Opinion

GUEST COMMENTARY: Democrats using propaganda over tax credits

A compromise to end cash payments to oil companies is on thin ice because of the propaganda perpetuated by Anchorage Representative Les Gara and the politics of the House Democrats. The oil and gas industry has always been Gara’s favorite target, and he’s launched a fresh campaign to hold hostage a compromise on cashable credits that will save Alaska a million dollars per day. For the past decade, the state has offered tax credit incentives to new explorers on the North Slope for developing new fields and to small companies. The state offers to buy back these tax credits in cash, if these companies do not produce oil in Alaska. The program worked, breathing new life into Cook Inlet and the North Slope. These incentives and a fair, competitive tax have drawn new companies to explore, develop and produce more oil. The larger, established companies like BP, Conoco, Hilcorp and Exxon are not eligible for cash credits. Legislators and the Governor acknowledge the state can no longer afford cash payments for tax credits. They’ve been volleying versions of bills to end these payments for months. Rep. Gara and his cohorts are telling Alaskans that the Senate proposal, backed by Gov. Walker, is a sham that simply replaces a credit today with deductions tomorrow, costing the state the same in the long run. This is where Gara’s fish tale becomes dangerous misinformation. Cash credits and tax deductions are not the same. Oil companies can only use the tax deductions if they produce oil. We all know that many exploration projects never produce a drop of oil so deductions from those projects will never be applied to an oil company’s state tax bill. In exchange for eliminating these cash credits, the Senate Majority suggests that these explorers be able to deduct their exploration expenses against future profits. Gara calls this a sham. Tax structures all over the world allow business to deduct their legitimate operating expenses and they allow companies to apply losses from their bad years against earnings from their profitable years. Gara again calls this a subsidy to the oil companies. So why would Rep. Gara push his cohorts in the Democratic House Majority to refuse a compromise that will end these credits? Could it be that he smells the opportunity to slip a significant tax increase into the same bill and skin some more hide off the industry? What Rep. Gara does not say is that there is little, if any, company profit left to tax. With oil around $45 per barrel, the state takes 77 percent of the sale value of a barrel of oil; the federal government takes 12 percent, leaving the taxpayer, the oil companies, with 11 percent.  In fact, at all oil prices from very low to very high, Alaska takes more from a barrel of oil, than the companies who invest the capital and take the risk. Now Gara wants to raise these taxes again so Alaska gets its “fair share.” That’s ridiculous. More oil in the pipeline is critical for Alaska, and we must fix our sights securely on that prize. With higher production come jobs for Alaskans, new money circulating through the economy and tax revenue to the state. New revenues from higher oil production go into the Alaska Permanent Fund, including the annual PFD. The current oil tax system works. Alaska is collecting more tax revenue at today’s low prices than we would have under the previous system. Companies are now investing in the North Slope fields, resulting in increased production of three percent in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Gara’s House majority held Alaska hostage all session, demanding an income tax and excessive new taxes on the oil industry in return for passing things they actually agree on, namely: reducing cash credits, passing an operating budget, passing a capital budget and developing a long term fiscal plan. Rep. Gara’s rhetoric isn’t new. He’s been at this for years now; he mangles the facts and conjures up sound bites that prey on people’s genuine concerns for children, schools, families and our seniors. It’s time to do what’s right for Alaska, to quit playing games with the facts, fix the cash credits problem and pass a capital budget. Hal Ingalls is the president of Denali Drilling.

AJOC EDITORIAL: 75 million reasons SB 21 is working

What’s been obvious for several months became official on June 30. The 2017 fiscal year ended with a final average of 528,484 barrels per day of production on the North Slope. That is a 2.6 percent increase versus the 514,900 barrels per day last fiscal year, or virtually identical to the 2016 increase in production from 501,500 barrels per day in 2015. To put this in perspective, the last time the state saw consecutive years of production increases was in 1987-88 when North Slope production peaked at more than 2.1 million barrels per day. This would be a remarkable story in any circumstance given the number of early obituaries that have been written for North Slope production and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, but it is even more so considering the price environment and the ongoing attacks on the industry from Democrats in Juneau. North Slope crude averaged barely more than the breakeven point at less than $50 per barrel for the fiscal year and the House Majority continues to demand tax increases on production despite the proof of the current policy’s success staring them in the face from the Department of Revenue’s daily reports. The House Democrats want to double the effective tax rate at the current price, triple it should prices reach $70 per barrel, reduce deductions and eliminate the proven per-barrel incentive. The per-barrel production incentive is the only explanation why companies have continued to invest billions on the North Slope even after prices started to free fall not long after Senate Bill 21 took effect. They have certainly not seen the upside from the reduction in progressivity at high prices under SB 21; to the contrary they have paid far more in taxes than they would have had ACES remained in place. Under ACES they wouldn’t be paying any production taxes at the current price. In fact, they wouldn’t be paying production taxes until prices went past $63 per barrel. Because SB 21 taxes oil at a higher rate than ACES at low prices, the companies have taken the only tool at their disposal to reduce the effective tax rate: more production. Every additional barrel brings down the effective tax rate. It’s that simple, and it is a win-win for the producers and the state, which collects both the tax revenue and the additional royalty share. But never let a good fact get in the way of a Democrat argument. SB 21, which took effect Jan. 1, 2014, has now been in place for three full fiscal years. Since fiscal year 2013, the last full year of ACES, production has declined by a barely-measurable 0.6 percent overall (531,600 barrels per day to 528,400). That is an average annual decline rate of just 0.2 percent. The average annual decline rate during six years of ACES was 5 percent, or 2,500 percent greater than under SB 21. Math — the Democrats’ kryptonite — tells a staggering story when comparing where we’d be under the ACES decline rate versus SB 21. Had the 5 percent annual decline rate continued, fiscal year 2017 production would be 433,000 barrels per day, or about 95,500 fewer barrels per day than what we saw under SB 21. Adding up the actual production compared to the ACES decline rate over the past four years, the state has collected tax and royalty income from an additional 75.3 million barrels; the 2017 production versus ACES decline alone is an extra 34.8 million barrels. Democrats’ oil tax policies aren’t just bad. They are proven failures. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: End cash payments without raising oil taxes

For six months, politicians of all parties in Juneau have sung a similar song: the state can no longer afford to offer cash payments to oil and gas companies for work we’ve incentivized these companies to undertake. These cash payments are costing the state an estimated $1 million per day through the end of 2017. That’s a lot of money — $1 million could fund seven state troopers for a year. The $200 million we’ll owe in cash payments by the end of the year could fund the entire Department of Law and Department of Public Safety — for a whole year. Make no mistake: the incentives of cash payments and credits have worked. They spurred a renaissance in Cook Inlet oil and gas work, ending the rolling brownouts of six years ago. They’ve brought a new slate of fresh companies to the North Slope, who are exploring for the oil we’ll need to keep TAPS flowing strong. Yet, the state can no longer afford these incentives. Despite this year’s budget reductions, Alaska remains in a deficit. Oil prices are $6 to $10 lower going into the fiscal year starting July 1 than the state is forecasting. We all know that when you’re in a hole, the first thing you have to do is stop digging. And we can. There’s a simple way to end these cash payments. Let’s return to Juneau and finish the work before us. Let’s end cash payments for oil and gas companies. The Republican-led Senate Majority extended a new offer to the Democrat-led House Majority to resolve this issue — to stop the cash bleed. We’re willing to take up a compromise bill that addresses these cash payments and tax credits. Our offer was met with an immediate, outright rejection by the two House members negotiating this issue. The House likewise issued a flat refusal to a different proposal by Gov. Walker weeks ago. Ending cash payments isn’t enough for them — they’re willing to walk away unless they can force a significant tax increase on oil production. But the clock is ticking, and costs are accumulating. We remain optimistic that after their full caucus thinks over the $1 million per day implications of inaction, they will reconsider our offer to act on what we agree is in the best interests of Alaska. The Senate is standing by. Both the House and the Senate this session passed versions of a bill that would end cash payments to oil and gas companies. But, we’ve been unable to reach a final compromise. The House Majority is holding out, refusing to end cash payments unless we in the Senate agree to increase taxes on oil production, taking even more than the 77 percent of the profit we get now. That’s right, for every barrel of oil coming out of the ground, the State of Alaska reaps 77 percent of the profit at today’s prices. With the energy sector already losing jobs and struggling to weather global price pressures, now is precisely the wrong time to squeeze the industry that has funded our roads, schools and prisons for decades. The Senate believes, as many Alaskans do, that the current oil tax system is working for the state’s advantage. We’re taking in more revenue under our current tax system than we would have under ACES. More small, agile companies are working in our oil patch, which means more opportunities than ever for Alaska workers, support companies, and service sectors. While we disagree on broader changes to our oil tax regime, the House, Senate and governor do agree that we must end cash payments to oil companies. We can, and should, end this program without delay. The House Majority says they want to end these payments — we ask them to act with us to accomplish this work for the good of Alaska. We ask the House Majority to reconsider. Politics remains the art of the possible, which requires compromise. We can only advance those issues on which we all agree — and we’ve all agreed the cash payments must end. Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, is the president of the Alaska Senate.

