska to those same weather conditions. Crews must experience the full range of operating conditions in which they are expected to perform. If not, how can we expect them to respond to a real event in adverse conditions when their lives, as well as the economic and environmental health of our communities, may be on the line? In 2004, I was the chief engineer on board the Crowley tug, Nanuq, during an exercise near Hinchinbrook Entrance conducted through Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System, or SERVS. Weather conditions ranged up to 12-foot seas and 40 knots of wind. The Nanuq had been in Valdez for four years before that exercise. By that time the crew worked efficiently as a team and had complete confidence in the captain and the vessel. At no point did I feel that we were exposed to undue risk. That exercise, including two tugs and a fully laden oil tanker, was to demonstrate the ability of the escort tugs to arrest a disabled tanker in higher winds and rougher sea states, which we successfully accomplished. However, the other tug had a winch motor failure while recovering the towline from the tanker. It is a heck of a lot better to discover equipment limitations during an exercise than in an actual emergency. Such lessons learned from this drill influenced Crowley escort vessel operations in rough weather, resulting in a safer escort system. Drills and exercises in the Sound are well-planned events with many safeguards. They can and should be stopped at any time that the risk to crews or vessels becomes unacceptably high. The council recommends a tiered system of exercises, beginning in calm conditions and advancing to the level industry deems the safe limit. Classroom and simulator trainings are valuable, but they can’t take the place of real-world experience on the deck of a vessel. I was there when Crowley brought into service then-new escort vessels in 1999. Thinking back on that time as I shoveled away in the barn, some thoughts came to the forefront about the current marine services contractor transition. As in 2000, the escort system in Prince William Sound is going to be vastly improved with new vessels arriving soon, to begin service by July. They will have more horsepower, higher bollard pull, and the constant tension winch systems that have been advocated for by the council for years. Alyeska and their new contractor, Edison Chouest Offshore, have put state-of-the-art equipment into these vessels, which is to be commended. At the same time, we need to recognize that all new vessels have a period of adjustment before they become a fine-tuned piece of equipment. Any time a system goes through transition, in any industry, risk is introduced. This is especially true for a transition of this magnitude, happening in such a tight timeframe. I have found that an efficient crew starts with competent people: well-trained, professional mariners, learning a new vessel as a team. Just as in any good relationship in life, getting to know a vessel does not happen overnight. It takes time. The council’s resolution is by no means an effort to delay oil shipping or put crew members in harm’s way. We are simply asking for a safe path forward for Edison Chouest’s crews to learn their vessels, the expected escort tasks, and the conditions in which they have to operate, during non-emergency situations. Alyeska’s oil spill prevention and response system is one of the best in the world. This system was created through the hard work and dedication of industry, regulators, elected officials, and citizens working together to develop solutions and promote improvements. We all want the same thing: to prevent oil spills, and have the best response system possible should prevention measures fail. Coordination between all parties is critical to maintain a high level of oil spill prevention and response, and to make sure an accident like the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill never happens again. I’m proud of my 22 years of service working on SERVS vessels in Prince William Sound and look forward to Edison Chouest’s crews developing that same pride in Prince William Sound in the coming years. The council’s resolution and accompanying position paper detailing further information and history on this topic can be found at www.pwsrcac.org. Robert Archibald represents the city of Homer on the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council board of directors and has lived in Homer since 1984. Archibald spent 48 years as a mariner, including service in the U.S. Coast Guard and 32 years as chief engineer on Crowley Marine Service vessels in various locations, before retiring in 2014.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Permanent Fund wasn’t established to pay dividends

