Opinion

GUEST COMMENTARY: Governor holds UA future in hands with veto pen

In this austere budget environment, and after intense scrutiny, the Legislature passed a budget that includes a reasonable $5 million general fund reduction for the University of Alaska. In the next few days, the governor will decide whether the state will continue its investment in the university — allowing Alaskans of all ages to carry on, uninterrupted, with their vocational, continuing, or higher education — or veto a large portion of the UA budget. Make no mistake, the university cannot absorb an additional, substantial reduction in state general funds without abruptly halting numerous student career pathways mid-stream, eliminating services, or shutting down community campuses or universities. An additional reduction of even $10 million — on top of the $51 million in cuts we’ve already taken — will mean the discontinuation of programs and services with little or no notice, and that in turn will have ripple effects, damaging UA’s ability to generate revenue and causing even greater harm across the state. Severe reductions in state Undesignated General Funds, or UGF, as originally proposed by the governor would require closure of hundreds of programs and affect thousands of students. To provide context for such a reduction, $134 million is nearly the equivalent of the total UGF budget for University of Alaska Anchorage and UA Southeast combined. At that level we may need to cut whole programs or close one or more of our universities, UAA, UA Fairbanks or UAS. But a university system is not like a typical corporation or factory; it needs a critical mass of faculty with different specialties to provide a quality education. Eliminating whole programs to reduce costs does not eliminate our responsibility to affected students. We are obligated to complete their programs, which carries costs that delay any immediate savings. The university’s total budget this year is comprised of $327 million from the state (about 40 percent). The remainder comes from tuition and fees paid by our students, research grants and contracts, proceeds from land development, and private donations. However, those private revenue sources will inevitably be harmed if general fund support is reduced. Prior cuts have had the effect of reducing opportunities for our students and services to our communities, while increasing tuition. The cumulative reduction in the university’s budget of $195 million over the last five years has resulted in significant reductions in administrative staff and services, to the point that further reductions will compromise UA’s ability to meet its many obligations. Indeed, the university’s statewide administration, which provides consolidated support services, has taken a 37 percent cut over the last several years, almost triple the average cut across the university system. Still, the university remains a highly accessible and affordable path to an excellent education and the opportunities that only education can provide in the workplace. However, that will not continue with further substantial reductions. We have had numerous meetings with the governor and his team, demonstrating how the university has focused its mission, reduced costs, increased private fundraising, developed strategic plans with measurable goals, created a task force to look at the university’s structure, and developed an exciting vision for how the university enables Alaskans to create a strong and sustainable future for our state. The governor was receptive, and I think impressed with the work that’s been accomplished by the university. However, he may feel compelled to follow through with his original proposal to reduce the university’s appropriation. As a result, if the governor vetoes a substantial amount, I ask that you contact your legislator to request that he or she consider overriding that veto. The educational investments and opportunities for thousands of Alaskans will depend on it. Jim Johnsen is the president of the University of Alaska.

GUEST COMMENTARY: America’s energy, tech and defense future needs mining

As the recent trade war with China has escalated, Beijing has implied that it may retaliate by withholding rare earth minerals. Such a strategic vulnerability — and America’s alarmingly high reliance on imported minerals and metals — is now in the spotlight for all the world to see. China’s rare earth threat underscores just how perilous U.S. mineral import reliance has become. While rare earths are currently the focus, America’s overall reliance on imports of these minerals is indicative of a far larger problem. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. is now 100 percent import-reliant for 18 minerals and metals, and 50 percent or more reliant for another 30. Despite ever-growing demand for these minerals and metals in defense technologies — such as stealth and night vision technologies — or consumer goods and green energy technology, U.S. import reliance has doubled over the past 25 years. Notwithstanding the nation’s vast mineral reserves, mining investment in the U.S., and production of essential minerals, has steadily declined. The atrophying of the nation’s materials supply chain shouldn’t just be chalked up to the march of globalization and large-scale economic integration. It’s also the product of a decades-long adversarial approach to domestic mining that can be seen in federal land-withdrawals and a mine permitting process that now regularly stretches to 10 years or more. Modern, responsible, and well-regulated mining should be encouraged in the U.S., not pushed aside. To meet the material needs of our advanced tech, manufacturing, energy, and defense sectors, America will need almost exponential growth in the mining and refining of a vast array of minerals and metals, many of which can be produced here at home. While materials recycling should be a key part of meeting this demand, it’s hardly a cure-all. It’s past time for the U.S. to place strategic importance on mining and the greater materials supply chain. China is already years ahead in this industrial arms race, prioritizing mining as a cog of its industrial policy. For example, China is the top resource holder for 10 of the minerals and materials vital to wind, solar and battery technologies. A new report from the Commerce Department stresses the urgency of action. It warns that the U.S. has become “heavily dependent” on foreign sources for 31 of the 35 minerals recently designated as “critical” by the Department of the Interior. While the U.S. has fallen far behind, there are signs of hope. Bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., The Minerals Security Act, is an important step forward in responding to China’s dominance and beginning to right our supply chain. The legislation would streamline a variety of mine permitting and regulatory processes currently sapping U.S. mining competitiveness. Their leadership in beginning to address this issue deserves strong, bipartisan backing. The technologies of tomorrow — whether they’re energy technologies or the defense applications that keep us safe — are more materials-intensive than what they’re replacing. It’s essential we build a supply chain to support them. Failing to do so won’t just be an economic missed opportunity. It would be a geopolitical blunder that undermines our global leadership. The time for decisive action to encourage domestic mining, and rebuild our industrial base, has arrived. Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. John Adams served more than 30 years in command and staff assignments as an Army aviator, military intelligence officer, and foreign area officer in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. He is president of Guardian Six Consulting.