GUEST COMMENTARY: What happened to the 90-day session?

Over 10 years ago, Alaskans voted to limit the legislative session to 90 days with the hope that the Legislature would finish its work on time and under budget. Since oil prices dropped in 2014, however, the Legislature has been unable to finish the state’s business in 90 days or even 120 days. We have endured extended session after extended session followed by special sessions. Is it time for Alaskans to amend our Constitution to establish an effective 90-day limit on legislative sessions? At the time of statehood in 1959, the Alaska Constitution did not place any limit on the length of the legislative session. With a citizen Legislature, the framers of our Constitution believed that the pressures of work and home would provide incentives for legislators to keep sessions short. Initially, the framers were right: the Legislature averaged 86 days in session from 1959 to 1970. When Alaska began receiving substantial oil revenue, however, the Legislature became unable to efficiently finish its work. From 1971 to 1985, the Legislature averaged 141 days in session. So in 1984, Alaskans amended Article II, § 8 of our Constitution and limited the session to 120 days. The Legislature responded to the constitutional change and reduced the average length of session from 141 days to 130 days from 1986 to 2007. With increasing concerns about the cost and length of legislative sessions, a voter initiative in 2006 shortened the session in Alaska Statutes to 90 days. Since the voter initiative took effect in 2008, the Legislature has only met the 90-day limit on five occasions and has failed to meet the deadline every year since 2013. This year, the Legislature is on a path to set a new record for consecutive days in regular and special sessions — toppling the record of 165 days set in 1981. The drop in oil prices has made it difficult for the Legislature to make budget compromises and finish its work on time. In contrast, when Alaska had substantial savings from oil and gas taxes, the Legislature worked out compromises by making additional capital appropriations to individual districts. But those savings have disappeared with the oil price drop that began in 2014. The Legislature ignores the statutory 90-day limit because of the long-standing legal principal that the Constitution always controls when there is a difference between a statue and the Constitution. As a result, the Legislature has rolled over the 90-day limit for the last three years. In the midst of a recession and long-term financial challenges, there is no end in sight to extended and special sessions. Amending the Constitution to establish an effective 90-day limit will serve three primary purposes. First, it will force the Legislature to focus its attention on state finances and shorten the schedule for adopting a budget. This year, for example, the financial challenges were well-known by the first of January. Indeed, the Legislature kicked the same issues down the road in 2016. While a stock market crash or major international events just days before the end-of-session might provide a reason to take more time, the current challenges have existed for months and the solutions are apparent. Second, a 90-day session will reduce the quantity of “personal” legislation. A 90-day session will make sure the Legislature focuses its attention on the most important issues and is less likely to get side-tracked with special interest matters. Third, if circumstances arise that require a special session, the governor will be able to narrow the agenda to vital issues and prevent consideration of non-essential legislation. There is no golden rule for legislative session length. For example, the Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, and Texas Legislatures meet every other year. The Oregon Legislature meets for 35 days in even-numbered years and 160 days in odd-numbered years, while the Washington Legislature meets for 60 days in even-numbered years and 105 days in odd-numbered years. Hawaii meets for just 60 legislative days. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that states “with no session limits are more likely to have late state budgets.” The failure to adjourn in 90 days also limits the ability for Alaska to have true citizen legislators — people who have regular jobs and serve in the Legislature. Today, we have commercial fishermen, contractors, administrators, lawyers, and miners who bring real-world experience to their legislative service. The unpredictably long sessions make it more and more difficult for citizen legislators to serve. In the long-term, repeat extended and special sessions will lead to more full-time legislators and fewer citizen legislators. Since passing the 90-day session initiative, Alaskans have come to expect the Legislature to finish its work on time and under budget. In challenging financial times, however, the Legislature appears unwilling to meet Alaskans expectations. Now is the time to amend the Alaska Constitution and limit the session to 90 days. Rep. Matt Claman is a Democrat representing District 21 in Anchorage.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Infrastructure plan could be stymied by lack of key resources

Recently, President Trump announced a $1 trillion plan to fix the nation’s roads, bridges, dams, and airports. And while Congressional approval may hinge on the specifics of funding these projects, Americans should be concerned with whether the country can obtain sufficient metals and minerals to undertake such a large effort. There’s no doubt that a robust plan to rebuild America’s declining infrastructure could spur activity and employment throughout the economy. And thankfully, America enjoys a particularly rich endowment of the copper, nickel, zinc, and other metals that serve as building blocks for new roads, bridges, and dams. But acquiring enough raw materials in a timely fashion may prove problematic since America’s mining operations are currently beset with a number of obstacles. For starters, access to the mineral resources needed for infrastructure renewal could well be thwarted by conflicting and duplicative mine permit reviews conducted by multiple federal and state agencies. It currently takes seven to 10 years for companies to successfully obtain the necessary permits for a major new mining operation. Such delays have become the inevitable outgrowth of too many agencies moving too much paperwork too slowly. President Trump acknowledged this problem recently when he contrasted current permit delays with the comparatively brief five-year timespan needed to build the famed Hoover Dam. In the current mining environment, it would take more than five years simply to open new mines that could provide the requisite metals and materials for the dam itself. Significantly, America is home to an estimated $6.2 trillion in minerals and metals reserves. But this advantage is compromised when companies face long delays to open new mining operations. This is all the more egregious when competitors in countries like Australia and Canada—with similar environmental standards—typically receive mining clearances in only two to three years. An added hurdle for mining projects is former President Obama’s 2015 decision to further restrict mining activity on 67 million acres of mineral-rich federal land. This includes a proposal to withdraw 10 million acres of western lands to conserve the habitat of the sage grouse, a bird that is neither threatened nor endangered. In fact, the government’s own environmental assessment has determined that wildfires and invasive species of vegetation—not mining—have periodically threatened the bird’s habitat. The bird’s population has already increased 63 percent since 2013, thanks in part to contributions from state, local, and private conservation plans that have been largely ignored by federal planners. If such land use restrictions are left in place, however, they will simply combine with permitting delays to further limit access to the vast majority of the nation’s mineral reserves. These bottlenecks will directly affect any efforts to rebuild domestic infrastructure, since federal lands in the Western United States produce much of America’s mineral wealth. Without more timely access to these resources, the nation will be forced to continue its growing and risky dependence on imports to supply critical minerals needed in both high-tech and industrial manufacturing. The United States is already entirely import-dependent for 19 key minerals, and more than 50 percent import-reliant for another 24 minerals. With half of the nation’s mineral wealth already off-limits or under restrictions, further limitations and land withdrawals will undoubtedly increase America’s import reliance—and from countries that may lack comparable environmental protections. Thankfully, Washington is taking notice. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has asked for a 60-day review of new restrictions placed on mining in federal lands—a key step toward potentially accessing the minerals and metals needed for President Trump’s infrastructure plan. Reviews are also underway to streamline the duplicative permitting process for major projects. America can minimize such impediments through better decision-making, while still retaining environmental safeguards. And that could help to build the foundation for a modern infrastructure that the nation urgently needs. ^ Hal Quinn is president of the National Mining Association.