What was the reason for the Permanent Fund anyway? Is our Permanent Fund dividend a constitutional right? Should it be? Is it yours — government’s — or ours? Who does the Permanent Fund belong to? Should Permanent Fund earnings only ever be used to pay a dividend? We need to solve these questions this year. Established by a vote of the people in 1976, the Permanent Fund came into being. Our Permanent Fund is in the Alaska Constitution (please read it): Article 9 Sec. 15. After describing the principal, the last sentence says: “All income from the permanent fund shall be deposited in the general fund unless otherwise provided by law.” The support statement in the 1976 election pamphlet for the Permanent Fund amendment to our constitution read in part: “Now is the time to ask ourselves the question: ‘When the oil and gas is depleted, where will the funds to feed our giant government come from?’ The answer is: ‘the Permanent Fund.’” That is the answer to the reason for the Permanent Fund. The Permanent Fund dividend payment is a statutory entitlement found in Title 43 under Revenue and Taxation, passed by the Legislature in 1981 and reworked by the Zobel v. Williams Supreme Court Case in 1982. The entitlement was created by the Legislature. It can be changed by the Legislature and has been many times throughout the years. Therefore, the dividend is not a constitutional right, but a statutory entitlement created by the Legislature to share our resource wealth evenly and for every qualified Alaskan. Should the dividend now be enshrined in the constitution? Not In my view. Should we elevate the right to a cash payment from our sovereign wealth to the same level as our freedom of speech or the right to keep and bear arms? I think that would be a huge mistake. Truly, Alaska’s vast resources are held in common, so also is our government. We all get to share in the wealth and responsibilities of governance. In our statehood compact we agreed with the federal government that our resources, land and water would be held in common to pay for a government that Alaska’s small population could not sustain through individual taxation. Therefore, our resources and our government — public safety, schools, land management, game management, etc. — are in common as well. We enjoy great benefits and shoulder significant responsibilities. Yours — government’s — or ours? Too many times we put a distinction between us and government and for good reason. Sometimes our government is growing, uncontrollable and overbearing, a want-to-be master rather than a responsive, lean, servant to the people. Yet the government of Alaska is still ours. It is, “we,” not “us and them.” Debate is important, and it is in full-swing over our dividend, so please accept this opinion in honest debate. Should the earnings of the Permanent Fund be used only ever for a dividend? Not in my opinion. We would then have a serious IRS problem on our hands because the fund would be a private use only fund and potentially lose its tax-exempt status. I think sharing the wealth of our permanent fund earnings is a good thing. I also think using earnings to fund our government services is a good thing. This is a critical year for us Alaskans. Oil income has been and remains low, and our savings are not able to sustain us any longer. We need to figure out the wisest way to use the earnings of the Permanent Fund to keep our government funded along with our oil wealth and the other taxes that are available. Putting the statutory formula for paying a dividend into our constitution (as proposed in Senate Joint Resolution 1) won’t work because the dividend would overrule all other uses; just using the earning reserves has an impact on the dividend every time. A better formulation is needed that is clear and simple to calculate. The governor vetoing the dividend before the statutes were changed was a huge violation to us Alaskans in policy and process, which disappointed me. I favor an endowment approach that puts the corpus (constitutional permanent fund) and the earnings reserve (statutory earnings not yet obligated) into a management fund together that lets only 4 to 5 percent of the entire value available for us to use for dividends and government use. We should not accept the rewriting of history to make political points. Rather, we should roll up our sleeves and work for the best solutions for now and the following generations. Therefore, I am in favor of putting an endowment method into our constitution and having a statutory directive for general funds to our budget and paying a dividend. Sen. Coghill represents District B in Fairbanks.

GUEST COMMENTARY: UA investing in innovation to help drive the economy

For many years, universities have competed for talented students by promoting academic programs, affordability, athletic teams, and campus life. Those elements remain a part of campus recruitment, but today smart students are increasingly making choices based on a university’s innovation and entrepreneurship programs. There’s no doubt that a community that values innovation is good for our students, our community partners, and our state. At the University of Alaska, we recognize that investing in innovation and aggressively supporting applied learning is critical. That’s why we’re focused on more innovation in our business and engineering programs, course design, labs and maker spaces, and why we are launching start-up competitions and hackathons. Innovation generates wonderful ideas and great societal leaps, and more importantly, it creates new businesses, inventions, patents, and jobs. The university’s Board of Regents has made economic development one of its top goals for higher education in Alaska. Our budget includes investment in innovative programs at our university campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau that drive regional and statewide economic development. The University of Alaska Fairbanks is globally recognized for its Arctic-related research programs and faculty; and, in a number of centers and research offices at our other campuses, the university is working to make life better for Alaskans. One emphasis is on commercializing our research to support economic diversification and the creation of new jobs and small businesses in Alaska. That’s why we’re launching the Center for Innovation, Commercialization, and Entrepreneurship, or Center ICE, at UAF. Center ICE is an innovation hub designed to accelerate innovation, promote economic diversification, and encourage entrepreneurialism in the University of Alaska system. The first Center ICE class will consist of five university spinoff companies and approximately 10 individual innovators and entrepreneurs. The intellectual property produced at the university represents great potential to benefit the private sector. Center ICE will contribute to the university’s broader innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem, and is partnering with Alaskan mentors, investors, and entrepreneurs as well as organizations like the Small Business Development Center, the Launch Alaska business accelerator in Anchorage, the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation, and UAA’s Business Enterprise Institute. Initially, the center will be on the UAF campus, but the long term plan is to move it off campus to a place in the Fairbanks community. This new phase also will include a research park for collaborating with industry partners while also continuing to support university spinoffs, which will benefit from the opportunity to network with industry. This addition to our already innovative capabilities is important. World-class researchers and innovators at the University of Alaska have developed new products, processes, and innovations in a number of areas including fighting cancer with nanoparticles, working on the capture and conversion of methane gas into energy and the development of hydro-technologies, creating and patenting a tiny infrasound sensor sensitive enough to detect volcanic eruptions or nuclear explosions from distant locations, studying carbon cycling and distribution in coastal forests, and so much more. Recently, I announced the inaugural President’s Innovation Challenge at UAA. This challenge is designed to encourage students to partner with Anchorage community and business members to solve community problems through an innovative solution, whether an app, a policy recommendation, or a new business. This year’s challenge calls on UAA students to work with community and business partners. UAA’s Center for Economic Development will lead the challenge, mentoring participants throughout the process, and we’re excited to see what the teams create. The Invent Alaska competition is also underway at UAF and UAS, which rewards winners with support to commercialize their innovations. It’s easy to see that the university is committed to innovation and entrepreneurship and we believe these programs are tremendous opportunities for both students and community members. More than 500 colleges and universities have established programs specifically focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. At the University of Alaska, our ranks include Carnegie Fellows, Truman Scholars, UA Scholars, Fulbright Scholars, and Rhodes Scholars. These bright Alaskans will become tomorrow’s leaders, creating new technologies that meet needs and create opportunities. From the beginning, Alaska’s climate and harsh environment demanded that we innovate simply to survive. This spirit drives innovation at the University of Alaska. I am proud of our progress, but like many Alaskans, I am concerned about our future. That’s why the university is leading the way in creating the innovative and dynamic Alaska we all want. Going forward, you will see even more emphasis on innovation, entrepreneurship, research parks, and business incubators. At the University of Alaska, we see the opportunity, and we are all in. Join us to create a bright future for Alaska. Jim Johnsen is the 14th president of the University of Alaska.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Treating the dignity deficit