OPINION: Ignoring session call latest offense for a scofflaw Legislature

The zombie legislative session that will not sine die staggers on aimlessly, consuming the brains of anyone trying to make sense of what’s going on and swallowing the souls of those still naïve enough to believe in following the laws as written. In the latest escalation of a race to the bottom, Senate President Cathy Giessel and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon have thumbed their noses at Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s call to a special session in Wasilla to decide the fate of the Permanent Fund dividend despite admittedly not having the votes to call themselves to Juneau. A great irony of the 31st Legislature will be going down in history as one that managed to pass a new tough-on-crime bill while simultaneously breaking as many laws as possible. The 90-day time limit on legislative sessions approved by voters? Pffft. The 35-year-old statutory formula for calculating the PFD? Yeah, right. No per diem without an operating budget? We didn’t really mean that. The law says the governor can choose the site of a special session? We. Don’t. Care. Most galling of all is that when the leaders of the Legislature decide to ignore a law they hide under the claim of constitutionality. Sometimes they don’t even bother going that far. “It’s a gray area,” Edgmon told James Brooks of the Anchorage Daily News about the leadership’s authority to ignore the governor’s call, but they plan to conduct some mutant combination of floor sessions in Juneau and committee hearings in Anchorage anyway. These leaders would be a lot more credible when it comes to defending their turf if they’d shown any competence at doing their jobs or a bare minimum respect for the laws they’ve passed. Instead, the scofflaws have only been emboldened over the past four years after escaping any repercussions for skipping out on their lease at the Downtown Anchorage Legislative Information Office under the guise of the “subject to appropriation” clause. The result of that decision is that the Legislature has spent $24 million on the Wells Fargo bank-turned-LIO but still has no place to actually conduct a special session in a single building on the road system. Many people cheered that decision to abscond from the Downtown office and leave the owners to face foreclosure on a $28 million loan taken out on the faith and credit of the Legislature, and likewise approved of the subsequent refusal of former Gov. Bill Walker to fully pay off the year’s balance of refundable oil tax credits without any warning to banks or the industry. The owners knew what they were doing, some argued. The companies knew the terms, some excused. Now some of these same folks are squealing about not following laws governing the PFD or per diem. Only now do they realize that just because something is legal doesn’t make it right. Only now may they realize that the decision to take the easy way out on the Anchorage LIO without really saving any money was the gateway drug to funding government by cutting the PFD. Once the Supreme Court enabled the Legislature to ignore its formula on the PFD, it has been a free-for-all on gimmicks and budget shortcuts and disregard for the law, even those that are barely a year old. Their “solution” to the tax credit liabilities ran afoul of constitutional questions and is headed for the Supreme Court. So is their claim about the legality of forward “funding” of education without actually funding it and their assertion that they don’t have to convene a session according to the governor’s call. Perhaps it’s only fitting that the Legislature keeps getting dragged into court. That’s where most scofflaws eventually end up. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Narrative of fear doesn’t need facts to win