AJOC EDITORIAL: Crocodile tears for White House press corps

The liberals with bylines in the White House press corps are in a snit about receiving their overdue comeuppance from an administration that has decided to fight back. At the top of the latest outrage list from the press is the decision to prohibit video cameras at a few of the daily presidential briefings, which led to the priceless audio of CNN’s Jim Acosta channeling his inner Mortimer Duke from the end of the movie “Trading Places” by yelling at Press Secretary Sean Spicer to turn the machines back on. After all, what would America do without daily footage of grandstanding reporters pushing the Russia story that a CNN producer called “mostly bullsh*t” and one of the channel’s top contributors Van Jones called “a big nothingburger” in new undercover videos from James O’Keefe? CNN just had to retract a story from its bogus Russia coverage, apologize to its target and accept the resignations of three top staffers responsible for it. Now comes news that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is suing the New York Times over its despicable June 14 editorial about the attempted assassination of GOP legislators by a Bernie Sanders supporter that resurrected the debunked narrative that she was responsible for inspiring the man who shot 19 and killed six at an event hosted by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011. It is extremely difficult for a public figure such as Palin to win a libel lawsuit, but the two high hurdles are within reach: malice and reckless disregard for the truth. Palin also hired the same legal team that represented Hulk Hogan in his successful lawsuit against Gawker that forced the company into bankruptcy. We are far past the time when the industry that is supposed to hold the powerful to account is held responsible for its own destructive actions and thumb-scaling the news. The press will claim that it will acknowledge its mistakes and falsehoods, but that the infamously tweeting President Donald Trump never apologizes for his. That would have more credibility if they didn’t let the last president skate for an unending stream of dishonesty and major scandals that make the nonsense about Russia cooked up as an excuse for Hillary Clinton’s loss pale in comparison. Former President Barack Obama lied repeatedly about the Affordable Care Act when he claimed premiums would go down (they’ve gone up by 105 percent) and that “if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor” (you can’t). His administration lied about Benghazi, the IRS targeting conservative groups, Fast and Furious, and the Iran deal, and even when the press bothered to cover those stories it was always from the angle that they were just Republican sideshows. Another perfect example is Afghanistan, where the press has suddenly discovered our troops still are after eight years of Obama. Body counts and daily coverage disappeared under Obama even as casualties more than tripled with nothing to show for it. The media whines they are being bullied, Acosta claims CNN is being blackballed from asking questions at daily briefings, and somewhere the world’s tiniest violin is playing for them. Obama’s administration monitored Associated Press phone records and the phones of Fox News reporter James Rosen’s parents, and prosecuted more people under the Espionage Act than every other president in the last 100 years combined, yet Trump turning off cameras in the press room is the greatest attack on the First Amendment ever. The whining, insufferable White House press corps owes everyone a Kit Kat. Give me a break.

AJOC EDITORIAL: Democrats destroying the village to save it

Democrats in Juneau deserve credit for at least one thing: what they lack in good ideas they more than make up for in chutzpah. Now 10 days from a government shutdown at the time of this writing, the legislative session has become a monkey fight inside a clown car driving into a dumpster fire. The House Majority threw a tantrum last week after Gov. Bill Walker took away their income tax woobie in his proposed compromise to end the standoff with the Senate by passing an 11th hour budget funded entirely with the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve including a $2,200 dividend check that will cost the state more than $1.3 billion on top of its $2.7 billion deficit. Like a child who cleans their room by stuffing all the toys and dirty laundry into a closet, House Majority leaders then proceeded to claim that they had done their job by passing a budget and asked for a cookie. House Republicans aren’t completely blameless in this mess, either. Half their caucus, including their leader Charisse Millett, voted for the budget-busting PFD. Perhaps she could better spend her time trying to figure out what her principles are rather than combing Gavel to Gavel footage looking for reporters goofing off in the gallery while her members make ridiculous analogies to Pearl Harbor, Ho Chi Minh and Vladimir Putin. Some soul-searching is probably required when you’re on the wrong side of a vote by Les Gara. But what the House Majority argument boils down to is this: they are willing to drive with the pedal down over the fiscal cliff if they can’t skim $700 million from Alaskans’ paychecks and double the tax rates on the beleaguered oil industry. They must destroy the village in order to save it. And here comes the chutzpah. On June 20, S&P Global Ratings put the State of Alaska back on credit watch negative as a result of the impasse. House Democrats immediately put out a statement claiming the notice vindicated their plan. Never mind that the state would be lucky to end up with junk bond status from the ratings agencies if the Senate approved their budget and Walker signed it. Democrats keep tweeting about Kansas, where a Republican Legislature rolled back previous tax cuts to boost state services. They fail to note that the tax increases in Kansas are projected to raise about $600 million from a population of nearly 3 million to fill a budget deficit of about $350 million. House Democrats want to raise taxes by more than that during a recession on a population a quarter the size in a state with some $17 billion in accessible savings accounts. The comparison isn’t even apples and oranges. It’s apples and ham hocks. Under the Democrats’ plan, middle class earners would get hammered while their favored constituencies of state employees and the failing education system are held harmless. As an aside, when are Democrats ever going to be held accountable for the results of an education system they own and operate that consistently delivers some of the worst outcomes in the nation? More than half of our high school graduates need remedial English and math education at the university level. Herb Schroeder, the founder of an actual education success story with the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, calculated that it costs the state and students $42 million per year trying to make up the ground lost in a K-12 system that spends more per capita than almost any other state. That we find ourselves standing on the brink of a state government shutdown is truly inexcusable. Both the Senate and House agreed on some major fiscal reforms at the beginning of the session: using the Permanent Fund earnings, guaranteeing a dividend of $1,000 or $1,250, and eliminating cashable oil tax credits for small developers. Passing the agreed-upon measures would have set the state on a sounder fiscal path and could have been done months ago, but the Democrats can’t and won’t change their tax-and-spend stripes. They cannot accept the fact that the state does not yet need an income tax, and refuse to recognize that there is not a bottomless pool of money to drain from the oil industry that has seen thousands of layoffs and now prices slipping back toward the breakeven point on the North Slope. They keep calling a restructured Permanent Fund and smaller dividend an income tax on all Alaskans in a tortured bending of the language. The IRS certainly treats the PFD as income, but in no way is merely existing within the borders of the 49th State the same as working for a paycheck. Then again, not knowing the difference between what is earned and what is given is what makes them Democrats. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: House Majority: We won’t agree to ‘easy fix’ of PFD cut alone

Last week, in the absence of a true and complete fix to the state’s fiscal crisis from the Alaska Senate, the House passed, with bipartisan support, an amendment funding a full Permanent Fund Dividend as provided by law. This was not some bargaining tactic or political maneuver; instead, it was us saying that we are fighting for you, hardworking Alaskans, and your money. We have said from the beginning that we cannot support a plan that fills the deficit on the backs of Alaska workers, seniors and children. The current PFD-only plan supported by the Senate does just that, as a cut to the PFD reduces the income of every Alaskan. The Senate says they are the “only thing standing between Alaskans and an income tax” yet they are pushers of a plan that levies the most inequitable, unfair and economically damaging tax of them all: a $1,250 reduction in income for every Alaska man, woman and child. It seems that the only people the Senate wants to protect are out-of-state workers, the wealthy and shareholders of multinational oil companies. It is unfortunate that Gov. Bill Walker sided with the Senate in their effort to cut the PFD once again. By not including Senate Bill 23 (the capital budget) in the second special session call, the possibility of a full PFD was virtually eliminated. Additionally, with no other revenue options in the call, we may be forced to take the Senate’s word that they’ll discuss actual fixes to our fiscal mess (i.e. new revenues, including higher taxes on the oil companies) at a later date. This is not a good way to negotiate a compromise that will prevent the threat of a government shutdown from coming up year after year after year. We all know the current state of Alaska’s finances, and they are not good. But there is a way out of this mess, where all Alaskans contribute fairly to the vibrant and bright future of our state, where our communities are safe and our kids get a great education, where all Alaskans have an opportunity to achieve great things, be self-sufficient, and provide for themselves and their families. But until we put a comprehensive fiscal plan into place, we will oppose fiscal Band-Aids that put the burden on working Alaskans. The Alaska House Majority Coalition continues to strive for a fair, balanced and comprehensive fiscal plan that will bring certainty to Alaska families and businesses. We will continue to negotiate with the Senate and the House Republican Minority to achieve one. And we are firmly committed to averting a government shutdown. But until everyone comes to the table ready to find reasonable compromise and address our fiscal realities, we will not simply give away your money as an easy fix. Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, a Republican, is the chair of the House Rules Committee, and represents House District 15, which covers East Anchorage. Rep. Chris Tuck, a Democrat, is the House Majority Leader, and represents House District 23, which stretches from Midtown to South Anchorage.