Here’s the question: should Alaskans who receive Medicaid be required to work or volunteer as a condition of their benefits? I believe so, and two weeks ago I introduced SB 193 which would require Medicaid recipients to engage with their community through employment, volunteerism or subsistence activities. First, the facts: SB193 does not require new mothers, the elderly or the disabled to seek employment. We reviewed proposed Medicaid work requirements from other states and crafted our exemptions to ensure that the Medicaid safety net continues to work for those who need it most. In pursuing a work requirement, Alaska would join 10 other states already moving forward with similar efforts. SB193 carefully carves out exceptions for our most vulnerable and provides exemptions for job training, serious students, caregivers and more. With Alaska’s uniqueness in mind, we included a work credit for subsistence activities as well. Many of the 196,000 Alaskans on Medicaid already work, and some of those who do not are covered by one of the bill’s exemptions for education or caregiver activities. Senate Bill 193 is crafted to apply to a narrow band of Medicaid users: those who could work, but choose not to. Like all of us, Alaskans on Medicaid have dreams for a better life. When plans don’t work out and setbacks occur, it’s easy to lose heart and stay where it is most comfortable – receiving government benefits. But a life of government dependency can be isolating and unfulfilling. People grow when they plug into a larger community – they need to belong. Beyond the dignity of productivity, work opens doors to a larger community of friends and associates. Work provides us with a reason to step out the door in the morning and stand side by side with our fellow Alaskans making our state a better place. Detractors say the idea that work has inherent dignity is old-fashioned and has no place in modern public policy debate. I disagree. American public discourse has always held certain truths to be self-evident. The value and dignity of work as one of these truths is foundational to our nation’s success. Engaging in the workplace or volunteering for a non-profit allows everyone the opportunity to earn a reputation for reliability, gain new skills and develop valuable networks. Some observers will assume that a work requirement for Medicaid is about saving money. While savings would be welcome, they are not the primary motivation nor are they likely to materialize in a meaningful way. In fact, I anticipate modest costs to implement and enforce the work requirement. That’s right, I am willing to spend some money if that’s what it takes to help Alaskans move away from the debilitating effects of dependency and forward towards self-sufficiency. We’ve spent billions on dependency – I’m willing to spend a small fraction of that to encourage Alaskans on a path toward independence. It is rare in politics to find a win-win policy. So often it seems new proposals just take from one hand to give to the other. By contrast, a Medicaid work requirement benefits everyone. It increases the pool of volunteers Alaska non-profits need to serve our most vulnerable and it encourages able Alaskans to move towards education and job experience — the surest way off a treadmill of dependency and onto the road towards independence. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, is the President of the Alaska Senate.