Alaskans know that the future of our state depends on our ability to responsibly extract natural resources. Perhaps more certainly than citizens of any other state, we understand how our economy and livelihood depends on whether we are allowed to utilize our own land as we please, without interference from the Lower 48. That’s why recent attempts from some politicians in Washington to limit the rights of Alaskans are so counterproductive. Just last week, Former Vice President Joe Biden rolled out an energy plan that included a ban on offshore drilling in the Arctic. Senators and representatives from states like Rhode Island and Maine – Republicans included – have rolled out legislation to do the same. Recent history suggests that every major development in Alaska will be “controversial” going forward. The proposal to expand Alaska’s economy by permitting responsible development in ANWR is just one example. Yet there is nothing wrong with that word; it simply means there are strong opinions on both sides. But “controversy” isn’t a reason to stop progress. Here’s why: Every major development will be met by a narrative of fear perpetrated by its opponents, often environmental activist groups. Stoking fear is the easy way to try and halt development. It doesn’t rely on winning the facts or making the best case – it’s all about denigrating opponents and being the loudest voice in the room. The funny thing that typically accompanies these fear-inducing declarations? They’re nearly always ended with a plea for campaign donations. Environmental activists do this because it works. Fear-mongering produces a fortune for the groups who use them. In Alaska, we’ve seen these narratives since before I was born. In 1968, with the plan to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System underway, eco-groups wrongly predicted the end of caribou herds and the destruction of the pipeline due to earthquake activity, and the demise of Alaska Native cultures. Check your watch – it has been 51 years, and none of those have happened. You may look at those predictions now and see them as absurd, but many believed them in the moment. After all, those statements preyed on many peoples’ fears. Eco-groups are using the same tactics today, but with even larger platforms on social media, e-mail blasts and online-organized activist rallies. They use these tactics to stifle development, often by trying to halt the already-long permitting process that accompanies major projects. There are rules for approving resource projects. Lots of requirements. Lots of time for the public to weigh in. The rules tell you the terms and how to prepare. For mines, there is a book printed by the Environmental Protection Agency, titled EPA and Hardrock Mining: A Source Book for Industry in the Northwest and Alaska. This book outlines the requirements for pursuing approval for mining projects, and knowing the information in the book is critical to the prospect of having any mining opportunities in our state. It simply costs too much money and time to enter a project without a clear understanding of the requirements. For those willing to undertake the process, years and several million dollars (at a minimum) of scientific and technical work will be required. Impact studies must be done, branches of the federal government must approve, and the public has plentiful opportunities to comment. All this must be done while fending off the alarmists hard at work on their narrative of fear. As Alaska’s future resource opportunities develop, here’s hoping that the activist groups who speak factually-inaccurate, emotionally-charged fear in hopes of dimming Alaska’s bright future are seen for what they are. If fear is given credence over fact, Alaska will lose out on significant opportunities. Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power the Future, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on energy and resource development.

GUEST COMMENTARY: US must end reliance on imports for critical minerals

Americans recently woke up to the news that China is threatening to cut off supplies of “rare earth” metals to the United States. It’s a troubling situation. But such alarming headlines could finally motivate Washington to rectify a longstanding problem: America’s growing dependence on imported metals and minerals. It may all sound a bit obscure. But these resources provide the building blocks for everything from electric motors to medical equipment. And the Commerce Department just warned that the United States has become “heavily dependent” on foreign sources for 31 of the 35 minerals designated as “critical” by the Department of the Interior. And 14 of the minerals considered “critical” by the Department of Defense are only available overseas. We use many of these minerals every day. The average smartphone contains copper, gold, platinum, silver, graphite, and tin oxide. Solar panels require gold and silver. Electric vehicles need cobalt, zinc and lithium. And wind turbines use copper and molybdenum. Fortunately, America possesses an estimated $6.2 trillion in mineral reserves, and our reliance on China and other countries shouldn’t even be happening. America’s mining sector also uses more environmentally responsible practices, and under more stringent regulation, than competitors in China, Kazakhstan, Turkey and many other countries. China also utilizes subsidies for state-influenced companies, shoddy environmental practices, and market manipulation to drive U.S. competitors from the market. Beijing can drive prices down to put others out of business, then restrict supplies and control prices at will. As a result, less than half of the minerals used by America’s manufacturers are actually sourced domestically. Back in 2014, a survey found that 90 percent of U.S. manufacturing executives were concerned about obtaining needed minerals in a timely manner. The problem has only grown worse. In 2010, Beijing used market control as a weapon, cutting off rare earth mineral shipments to Japan. And the World Trade Organization has ruled that China gives preferences for mineral supplies to its own state-owned manufacturers while discriminating against the U.S. and other countries. Complicating matters is that it now takes as long as seven to 10 years for a U.S. mining operation to get the permits needed to launch new operations. In contrast, mine permitting in countries like Australia and Canada — with comparable environmental standards — takes only two to three years. Washington must find ways to streamline this process in order to begin responsibly extracting the key resources needed for the products we use every day. If U.S. manufacturers are to supply consumers with American-made products, they’ll need more timely access to reliable mineral sources. But many of the nation’s existing mines are reaching the end of their useful lifespan. Washington urgently needs to update rules and incentives for faster, more responsible, and more innovative extraction of mineral resources that benefit domestic workers, companies, and national security. Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America.