GUEST COMMENTARY: An engineering icon and economic engine turns 40

On June 20, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System reaches a significant milestone: 40 years of operations. TAPS stands as one of the world’s engineering marvels and among Alaska’s most popular landmarks. It’s a symbol of sustained operational excellence, environmental stewardship, community and business partnerships, innovation, integrity, and people who embody Alaska true grit. TAPS remains at the heart of Alaska’s economic health; throughput from North Slope producers since TAPS startup now exceeds 17.5 billion barrels, and has generated $168 billion in cumulative deposits to the state’s general fund. Oil flow down TAPS helps fuel Alaska government and businesses, communities, schools and nonprofit organizations, and creates jobs and opportunities for thousands of Alaskans. From the onset, TAPS’ architects pondered daunting obstacles: Constructing an 800-mile pipeline across some of the world’s most challenging, unforgiving and unique wilderness. Navigating a path to approval lined with mammoth political, environmental and logistical hurdles. Even as America starved for domestic energy resources, many doubted that this bold, one-of-a-kind pipeline would even be built. Some fiercely opposed it. But the TAPS owner companies and many Alaska leaders saw the potential transformative value of TAPS for Alaska and Alaskans. They advocated, negotiated, fought and gained approval for TAPS construction. Then 70,000 men and women raced north to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime project. In October 1975, the workforce peaked at more than 28,000. They built TAPS and the Dalton Highway, transformed Prudhoe Bay into an energy and economic hub, and created a major marine terminal in Valdez, turning it into one of Alaska’s leading ports. The mantra was, “They didn’t know it couldn’t be done.” They got it done – in just over three years. Early predictions suggested TAPS wouldn’t reach 20 years of operation, much less 40. But employees’ dedication, system modernization, North Slope production that exceeded expectations, and ongoing application of lessons learned have sustained TAPS, as has what we at Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the pipeline operator, call TAPS Pride. It’s a sense of ownership held by those connected to the pipeline — Alyeska employees, contractors, family, friends and tens of thousands of people who have contributed to the TAPS legacy. Upon seeing TAPS, visitors are awed. More than half of the pipeline runs above ground. That engineering decision, due to seismic and permafrost issues, coupled with spectacular Alaska backdrops, make TAPS one of the world’s most photographed pipelines. It is fascinating to talk to visitors at the TAPS viewing site in Fox, or to read social media posts about personal TAPS experiences. The most interesting tales come from TAPS workers. A quarter of the current Alyeska workforce of around 800 has been with the company for more than 20 years; some were here at startup. Several family members are third-generation employees. More than 90 percent of the diverse Alyeska workforce lives in Alaska; more than 20 percent are Alaska Native; and 70 percent of TAPS contractor companies are based in Alaska. Those Alaska roots are a foundation of TAPS pride and operational excellence. The pride extends to the communities where our personnel live and work. From 1978-2016, Alyeska purchased more than $25 billion in goods and services and paid $32 million in non-property taxes and fees, in addition to taxes paid by the TAPS owners. Over that same time, the company contributed $41 million in charitable contributions and $7 million in scholarships. Since 2001, Alyeska staff personally donated more than $1 million and more than 24,000 volunteer hours. Like any 40-year run, there have been performance highs and lows. Throughput numbers have certainly swung. At peak flow in 1988, 11 pump stations helped move 2.1 million barrels of oil a day; daily averages dropped just about every year since. In 2016, oil throughput, now moved by only four pump stations, was 517,868 barrels a day. It marked the first year of a throughput increase since 2002, and 2017 numbers so far are running above 2016. Those upticks feed our 40th year of operations with fresh enthusiasm and optimism. More oil through TAPS is the path to smoother, more reliable and efficient operations, and more long-term benefits for Alaskans. Recent reports of discoveries and increased production on the North Slope is great news. While there has been a lot of change on TAPS over 40 years, one unwavering constant remains: the commitment of the people who work on TAPS today to provide safe, reliable, operational excellence, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, resilient amid all of Alaska’s extreme geography and weather. This should give us all — Alyeska personnel, TAPS contractors, Alaskans, the nation — a vision of another potential TAPS milestone: 40 more years of successful operations across Alaska. Admiral Tom Barrett, U.S. Coast Guard (ret.), has been president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. since 2011. Read stories or share your own at Alyeska’s 40th anniversary website: www.alyeska-pipe.com/NewsCenter/AnniversaryStories.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Spending cuts, not tax hikes, will restore fiscal balance

With two weeks to go before a potential government shutdown, the state legislature appears no closer to writing a budget or narrowing the $3 billion deficit than when the special legislative session began. Both sides are sticking to their stories. There is agreement on dipping into the Alaska Permanent Fund. But Gov. Bill Walker and the Democratic-led House coalition still insist on raising your taxes. The Republican-led Senate still wants to cut spending and impose a hard cap to restrain future excesses. The Senate has much the better end of this debate. Here’s why. The House and the governor are so afraid of their own tax increase that they hid behind school children when they approved it, calling it an “education tax,” even though the revenues would not be limited to education spending. That amounts to carrying the water for the big spenders, tax hikers and government unions. Walker’s stair-step “compromise” proposal would impose a de facto income tax, but he won’t call that an income tax either. The Senate, on the other hand, voted decisively against an income tax in the regular session. Its members owned their decision, and there isn’t any reason to think they will act differently in the special session. Nor should they. There’s also no reason to believe Alaskans will get behind the idea. A recent poll found 58 percent of state residents oppose an income tax. But instead of bowing to this reality, Walker offers vague platitudes about a “broad-based tax” while refusing to call it what it really is. The reason is simple: He’s in trouble politically, and spelling out how he wants to increase taxes will increase that trouble. Walker now ranks in the bottom five when it comes to popularity among governors, with a 53 percent disapproval rating. Part of his popularity problem is the hit he took last fall for cutting in half the Permanent Fund dividend. That experience should serve as an object lesson for the governor as he and his allies once again ponder ways to take more money out of Alaskans’ pockets. Like virtually every other state that finds itself in dire fiscal straits, Alaska has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. That’s why the response to the current crisis should be judicious spending cuts in the current budget, coupled with a real spending cap — lower than the one imposed in 1982 — that will help prevent the problem from arising again. Whatever happens in Juneau, Alaskans will be forced to bear the consequences of past budget mismanagement through diminished services, a reduced dividend check, an income tax, or some combination of those options. But instead of implementing policies that perpetuate a bloated bureaucracy, we should reinforce good government and set Alaska up for future economic growth. In fact, an income tax would make the problem worse, as Adam Millsap, a research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University told the state Senate Labor and Commerce committee in April. “States experience slower per capita income growth following the adoption of an income tax,” he told the lawmakers. Raising taxes won’t solve the problem. The governor is right about one thing. The state’s revenues should match up better with the state’s spending. He’s just wrong about which needs to change. Jeremy Price is Alaska state director of Americans for Prosperity. He lives in Anchorage.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Education will suffer with further budget cuts