GUEST COMMENTARY: U.S. needs a plan to address the debt, now

Earlier this month in testimony before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee outlining the major national security threats facing the country, former Sen. Dan Coats, currently President Trump’s Director of National Intelligence, said: The failure to address our long-term fiscal situation has increased the national debt to over $20 trillion and growing. This situation is unsustainable … and represents a dire threat to our economic and national security. Last fall in an op-ed piece current U.S. Senator David Perdue, R-Ga., a member of the Armed Services Committee, wrote “The single greatest threat to our national security is our national debt.” Despite these and similar warnings from other current and former government officials, over the last two months Congress has passed, and the President has signed, two bills that substantially increase the national debt even further. Indeed, the federal Office of Management and Budget recently admitted that even with the spending cuts reflected in the President’s most recent budget proposal, national debt is projected to rise from the current year an additional $8.7 Trillion over the next decade and the annual budget will not be back balance even by the end of that period. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is expected to provide an even more dire assessment in the next few weeks. Our national debt as a share of the economy is already almost twice the historic average over the past 50 years, higher than any time in history except World War II. If not brought under control it will stunt investment, slow wage growth, increase interest rates, and pass a massive financial burden onto future generations. To be sure, tackling the national debt requires tough decisions, but it only gets more difficult the longer we wait. As the debt becomes more uncontrollable, it will eventually require both higher tax increases and more severe cuts to spending — both non-military and military — than would have been needed if lawmakers had acted in a timely manner. Letting the current situation fester also reduces the federal government’s capacity to respond to unexpected crises. Before the last recession, debt was only half of what it is today as a share of the economy. The United States was able to endure and ultimately, climb out of that recession by strategically using our debt capacity. But unless we replenish that capacity now, by reducing debt back to prudent levels in the midst of a strong economy, we will not have sufficient capacity remaining to respond to the next, inevitable difficulty without significant adverse consequences. Our aging population, rising health care costs, growing interest costs, and lack of revenue are considerable challenges, but as the nonpartisan and highly regarded Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has outlined, they are surmountable. The first step involves responsibly addressing our spending levels, at a minimum making sure that we offset any needed increases in some defense and nondefense spending areas with real cuts and reforms elsewhere, necessarily including our current, so-called mandatory spending programs. The second step, efforts to slow the growth of healthcare spending, should follow, making sure that Medicare and Medicaid focus more on value rather than quantity of care. The third step should aim to keep Social Security solvent for future generations through a mix of benefit formula adjustments, new revenues, and other changes such as increasing the retirement age. Any changes made today can be gradual and targeted, giving workers time to plan and adjust while protecting lower-earning seniors. And finally, but inevitably given the size of the task, in the not too distant future we need to revisit the tax code. We must do far more to cut the $1.5 trillion of annual tax breaks in the code — almost none were eliminated in the legislation that just passed. And, to be blunt, fixing the debt will require some new revenues. This country needs a more stable fiscal foundation, not more debt. To address both the nation’s long-term security and our children’s long-term financial well being, lawmakers need to start filling the hole, not digging it deeper. Brad Keithley is Managing Director for Alaskans for Sustainable Budgets.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Bill to pay off credits fulfills state side of bargain

This week, the Walker Administration introduced a bill to pay off up to $1 billion of outstanding oil and gas tax credits by issuing bonds to pay for them at a fair discount. By purchasing these tax credits held by small oil and gas exploration companies, the bill will free up frozen credit markets to allow new exploration and development to continue. This bill is part of Gov. Bill Walker’s economic stimulus plan calculated to put Alaskans back to work, and will ultimately result in increased production, leading to increased revenue for the benefit of all Alaskans. Some Alaskans are asking hard but good questions about why we are doing this. First some background. Last year, we worked with the Legislature to end the cashable oil and gas tax credits program. In many cases the program had worked — it brought small oil and gas exploration companies to Alaska to look for new fields. In Cook Inlet, the tax credit program largely solved the serious problem of disappearing gas supplies — gas that Alaskans need for electricity to light and heat their homes. And there have been new large oil discoveries on the North Slope, like the Pikka field, that have promise to put substantial volumes into the pipeline and bring new revenues to the State. With the passage of House Bill 111 last year, we have ended the program of cashable oil and gas tax credits. The tax credits had quickly added up to a huge sum, and given the collapse in oil prices, the state was simply unable to continue paying them immediately. The point of this bill is to be able to “clear the decks” and put the saga of cashable oil and gas tax credits behind us. Alaskans are asking, why provide a bail-out to large oil and gas companies? We aren’t. The point of the tax credits was to encourage small oil and gas companies to explore for new oil and gas reserves. We promised cash and they came. Not only that, they employed Alaskans. They borrowed hundreds of millions from banks and attracted capital from investors. They spent this money and hired Alaskans. In many cases they found new oil and gas. The production from these new finds will create new revenues for all Alaskans. We need to fulfill our side of the bargain. Alaskans should know that the bill is cost neutral to the state. We are asking for a fair discount from face value when we buy the tax credits under this bill. The small oil and gas companies get paid immediately, but they will take a discount that will cover our cost of paying the bonds. The companies have the option to take a smaller discount, but in that case, they have to commit to further in-state capital expenditures or give the state an additional royalty. This is a win-win for Alaskans. We are proposing this program to achieve a fair resolution and conclusion to the cashable oil and gas tax credit system. Fair to the State, fair to Alaskans, and fair to the small oil and gas exploration companies that came and did what we asked them to do: look for new oil and gas resources. We look forward to successful outcomes: fully and quickly extinguishing these tax credits, completion of the exploration and development of prospects funded by the tax credits, new production, and new oil and gas revenues for the state. More investment means more jobs for Alaskans. More production equals more revenue to benefit all Alaskans. Sheldon Fisher is the commissioner of the Department of Revenue.