It’s often said that teachers hold the future in their hands, but this year in Alaska, it’s the Legislature that will decide the fate of our students. I’ve been teaching for nearly 20 years — the majority at Lathrop High School. There’s nothing as satisfying as walking out of my classroom at the end of a long day knowing my students learned something new and took one step closer to lifelong success. This weekend, I joined fellow educators and public employees at a rally to keep Alaska open for business. A government shutdown would be bad for the economy, and hurt Alaska businesses. The Senate Majority’s proposed $69 million cut to public schools would be devastating for Alaska’s students. After five straight years of increased class sizes and program cuts across the state, what will happen to students next year? What would the impact of the Senate’s proposed austerity measures be on the Alaska economy for years to come? In the last several weeks, hundreds of teachers across Alaska received pink slips. As noted by the Journal of Commerce in an article last month, over 700 teachers and support staff have been laid off in Alaska’s five largest school districts alone. Some of our best new educators in Alaska have been fired on the last day of school two or three years in a row. Unsurprisingly, many choose to find work elsewhere. We are facing a teacher shortage in Alaska. Job fairs that once attracted hundreds of prospective hires this year had more booths than they did job applicants, and many districts began the year with vacancies. Teachers aren’t moving here, they’re not spending their full careers here, they’re not buying houses here, they’re not retiring here. Just like private sector layoffs, rapid turnover in the public sector is bad for local communities and businesses. There is also a direct financial cost to teacher turnover. A recent study by the UAA Center for Alaska Education Policy Research conservatively estimated that it costs a school district more than $20,000 to recruit and train a new teacher. That’s over $20 million per year statewide — money that could otherwise be used to keep class sizes at more appropriate levels for student achievement. But there’s an even bigger impact on our students — something that is far worse for the economy over the long term. When class sizes spin out of control, students lose. Last year, I taught a class of 35 at Lathrop. Next year, do you think students will get personalized feedback and one-on-one learning in classes of 40 students or more? When classrooms become standing room only, the nuance of customization for each student evaporates and lessons become rote. Will electives like music, art, and even physical education disappear? I ran into a 2011 Lathrop grad at the airport a few weeks ago. He’s in the Navy and was about to deploy for his third tour of duty — this time to the Middle East. He told me his teachers’ ability to connect with him is what made his high school experience successful. He wondered openly whether students will get that opportunity today. Our students can’t afford another year of wondering if their favorite teacher will be back next year to teach calculus, or coach basketball, or lead a Business Professionals of America chapter. Next year’s third graders were in kindergarten when Alaska’s fiscal crisis began. Overcrowded classrooms with no support will not put them on the road to lifelong success. Students don’t get to go back and start school over when the price of oil goes back up. So, what’s the solution? Alaska students need a comprehensive fiscal plan that fully funds public education, and they need it now. Oil won’t save Alaska this time. It’s time for our young state to mature and develop broad-based revenue sources, so we can put our students first. Nobody likes the idea of taxes, but with a $3 billion budget deficit, Alaska can’t cut its way to success. The House Majority and Governor Walker have put forward comprehensive plans that fill the deficit. It’s time for the Senate Majority to put their own revenue plan on the table, before it’s too late. My former student told me he wants to return to Fairbanks after his deployment. He’s thinking about joining the Alaska State Troopers, and we’d be lucky to have him. His options are good because he received a high quality education. Let’s make sure the Classes of 2018, 2019, 2020, and beyond get all of those same options. Tim Parker is the president of NEA-Alaska.

GUEST COMMENTARY: It’s time to accept the governor’s compromise

It’s time to accept the governor’s compromise. We must end the standoff in Juneau because the option of doing nothing is devastating to Alaska, and delivers a crippling blow to our fragile economy. Another year of stalemate would deplete our reserves and would fail to reverse our slide into recession. The Walker administration outlined the potential impacts of a shutdown of state government on Thursday, June 8. The specter they painted is grim: Closed commercial and sports fisheries, ferries parked, no driver’s licenses, death certificates or marriage licenses and the list goes on. After calling the Legislature into special session, the governor proposed a compromise to break the legislative deadlock. The compromise is a masterful blend of all of the ideas and positions currently on the table from the governor, the Senate, and the House. It is less than perfect and has plenty to make everyone “equally unhappy.” That said, it is a bold and significant step in creating a long-term sustainable budget that, while at a substantially reduced size, provides essential services, invests in education, and encourages business investments and jobs. A complete plan would have included a budget that does not reduce any savings account. This compromise likely falls short of that by about $300 million but that is a far cry from the $3.5 billion dollar deficit a year ago. An 85 percent accomplishment of a historical change in our state financial framework is a victory in good governance and a legacy for future Alaskans. The components of the compromise begin with a reduced budget. When the oil revenues tumbled in 2013 the budget was almost $8 billion. The new budget under this compromise would be close to $5.5 billion, almost a one-third reduction in state spending. Second, using some of the earnings of the Permanent Fund and the Constitutional Budget Reserve would produce approximately $2 billion to reduce the deficit and still pay a $1,000 dividend to every Alaskan and inflation-proof the principle. A fuel tax increase of 8 cents per gallon this year and then 8 cents the following year, making Alaska still one of the lowest fuel taxes in the nation, would produce $80 million per year new revenue intended for highway maintenance. Next a broad based progressive education head tax on both residents and non-residents would produce approximately $100 million in new revenues, which would be intended in this and future years to be spent only on education. The elimination of cashable oil tax credits reduces expenditures by another $1.2 billion over the next 10 years. The net effect would reduce the fiscal year 2018 deficit from more than $2.5 billion to approximately $300 million. It would provide the continuation of vital public services. It would help maintain our bond rating, which is at serious risk. And it would maintain the Constitutional Budget Reserve at a prudent level. In short, it would solve 85 percent of our budget crisis and set the stage for the next Legislature to fine tune our fiscal framework and produce a truly balanced budget. In the spirited debate over the last two legislative sessions on the purposes of a fiscal plan there have been passionate advocates for many principles: ensuring that the sacrifices include all stakeholders from individual residents to oil companies, substantially reducing the level of state spending, establishing a fundamental fairness in who pays for additional revenues, in cutting the budget we do not put the burden on most vulnerable or on the educational investment in the next generations, and that we must protect our savings as they are the sources of a sustainable budget. The governor has included all of these values in his compromise. The amount and the balance may fall short and not satisfy each advocacy. But please let their idea of perfection of our new fiscal reality be the continuing agenda for future legislative deliberations and actions. It must not be the basis for a continued gridlock, calling it quits, and falling off the fiscal cliff. No other state in the nation has the opportunity to permanently fund almost 40 percent of its budget with earnings from its savings. By taking this giant step forward toward fiscal stability Alaska can turn the corner, attract investment, rebuild its economic foundation and pass on a legacy of opportunity and prosperity. It’s time to complete the people’s business in Juneau, to be responsible and to put the long-term interest of Alaska first. ^ Jim Jansen is Chairman of the Lynden Companies; Marc Langland is the retired Chairman and CEO of Northrim Bank; Tony Knowles is a former Governor of Alaska.

AJOC EDITORIAL: House Majority has lost. They just don’t know it yet.

Here’s hoping House Speaker Bryce Edgmon hasn’t gotten too attached to his gavel. The once high-riding Democrat-led Majority in the House had a stake driven through its heart on June 5 when it was abandoned by Gov. Bill Walker, its one-time ally on raising oil taxes and bringing back a state income tax. By immediately rejecting Walker’s compromise package that did not include an income tax, increased oil taxes or their preferred amount for the Permanent Fund Dividend, the rookie leaders of the House have set themselves up as the fall guys if the government shuts down with no budget by July 1. It may be just posturing, as Senate President Pete Kelly mused while his caucus took a more measured and conciliatory attitude toward Walker’s proposed compromise that came down heavily in favor of its position. Are the House Democrats really so wedded to their demand for an income tax that they are willing to push the state to the brink of a shutdown? So far, they sound like it. Not that it was ever a great idea to hitch their policy wagon to raising taxes on an economy in recession, but House Democrats are quickly becoming Ahab to the white whale of taxes. With the governor now essentially aligned with the Senate on the greatest issues facing the Legislature — including its plan to pay off nearly $300 million in old oil tax credits using the Statutory Budget Reserve — the House has set itself up as the odd man out. No doubt it must be a bitter pill to swallow considering it was just seven months ago the new Majority held a celebratory press conference following the November election as Democrats took the reins of power in the House for the first time in more than a decade. However, the Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for their current predicament. They overreached by ratcheting up their usual attacks on the oil industry with a bill to double and triple effective tax rates between $50 and $75 per barrel, refused to cut the budget by any measure, set up an overly generous PFD and attempted to pay for it by extracting $700 million per year from Alaskans’ paychecks. The House proposals would be disastrous for the economy and it appears clear that the Senate Majority won over the governor when we heard Revenue Commissioner Randall Hoffbeck essentially repeat the Senate talking point that the House income tax proposal could end up overfunding government and therefore remove incentives to spending restraint. Who knows what ultimately won over the governor on oil taxes and credits, but two events in the prior week may have played a part. First there was Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke doing more for Arctic oil development with a stroke of a pen than Walker has accomplished halfway through his third year in office. Then there was the announcement by Caelus Energy that it was postponing its appraisal well at Smith Bay for this winter based partly on low oil prices and partly on the uncertainty about what the rules will be for tax incentives and the hundreds of millions in unpaid credits of which the company is owed at least $100 million. There has been plenty of fallout from the governor’s veto of $630 million worth of credit appropriations in the past two budgets, but this was a highly visible and hardly encouraging development. What we learned June 5 is that the governor has been listening, and that the House still has its ideological earplugs in. ^ Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: The clock is ticking on a stable economic future for Alaska