AJOC EDITORIAL: Parish flunks out on oil taxes

Nobody could blame Rep. Justin Parish for loving the sound of his own voice. The problem is that everything that comes out of the Juneau Democrat’s mouth regarding oil taxes following his baritone “Madam Chair” reveals a depth of knowledge that is shallower than a contact lens case. Parish was on full, cringe-worthy display at a couple recent hearings of the House Resources Committee, where co-chair Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, is forcing oil industry representatives to hump to Juneau yet again for more hearings on another oil tax bill that’s going nowhere. If these hearings are good for anything — other than serving as a constant reminder that the state is on track to see its third straight year of production increases on the North Slope — it is to witness the Democrat-led Majority’s utter cluelessness on policy from definitional basics to more complex financial reporting. First up was Parish questioning Tax Division Director Ken Alper, whom Democrats have relied upon since taking the House majority in 2016 to help craft their seemingly endless series of oil tax increases. At the Jan. 26 hearing, Alper had an innocuous PowerPoint slide that noted Tarr’s proposal to raise the gross minimum tax from 4 percent to 7 percent is a 75 percent increase. Parish, who once wrote that “French is the international language of freedom,” decided to wade into the universal language of math. “We are contemplating increasing the effective rate by 3 percent,” Parish said. “It’s such a curious quirk of language. Because if we were increasing it from 1 percent to 2 percent, you could say we’re increasing the effective tax rate by 100 percent.” Alper agreed, “Yes, doubling it.” “Which just, on the face sounds like we’re going up to an effective tax rate of 101 percent,” Parish said. “Which is positively bizarre. I would ask you in the future not to muddle things by saying we’re increasing the effective tax rate by 75 percent when on the face of it you’d think we’re going from a 4 percent gross tax to a 79 percent tax rate, which is also a plain language reading of what you have here.” The only thing muddled is Parish’s thinking but the problem is his muddled thinking came along with an instruction to Alper to refrain from using math because it accurately portrays the size of the tax increase Tarr is proposing. Parish wasn’t done yet, and saved some of his best column material for BP Vice President Lewis Westwick a few days later on Jan. 29. Just five minutes earlier, Westwick had responded to Rep. George Rauscher, R-Wasilla, who gave him an opportunity to address Parish’s statement at the Jan. 26 hearing that BP earned 74 percent of its global profits in Alaska in 2016. The original source of that claim is from the Journal itself, when BP reported results for its upstream business of $85 million. The company only made $115 million worldwide that year, leading us to draw the same erroneous conclusion that Parish is still quoting two years later. In fact, our subsequent reporting based on an email we obtained written by BP Alaska President Janet Weiss corrected the record to reflect BP’s annual report did not break out the results from its midstream business, namely TAPS and its marine tanker business. “We made a loss of almost $200 million,” Westwick said, which jives with Weiss’ statement of a $184 million loss in her email. “Despite seeing a positive $85 million in the annual report, that’s just a slice of our Alaska business.” Turns out Parish’s listening skills are about as good as his math skills. “I wonder, if about 74 percent of BP’s global profits as your documents to your shareholders I presume assert, how can it be said we’re not competitive when we account for, again, about 74 percent of global profits according to your documents and yet only 1 percent of global production,” Parish said. “I really would be interested in knowing.” Westwick was as pleasant as could be and even graciously took the blame for Parish’s ignorant question. “As I tried to explain, perhaps not very well,” Westwick said, “the $85 million is just a slice of the Alaska business. It would be akin to taking your best well and saying, ‘this is how I’m going to report my financials.’ The actual entirety of the Alaska business lost money in 2016, which for legal reasons around disclosure, we don’t disclose in the annual report. In 2016, the way we look at the Alaska business, we made a loss of almost $200 million. It would not represent, as you describe, 75 percent of the total group profit.” Parish does represent, unfortunately, the people of Juneau. Surely they can do better. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