The clock ticks. The June 30 deadline to fund Alaska’s budget marches closer. A state government shutdown looms. Because I know Alaskans depend on state government services, I am working hard to avoid this calamity. I’m advocating — as I have for years — for a comprehensive fiscal plan that protects our economy. I’m aiming to achieve not just one year’s budget, but also a long-lasting comprehensive fiscal plan that protects Alaskans and the thousands of jobs threatened by our lingering recession. At issue are key differences between the House and the Senate fiscal plans. These significant differences amplify the competing visions of our bipartisan Alaska House Majority Coalition and the Senate Majority. The Senate Majority is calling for lawmakers to ignore the experts and the data and just embrace its Permanent Fund Dividend-only solution. This is a half-measure that leaves in place the fiscal uncertainty that has long plagued Alaska. The decisions we make in the next few days will clearly demonstrate our priorities. When it’s all said and done, will the priority be inaction and dysfunction — politics as usual — or, as I hope, a commitment to putting Alaska on stable fiscal foundation with a sustainable balanced budget. A prime example of the divide between the House and Senate is the debate about the massive liability facing the state of Alaska from continuing to subsidize the oil industry with cash payments and unsustainable tax credits. Our coalition made reforming this flawed system a priority, and we worked diligently to craft a bill that ends cash subsidies, limits our current nearly-unlimited liability from excessive tax credits, and protects the state of Alaska during times of low oil prices. The House passed House Bill 111 in April and sent it to the Senate for consideration. Instead of making HB 111 better, the Senate Majority made it worse by removing nearly every provision that ensures the state of Alaska receives a fair share for our oil at low prices. Our version of the bill will bring in an additional $15 million in new revenue in fiscal year 2018, and the total positive fiscal impact will be over half a billion dollars by 2026. The Senate version of the bill does not bring in any new revenue in FY 2018, and the total positive fiscal impact is just $145 million by 2027. Our bill hardens the 4 percent minimum tax floor so Alaska could expect some production tax revenue at low prices. The Senate is more concerned about oil company revenues, and would allow them to deduct a lot more expenses from their taxes than the House would, $800 million more by the end of 2027. Those deductions would also seriously impact our bottom line. Perhaps the most telling difference between the competing fiscal plans is how they treat public education and higher learning. Our proposed FY 2018 budget funds K-12 and the University of Alaska at the same levels as in the FY 2017 budget. This provides some fiscal certainty to school districts and the University so they can hire and retain teachers and professors. However, the Senate Majority chose to jeopardize our children’s education by cutting K-12 funding nearly $70 million, which could cost 700 to 900 teacher jobs statewide. They also proposed a $22 million university cut that university officials have called devastating. The House carefully crafted our comprehensive and complete fiscal plan with input from Alaskans to be balanced and fair, with contributions spread out across every region of Alaska and every segment of our economy. In contrast, the plan from the Senate Majority bypasses fairness in favor of determining winners and losers. The big winners under their plan will be the oil industry and the wealthy. Unfortunately, if they are successful the big losers will be the people of Alaska, who will lose half of their dividends and have a state government so crippled by budget cuts that nearly every essential service will be in jeopardy. The people of Alaska and the members of the House and Senate have two clear choices in front of them. A responsible fiscal plan that incorporates the best available data and the advice of the experts who have studied our economic challenges, or a partial plan based on politics and fear that continues the uncertainty and worsens the recession. The choices made in coming days will determine if Alaska goes into a deeper and darker recession or moves into an economic recovery that features more jobs, more opportunities, and more hope.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Zinke’s message brings hope to Arctic Iñupiat

Last week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke spent time visiting our region in Alaska’s Arctic. Throughout his trip, Zinke remarked about the potential of our state, the central role Alaska Natives must play in realizing that potential, and the need for government to “get out of the way” and allow local peoples to chart their own course. We couldn’t agree more. Alaska Natives have become disheartened by pledges of consultation only to read about decisions affecting our region in national newspapers; statements advocating for economic opportunity in the Arctic while closing our region with the stroke of a pen; and agendas driven by the effects of climate change in the Arctic without regard for the people most affected by them. We’ve grown weary of presidents, environmentalists and special interest groups doing things “for us.” In reality, their actions are often self-serving of their agendas and we are nothing more than a prop in their campaign. As Secretary Zinke pointed out, it is the people of Alaska and the Arctic that are the real resource, not the polar bears that fund global environmental campaigns or the massive resource potential of our lands and waters. We are worth protecting, and we appreciate the actions by the Secretary to finally give us a seat at the table. After all, it is our table. We also appreciate Secretary Zinke taking the time to listen to us about the needs of our people. What we need is balance, consultation, jobs, a stable economy and a healthy environment. Most of all, we need and deserve the ability to drive policies and activities in our region instead of outside interest groups and policy makers in Washington, D.C., driving it for us. Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, or VOICE, was established to advocate for increased collaboration on activities in our region — like the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — reasonable regulations and mitigation measures, and maximum control over our subsistence way of life. Too often, groups have attempted to act “in our best interests” without recognizing we are fully capable. We can and do speak for ourselves on behalf of our people, region and future generations of Iñupiat. It is in our best interest to have a healthy environment and a healthy economy. We will not be victims of climate change but we will also not allow our people to return to the harsh way of life before the momentous discovery of Prudhoe Bay. The Iñupiat are an adaptive people. We are and will continue to evolve to our environment and the opportunities and challenges it brings. We want a sustainable future, and have always held that resource development and environmental protection can and do co-exist. After all, we’ve been orchestrating this balance since the discovery of oil in our backyard decades ago. We cannot afford to ignore the benefits that resource development provides us. From jobs, schools, local governments, infrastructure investments, Alaska Native businesses and scientific research to simple amenities such as running water and fuel for our whaling boats — we recognize that modern and innovative resource development literally powers our region. As one of his last actions in Alaska, Secretary Zinke spoke about the importance of collaboration and consultation with Alaska Natives, and signed Secretarial Order 3352 providing for clean and safe development of energy resources in Alaska and beyond, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily prevent development, and constrain job growth and economic development. Thank you, Secretary Zinke, for your commitment to restoring trust among Alaska Natives and for taking concrete steps toward allowing decisions in our region to be driven by the local people. VOICE looks forward to working with you and the U.S. Department of Interior over the next four years to improve consultation, co-management and science-based action in the Arctic. ^ Sayers Tuzroyluk is the president of Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization established to provide direct input from the Iñupiat people in matters of Arctic policy. VOICE’s membership includes 20 of the 28 entities from across the North Slope including Tribal councils, municipal governments and Alaska Native corporations.

AJOC EDITORIAL: The right man for Alaska

In a room full of the state’s business leaders dressed in sport coats and summer dresses, the visiting guest of honor looked and sounded as Alaskan as any of them. Decked out in khaki pants and short sleeves, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a retired Navy SEAL and former congressman for Montana, spoke passionately about President Donald Trump’s vision of American energy policy that goes beyond independence and into “dominance.” Trump is a tweeting, Tasmanian devil of a president who makes sensational headlines daily for either real or manufactured outrages that overwhelm the sound decisions he’s made with cabinet picks like Zinke. Alaska’s congressional delegation has not held back from criticizing Trump — its two senators officially withdrew their support for him last October after the infamous Access Hollywood tape was released — but they clearly recognize how greatly his presidency stands to benefit the state. It’s safe to say no one is missing Zinke’s predecessor Sally Jewell. “What a difference six months makes!” Sen. Dan Sullivan gushed at the Alaska Chamber reception for Zinke on May 30. Zinke is also a geologist, and noted that not long ago in the early 2000s the trendy energy consensus position was the looming “peak oil” when the world would reach maximum oil production and start a gradual decline. Boy, was that wrong. If anything we’ve reached “peak OPEC” where the oil cartel’s ability to control world prices at its whim has been eroded by the U.S. shale revolution that is undermining current production cuts of about 1.7 million barrels per day from its member nations and Russia. Now we have countries like Saudi Arabia nearly begging U.S. shale producers to cut back as prices have flattened out at about $50 per barrel and drillers are squeezing so many efficiencies out of their wells that some can make money at prices $34 or higher, according to Bloomberg. OPEC thought they could break the shale drillers. Boy, was that wrong, too. The U.S. has become the world’s No. 1 energy producer and we can tell OPEC to go pound the abundant sand of the Middle Eastern deserts. Zinke referenced his military career in the context of the goal of energy dominance. The United States’ deep involvement in the Middle East and in particular the Persian Gulf has always been about preserving the steady flow of oil that’s led us into wars and uncomfortable alliances with some of the worst governments on the planet. With the humility of one who has served, Zinke told the audience that he never wants to see anyone’s sons or daughters go to war and see the things he’s seen over access to oil. There is renewed hope to finally open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development, as was intended when the so-called “1002” area was set aside under the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. And before you hear the usual tropes about how ANWR production does nothing to change the U.S. energy picture — “drop in the bucket” often springs forth from the anti-development groups — it is worth realizing just how much that estimated million barrels per day figures under current domestic production levels. Not only would that amount triple the current throughput for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, it represents 20 percent of our 2016 net imports of oil. A million barrels per day is nearly the 1.1 million in imports from Saudi Arabia and would completely erase the 800,000 barrels per day from the deteriorating socialist wasteland of Venezuela. All in all, since the lifting of the ban on crude oil exports last year championed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the United States has net imports of less than 5 million barrels per day with almost 60 percent of that total from our neighbors in Canada. Energy independence is within reach. So, too, is energy dominance. Trump truly found the right champion for that cause in Zinke and Alaska will be nothing but better for it. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

AJOC EDITORIAL: The ‘What, me worry?’ Legislature

By the time House and Senate members return to Juneau after Memorial Day weekend, they will have burned through 14 days of a 30-day special session without much, if anything, to show for it. Two days later, pink slips will go out to virtually every state worker with the possible exception of troopers, corrections officers and Pioneer Home employees. If only they could be sent to the 60 legislators as well. Both bodies have passed operating budgets as well as bills to use Permanent Fund earnings and end the state’s cashable oil tax credit program. That should be a plenty good starting point, but conference committees haven’t met on the budget or Permanent Fund bills, and the Senate hasn’t even named conferees to the oil tax credit bill. Alfred E. Neuman would be proud. What, me worry? Both sides are blaming the other, and both sides are right for a change. The Senate did indeed pass its budget and Permanent Fund bills with time to spare while the House took the full 90 original days to pass an income tax that had no shot in the Senate and was rightly shot down on May 12. The House also took the full 90 days to send the Senate a bill ending the cashable oil tax credit program for which the state liability will top $1 billion by the end of the 2018 fiscal year. Income and oil taxes are the obsession of the House this year despite the fact the economy is in recession and bleeding thousands of taxpayers annually, largely from the beleaguered oil sector that has led the job losses numbering in the thousands. Members of the House have far exceeded their mandate on oil tax policy by not only ending the credit program, but getting way over their skis by proposing to double and triple production tax rates at prices between $55 and $75. The House proposals are nonstarters for the Senate; likewise the House leaders say it is a nonstarter for them to pass a budget that doesn’t raises taxes on “the wealthy” and “the biggest corporations in the world” despite the fact that middle class earners will be bearing the brunt of the cost through either less takehome pay or no takehome pay. There’s been plenty of press conferences staking out these positions, but rhetoric isn’t work and it won’t get the job done. If the Senate really wanted to put pressure on the House it would be demanding conference committee meetings daily. Show up to a committee room and sit there without them if you have to make the point, but adjourning for two weeks without even naming conference committee members to the oil credit bill shreds the Senate leaders’ credibility on the issue of time management. Room for compromise can be found if the Senate will ease up on a few of its deeper budget cuts and the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend and if the House would drop its ridiculous attempts to tax everything that moves when the economy is hurting. A good place to start would be splitting the baby on the $288 million in the Statutory Budget Reserve that the Senate has allocated to start paying down oil tax credits that Gov. Bill Walker has been allowing to pile up for the last two years by vetoing $630 million worth. Take half of that and restore some education funding for the House Democrats and it would go a long way toward meeting the differences in the operating budgets. The Senate likely has a winning hand with the public by standing firm on refusing to pass an income tax but they can’t believe they will win the argument on nearly $300 million in oil tax credits while cutting the PFD and education funding. All of this could have been done in the first two weeks of the special session, or at least a healthy start before leaving for the holiday weekend that nobody in Juneau has rightfully earned. Now we are likely headed toward another special session that could cross the end of the fiscal year and put the state in a place where no one wants to be. Yet the Legislature whistles along past the graveyard. What, me worry? Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: An economy in recession can’t afford an income tax

The budget debate in Juneau this year focuses on questions of how big government should be, how much it should cost, and who should pay for it. This has dominated our discussions for months, centering debates on government systems and numbers. But the real debate is not about systems or numbers. It’s about us, the Alaskan people, and the kind of future we want for the state we call home. Alaska is now firmly in recession, with over 9,000 jobs lost over the past year. Each one of those lost jobs supported a family, paid for groceries in local stores, funded charitable organizations, and financed local schools. Take the opportunity to talk to some of your local shop owners and ask how business has been. What I’ve heard is concern, worry, and frustration, as the engines to our neighborhood businesses sputter to make ends meet, forced to lay off workers and make deep cuts in their spending. We need more jobs, more Alaskans with those jobs. Jobs aren’t created because we want them. People who own businesses create jobs, through investment and taking risks: the small neighborhood eatery, the niche shoe store, the mine in rural Alaska, the commercial fishing boat, and the family-owned sports lodge. Every one of these businesses are job creation centers, opening the opportunity to someone for their first job, their career, their professional passion, their reason to remain in Alaska. Alaska businesses grow our economy, grow opportunities for work, and grow the quality of life in our towns. Strong local economies support government services we all agree are necessary: good roads, police and fire protection, and schools. Some legislators propose an income tax, raising existing taxes, and continued growth in government spending. Their proposals conflicts with reality: Alaska’s government is not Alaska’s economy, but bad government policies can and do harm the economy. Some express dislike, even disdain, for businesses that employ thousands of our fellow Alaskans. That animosity clouds the source of our prosperity, of what made the last two generations of families and businesses in our state an astounding success. The Senate opposes an income tax on families and struggling business owners in this recession. Every dollar taken out of our communities to fund government programs is another dollar not funding a small business Alaskan job. Alaskan families and businesses made hard choices these last two years, cutting wherever possible, and putting themselves under a hard spending cap. The Senate supports a spending cap for government budgets. We have some of the highest funded yet underperforming schools in the United States. We have a public university system that remains a large part of our budget, yet students still can’t transfer basic credits between campuses. We have some of the highest healthcare costs in the country, yet government programs still get duplicate funding for duplicate programs. We must transform our government, which won’t happen without a spending cap putting pressure on operations to force change. Alaska’s state savings, used wisely, guarantees a dividend for Alaskans and a stable, sustainable government budget without new taxes. The Senate supports wise use of our savings to solve our budget gap and protecting Alaskans’ dividends. Importantly, the Senate supports overhauling Alaska’s government budget without harming our state’s families, businesses, and jobs. With a stable and sustainable government budget in place, Alaskan businesses can invest in their communities. Families can rest assured that the plan is focused on them and their future. Investments creating family supporting jobs can be made with confidence. We all want our state’s families, businesses, and jobs strong and vibrant. That’s a future I’m proud to support. ^ Cathy Giessel is chair of the Senate Resources Committee and represents District N in Anchorage (Northeast Anchorage, Anchorage Hillside, Indian, Bird, Girdwood, and Portage).