AJOC EDITORIAL: Sessions kicks cannabis to Congress

The only thing surprising about U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding the Obama administration’s policy of nonenforcement in states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana is how many people acted surprised by it. A law-and-order Attorney General who stands in stark contrast to his lawless predecessors Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder and who has made it one of his missions to go after sanctuary cities for ignoring federal immigration laws was never going to maintain an official policy of doing the same for marijuana. To his credit, Sessions did not make enforcement of federal marijuana laws one of his national priorities and simply tasked the U.S. attorneys in each state to follow existing principles for prosecutions. The Alaska U.S. attorney announced nothing would change, as did his counterpart in Colorado where recreational marijuana for adults is also legal under state law. The pro-cannabis crowd was quick to jump on Sessions for withdrawing the Cole memo issued in 2013, but they should be thanking him instead. What Sessions did was to send the issue where it rightly belongs and shined a bright light on Congress to finally do something about reconciling the conflict between states that have legalized medicinal and/or recreational use and the laws on the books classifying the drug alongside heroin and cocaine. Truly, it is an amazing thing to hear those with the power to change the law demanding the Attorney General not do his job because they have failed to do theirs. Overall, 29 states have legalized medicinal marijuana; eight states plus the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use; and 18 states allow for the use of cannabinoid oil, also known as CBD, which is non-psychoactive. Together that is more than 40 states with some kind of law conflicting with federal law, which should in theory create a super majority of elected officials that could change the law in bipartisan fashion. Instead, Congress has been content to sit on the sidelines relying on federal nonenforcement, which is neither proper nor sustainable. When pressed in the past, Congress has acted to protect state laws on marijuana. As the Obama Justice Department and affiliated agencies were conducting hundreds of raids on marijuana dispenseries around the nation that were otherwise in compliance with state laws, Congress began passing amendments to annual spending bills that prohibited any money from being spent on such prosecutions. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has been included in every spending bill since 2014. Another amendment to Veterans’ Affairs spending bills has also prohibited the VA from sanctioning doctors who talk to patients about potential benefits of marijuana in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In short, Congress has found the will to allow certain uses of marijuana already and now will be forced to go further because of Sessions’ action. Rep. Don Young has been at the forefront of this issue and is a co-founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus that is seeking to recognize states’ rights to regulate marijuana as they see fit and to open the banking system to legally operating businesses. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have suggested it may be a bridge too far to take marijuana off the Schedule I list under the Controlled Substances Act, but that should be the easiest call. Keeping it listed alongside the highly-addictive and far more dangerous heroin and cocaine makes no sense given what’s been seen in Alaska and elsewhere it has been legalized. After a voter initiative to legalize recreational use for adults in Alaska somewhat narrowly in 2014, there have been four efforts at the local level to turn back the clock. In the conservative Matanuska-Susitna Valley, in Fairbanks and on the Kenai Peninsula voters have overwhelmingly voted to keep the cannabis business legal. Not everything has gone perfectly in Alaska, with the recent issue of testing inconsistencies rising before the Marijuana Control Board to address, but there have hardly been any of the deleterious effects opponents warned of before the 2014 vote. Sessions is no fan of marijuana, and Alaska’s congressional delegation are always quick to point out they don’t advocate for its use either, but that is irrelevant. The people have spoken loud and clear across the nation and it’s time for Congress to start listening, and respond with action. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Let’s not be our own worst enemy in developing ANWR

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our congressional delegation of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young. They delivered the ultimate Christmas gift to Alaska: the ability to open the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for safe and environmentally responsible oil exploration. ANWR has been a 37-year, uphill battle, once passed by Congress only to be vetoed by President Bill Clinton in 1995. Now that Congress and President Donald Trump have finally approved ANWR, Alaska must not squander the opportunity. Considering how we have stymied progress on new oil discoveries by independents during the past three years, we are now our own worst enemy to developing ANWR. I recently had the opportunity to talk with several independent oil companies’ executives, some doing business in Alaska and others not. And while their interests and objectives vary, there are common conversational threads throughout, some heartening and all worth noting. Most independents believe that Alaska has the potential to be one of the hottest oil basins in the world. In fact, it’s a point that has been reiterated time and again. I find that very encouraging, but it begs the question, “Why aren’t we seeing a boom on the North Slope?” The independents’ answers were swift and critical. They said we need to listen as a state and be proactive to take advantage of the huge opportunity to compete with other states and attract the billions of dollars available for investment after the passage to the recent federal tax legislation. They weren’t critical of our geological formations or their potential; rather, as one seasoned North Slope independent put it, “Alaska’s problems aren’t in the rocks, the state’s problems are all above the rocks.” This is one of the universal themes shared by the industry executives I’ve spoken with. They believe the state’s problems are of our own making, and what I find encouraging is that these problems are preventable. All the independents agree that we need to approve permits in a reasonable amount of time. California, for instance, is revered as an environmentally sensitive state. It’s embarrassing that its permitting time is a fraction of what companies must endure here in Alaska. The independents also complained about the state’s confusing and ever-changing tax code. They wondered why they couldn’t create a simple, reasonable and fair tax code and stick with it like all the other oil basin states do. Some executives suggest that Alaska might partner with industry by helping with much-needed infrastructure. Similar to what we did to stimulate the development of Red Dog Mine, we can build roads, airstrips and shared facilities that become revenue generators through industry user fees. Others were critical; suggesting that the state could work with Native village corporations to improve relationships and help mitigate land use plans and permits. All the independents agree that if the state would meaningfully address these concerns, Alaska’s oil fields would boom with success. Success seldom just happens. It’s not a game… it is a plan and a strategy. And if we want success, we need to address these concerns with practical resolve. Independents like Hilcorp, Armstrong Oil &Gas, Caelus Energy Alaska LLC, and Oil Search — coupled with companies like BP, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil — are all striving to ignite a renaissance on the North Slope. They are proving that our geological formations are oil rich with much more still to be discovered. These companies are finding success despite the unfriendly environment that has soiled Alaska’s reputation with investors and explorers. It’s time that we quit fighting industry over nickels and dimes when billions are at stake. It’s time to remove the barriers that hinder our state’s financial success. With the New Year fresh, let’s seize this opportunity and work to realize our potential. Let’s put our minds and efforts towards creating new wealth for Alaska instead of fighting over a series of nuisance and regressive taxes that will harm the economic well-being of our communities. The opportunities exist for success. All we need now is the political will and leadership to realize that success. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, formulate a plan, implement that plan, and enjoy a tremendous 2018 for Alaska. ^ Curtis W. Thayer is lifelong Alaskan and serves as president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Private sector can build bridge to better economic future

How many special sessions in one year does it take for the Legislature come up with a plan to stem Alaska’s economic decline? Obviously not four, the new record set this year. After nearly three consecutive years of recession, legislators remain divided over whether it’s better to raise taxes or cut government spending. While they argue, jobs, revenue and families continue to depart in a southerly direction at a worrying pace. All of that makes the quickness at which some dismiss obvious answers to the deficit problem worrying. We aren’t the only state facing a budget deficit, but we are the only state sitting on a $62 billion rainy-day account that could provide some of the money we need to see us through the hard times. It is a step forward that more lawmakers acknowledge the potential of using a portion of the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve to help pay for government. But rather than placing an outright cap on dividends, Juneau should be looking at the percent of market value, or POMV, proposal to preserve both the potential for increasing dividend checks as well as providing for public safety and other essential state services. POMV was formerly hailed as an assault on the dividend, but today we have an arbitrary and artificial cap — one that impacts the most-needy residents and, frequently, rural Alaskans the most. How much more can we inequitably squeeze our villages before there is no more rural Alaska? POMV was a good idea when Gov. Frank Murkowski proposed it in 2004, and it’s still a good idea today. But that recognition has yet to result in the kind of bipartisan bargain that’s needed to move the needle in Juneau. Touching the Permanent Fund remains a third-rail issue for many. No one wants to kill the golden goose that’s paid out more than $21 billion in dividends since 1982. But while it will take time to convince voters of the benefits of such a plan, there are clearly options for resolving our current revenue crisis by encouraging diversified private-sector investment. And let’s be clear, what we face is a short-term revenue crisis brought about by low oil prices and overspending. As oil prices rose after 2006, we collectively forgot about the economic challenges we faced just a few short years earlier. In the interim, government became bloated, including handing out an “energy rebate” rather than saving for today, and making short-sighted gasline commitments that cost us $65 million. As bad as our current situation is, it is not permanent or fatal. New investment from the private sector and greater diversity in the types of industries that invest here can provide long-term economic stability. Alaska ranks 49th on Forbes’ list of best states to do business, based on costs, availability of qualified labor, regulatory and economic risks, and quality of life. Only West Virginia ranks lower. According to Forbes, Alaska’s economy shrunk faster than any other state over the past five years, net migration out of the state ranks second worst ahead of only Illinois, and the employment outlook is the worst in the country. Businesses aren’t investing because they aren’t sure what the Legislature is going to do next. If we want to avoid another series of special sessions in 2018, we need to adopt policies this winter that encourage private-sector investment. In the meantime, we need a bridge. Rep. Don Young, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan deserve huge accolades for opening the 1002 area to exploration, but it will still be years before we receive royalty revenue. It took almost nine years from the discovery of Prudhoe Bay to the first oil in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System in 1977, and that was during a time of national emergency due to the oil crises. We don’t have to construct TAPS this time around, but we are more focused on the potential environmental impacts, climate change, and the ensuing environmental regulatory hurdles to ensure that the 1002 area is developed with the utmost sensitivity and respect. Determining what a “fair” rate of return is for our natural resources is also a difficult question — and probably the wrong one. Instead, we should be asking ourselves how we can encourage more companies to come to Alaska to create jobs exploring for new sources of oil and gas, gold, zinc and rare earth minerals. Stable job creation counts as much or more for our economic future than royalty income. Tourism is great, but it is a short summer season when Alaska is an eco-Disneyland, and then those tourism dollars — and many seasonal tour business owners themselves — head south with the snowbirds. Similarly, how much of our fishing fleet and fishing dollars end up in the Lower 48? We need economic value that applies year-round. Instead of focusing on the future, we may be focusing too much on filing today’s fiscal gap. That has led to multiple proposals to impose new taxes on working families, themselves struggling in this anemic economy. While the tax issue was mostly ignored in the last special session, it is now resurrected. The question of how to fill the gap is a difficult one. Spending should be cut, but the formulas federal agencies follow to determine how many dollars Alaska gets can penalize the state if it doesn’t provide a match for certain programs. Leaving federal dollars behind is just as short-sighted for our economic growth as is permanently locking up resource development opportunities. An income tax puts more money in the government’s pockets, not the pockets of Alaskans. Artificially capping the PFD carries its own set of risks: it hits lower-income households, including many families in rural villages, the hardest. Instead, we need to be taking a hard look at POMV, and do everything in our power to encourage private sector investment, even if that means more Alaska reality television shows. Rob Corbisier is an environmental and natural resources attorney at Reeves Amodio in Anchorage. He was an assistant district attorney from 2007-2012, and a special assistant to Gov. Frank Murkowski.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Historic opportunities for Alaska in Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