GUEST COMMENTARY: House Majority ‘school tax’ fails to achieve fairness

The Alaska State House passed the “Education Funding Act” as House Bill 115 on April 16 by a unanimous vote of all 22 House Coalition members. However, none of the other 18 members of the House voted for the bill. The measure advanced to the Senate where it will likely stall. The Speaker of the House refers to House Bill 115 as a “tax for schools;” the co-chairman of the House Finance Committee characterizes the bill as a “school tax;” and Rep. David Ortiz calls the bill “an education income tax.” Further, the House Majority Coalition claimed in an April 26 press release that the “money collected from the Education Funding Act would be used to fund K-12 education in Alaska.” The phrases “tax for schools,” “school tax,” or “education income tax” do not appear in the bill. Also missing from House Bill 115 is any requirement to fulfill the claim of the House Majority Coalition that “the money collected from the Education Funding Act would be used to fund K-12 education in Alaska.” Instead, lines 26-30 on page 22 of the bill require the tax proceeds to be deposited into the State General Fund; allow (but do not require) the legislature to appropriate the proceeds for education; and, most importantly, expressly declare that the tax proceeds are not dedicated funds. In other words, the legislature would be free to appropriate the tax proceeds for any public purpose. House Bill 115 is a state income tax — plain and simple. The characterizations of House Bill 115 as a “tax for schools,” a “school tax,” and an “education income tax,” and the assurance that the tax proceeds would be used for education are disingenuous. Alaska’s constitution strictly limits the dedication of state taxes. The legislature might, in its discretion, appropriate for education all $687 million in annual tax revenues expected from House Bill 115 if it becomes law. However, it is equally possible that all $687 million in new taxes would simply supplant $687 million of the current $1.2 billion in state funding appropriated for education. School funding could remain the same or even decline despite enactment of the so-called “school tax.” The House Finance Committee is spending the week of May 1 examining Alaska’s fiscal policy. Representative Seaton, Co-Chair of the Finance Committee, states, this “weeklong series of meetings will allow us to compare and contrast the competing fiscal plans that have passed the House and Senate … our plan is the best choice … because it’s complete, comprehensive, and fair.” The characterization of the House’s fiscal plan as “complete, comprehensive, and fair” ignores significant long-standing failings in the state’s fiscal and political policies that should have been addressed long ago, but would remain if House Bill 115 became law. The lack of a remedy renders the Coalition’s plan incomplete and unfair. Ironically, while House Bill 115 cannot be properly characterized as a “school tax,” the state has levied a genuine school tax (albeit one of highly questionable legality) for more than a half century. The long-standing state school tax has raised several billions of dollars over time. As observed by Alaska Supreme Court Justice Daniel Winfree just last year, the state mandates that organized boroughs “raise specified funds for the State’s public schools system; it is a revenue source for the state — and a tax by any other name remains a tax — and the revenues are dedicated to the state’s public schools system even though they never enter the State’s treasury” (see State v. Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Op. No. 7075, page 40 (Alaska January 8, 2016)). The critical flaw in the tax to which Justice Winfree referred stems from its application to just Alaska’s 34 municipal school districts — the legislature has allowed 19 districts in Alaska to be exempt from the tax simply because residents of those districts have chosen to remain unorganized. (Many regions in Alaska never had a choice as they were forced by the State legislature and governor to incorporate as boroughs in 1963; these include Anchorage, Fairbanks, Mat-Su, Kenai, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Juneau, and Sitka). There is no rational basis for the exemption of the 19 districts (e.g., fiscal capacity). The current system allows Alaskans in those 19 districts to escape taxation for local services while benefitting indirectly through higher school funding from the State made possible by the school tax levied on the 34 municipal districts. Now, the House Majority Coalition wants to impose a bogus school tax on all of Alaska. Thus, if House Bill 115 becomes law, residents of Alaska’s 34 municipal school districts would be subject to two school taxes: one, the school tax referred to by Justice Winfree which will take more than $250 million from municipal school districts this year alone and, two, the bogus school tax in House Bill 115 that will take an estimated $687 million from all Alaskans. The House’s fiscal plan is incomplete and unjust. Dan Bockhorst lives in Ketchikan.

GUEST COMMENTARY: House Majority needs to bring SB 5 to a vote

There’s a very important bill stuck in the Democrat-led House Majority Coalition that needs to be on the books in order to stop corruption in the Capitol. Senate Bill 5 is sponsored by Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, and has already passed the Senate unanimously. SB 5 prohibits groups controlled by legislators or legislative staff from soliciting and accepting contributions or from making certain contributions and expenditures during a regular or special legislative session; and prohibits lobbyists from making campaign contributions to groups controlled by legislators who live outside their districts. SB 5 was introduced by Meyer after the Alaska Public Offices Commission ruled on a complaint filed by the Alaska Democratic Party against the formation of Gabby’s Tuesday PAC, a group controlled by current House Rules Chair Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage. The problem with groups controlled by a legislator is that it provides yet another way for lobbyists, unions and other moneyed-interests to funnel large amounts of money towards certain legislators and legislative candidates. As it is, lobbyists are prohibited from making contributions to campaigns of legislators and legislative candidates outside their districts. APOC stated they couldn’t prohibit LeDoux’s group because existing campaign finance and lobbyists laws and regulations needed to be changed by legislators to address such groups. Fortunately, Meyer heard their call for action and drafted SB 5. His decades of experience as an elected official on the Anchorage Assembly, House of Representative and Senate has shown him that it’s best to curtail the power and influence of lobbyists and moneyed-interests. Meanwhile, the lack of controls on LeDoux’s group has created a monster. Before session began this year there were rumblings from lobbyists who received calls from LeDoux. She squeezed them to contribute to her group… or else. They understood they needed to pay in order for their clients’ interests to get any play in the legislature. LeDoux’s “pay-to-play” scheme is fundamentally corruption at its most basic level. Then, LeDoux was elected into a leadership position by House Democrats to control the flow of bills as House Rules chair, a powerful position. The lack of controls on LeDoux’s group also gums up the works in the legislature as she hurls threats at fellow legislators and others. Such a sordid culture of intimidation has not been seen since the 1990s when another representative from Muldoon ruled the House. The late former House Speaker Ramona Barnes was renowned for her heavy-handedness. Nothing happened in the House without her say-so. Barnes was generous to her political allies and a menace to her foes. The seeds of the VECO corruption scandal, when the FBI raided legislative offices in 2006, were planted with the rise of Barnes to leadership positions in the early 1990s. Barnes’ power grew through the years as her relationship with VECO CEO Bill Allen, lobbyists and other moneyed-interests solidified. Do we truly want to go back to a time when lobbyists and moneyed-interests dictated what happened in our Capitol in Juneau? SB 5 is currently stuck in the House Community and Regional Affairs committee, one of three committees the House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, assigned it — in order to kill the bill. The other committees include State Affairs and Judiciary. Multiple communications to the committee chairs have been sent. Repeated emails to CR&A co-chairs Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel, and Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, to hear the bill have gone unanswered. Obviously, they don’t seem to want to prevent and stop corruption in our Capitol. State Affairs chair Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, has also shown no interest in corruption prevention as he’s also not responded to emails. Surprisingly, Judiciary chair Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, responded with encouragement to push for SB 5’s passage — if it ever got to his committee. It’s time for the Democratic-led House majority to oust LeDoux as Rules chair. Then they need to do everything possible to put SB 5, a very important and much-needed bill, on the books before LeDoux and her “pay-to-play” scheme further destroys their ability to effectively legislate and appropriate without more undue influence, intimidation and threats this session. ^ Andrée McLeod lives in Anchorage and moved to Alaska more than 35 years ago. She is a registered Republican who believes in the power of the citizen to keep politicians in line.

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