This holiday season, Alaskans can have a renewed sense of hope for good jobs, larger paychecks, stronger growth, and enduring prosperity. The reason why is today’s passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which includes two historic opportunities for our state. The first — and perhaps most unexpected, at the start of this year — is the opening of the 1002 Area within the non-wilderness portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Set aside by Congress in 1980, Alaskans never gave up on its incredible potential for energy development, and our longstanding efforts finally succeeded this week. Opening the 1002 Area is the single-most important step we can take to strengthen our long-term security and create new wealth. Given Alaska’s economic struggles, with the highest unemployment of any state and massive budget deficits projected well into the future, the substantial benefits that responsible development will bring cannot arrive soon enough. New production from the 1002 Area will help restore throughput to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, our state’s economic backbone. It will help lower tariffs for the pipeline, increasing the viability of all North Slope oil development. Over time, it will create thousands of good jobs. And it will generate what we project to be over $60 billion in royalties for our state alone. Thanks to new technologies, we can also be confident that development will not come at the expense of our environment or wildlife. We need less land to produce more energy than ever before, which is why we have limited the footprint of development to no more than 2,000 federal acres — just one ten-thousandth of all of ANWR. In developing our legislative text, we took great care to listen to those who will have the most at stake as development begins. After visiting Kaktovik earlier this year, I took the concerns of local residents to heart, and made sure that neither the environmental review process nor consultation requirements would be waived in any way. While opening the 1002 Area is a significant milestone for Alaska, so, too, is tax reform. It will provide the kind of relief for working families that we have not seen since the days of President Reagan, some 31 years ago, while also taking long overdue steps to make our businesses competitive on a global scale. We cut tax rates for individuals in every income bracket. We doubled the standard deduction, to allow you to keep even more of your own money. We doubled the child tax credit, while making more of it refundable. We took significant steps to advantage small businesses — which make up 99 percent of the companies in our state. We significantly lowered taxes on pass-throughs, to create a ripple effect that will allow them to keep growing and hiring. We even cut the excise tax on small brewers, which should make everyone hoppy as good beer becomes more affordable. On the education side, our bill maintains all of the tax incentives to pursue postsecondary education that exist in current law. Students and parents will continue to benefit from tax deductions for tuition and student loan interest, exemptions for student tuition waivers, and employer-provided assistance. Finally, we restore Alaskans’ freedom to make their own decisions on health insurance by eliminating the individual mandate, a tax penalty that has harmed many in recent years. By repealing the mandate – all that is impacted is the tax that was imposed on those who chose not to buy insurance they cannot afford or simply don’t want to. Nothing else under the ACA is impacted. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was a team effort — the culmination of decades of work from countless Alaskans who never gave up. And while gratitude is deserved in many quarters, we would not have succeeded this year were it not for two particularly effective advocates for our state: Congressman Don Young and Senator Dan Sullivan, my friends and colleagues. This holiday season, we have plenty of reason for cheer, a lot to be thankful for, and even more to look forward to in the years ahead.

AJOC EDITORIAL: Wrapping up a wild year from ANWR to Zinke

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

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