OPINION: Legislature should drop pointless education fight

In a rare display of bipartisan and bicameral unity, the leadership of the Alaska House and Senate took a break from not accomplishing anything to hold a press conference on May 28 announcing their intent to sue Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy if he follows through on his belief that the Legislature has not properly funded K-12 education for the 2020 fiscal year that begins July 1. Dunleavy, backed by a legal opinion from Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, has asserted that the Legislature’s attempt to “forward fund” education in a bill passed in 2018 is unconstitutional as an improper dedication of funds and an end-run around his line-item veto authority. Having repeatedly failed to accomplish its One Job of passing a budget within the time constraints of a regular session and triggering layoff notices from school districts who require funding certainty, the Legislature passed House Bill 287 that paid for K-12 education in fiscal year 2019 and called for an equal appropriation to be made in the 2020 fiscal year. The problem with that, Dunleavy’s administration argues, is that the Legislature appropriated money it doesn’t yet have in the General Fund, and therefore it is a dedication of funds prohibited by the state Constitution, and by doing so it robs him of his authority to veto spending in the upcoming fiscal year. There is certainly no question that the Alaska constitution created a powerful executive branch, particularly in regards to spending. A two-thirds vote is required to override a veto on regular legislation, but a three-fourths majority is necessary to override a veto on spending. While Clarkson has released a nine-page memo defending the administration’s position, the Legislature has not offered any similar legal analysis backing up its assertion of power other than an argument that boils down to “we say we can.” Perhaps emboldened by the Supreme Court decision in the lawsuit over former Gov. Bill Walker’s 2016 veto of half of the Permanent Fund dividend appropriation that gave legislators carte blanche to ignore the laws they have passed, they may now similarly believe they can usurp the governor’s constitutional role in the budget process. Taking the Legislature’s assertion of forward funding power to a logical conclusion, they could have passed a 10- or 20- or 100-year education funding bill and as long as lawmakers never touch the bill they could put a billion-plus dollar budget item on autopilot and outside the reach of Dunleavy or any future governor. That’s going to be a tough argument to make at the Supreme Court, and despite their protestations to the contrary, this is not a settled legal issue. The administration’s position is not unreasonable, though if it comes to it and he follows the AG’s opinion and does not transfer funds after July 1 it will surely be portrayed that way. The Department of Law attorneys who testified told the Legislature had the money been called for to be appropriated in the current year on June 30 they would regard it as legal. Similarly, had the Legislature appropriated money from a fund that actually has money such as the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account, the administration has stated that, too, would be legal. House Bill 287 did neither of those things. It appropriates money not yet in the Treasury and calls for it in a future fiscal year, which certainly raises the dedicated funds issue. Dunleavy has promised not to veto education funding if the Legislature puts language in the current budget; he would fail even if he tried as the House Minority Republicans already called for status quo K-12 funding that would be enough to override his red pen. The legislators who support HB 287 said they did it to ensure stability for school districts, but their decision to dig in over an untested power is only causing more disruption. With far bigger problems to address regarding unsustainable spending and the dividend, their refusal to abide Dunleavy on this issue and thus guarantee K-12 funding for the upcoming year shows they are actually more concerned with defending their turf than they are in preventing pink slips from going out. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

UAA alums make a difference — nominate an Achiever today

Last weekend, more than 1,200 students graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage. As they walked across the stage and toward their futures at Sunday’s Commencement ceremony, I watched them join the ranks of more than 53,000 UAA alumni, most of whom live and work in the state. I am confident the class of 2019 will, like those who came before them, make a difference not only in Alaska’s economy, but also in its communities. UAA alumni are leaders and business owners; they are our dental hygienists, nurses, journalists, police officers, K-12 superintendents, university professors, petroleum engineers, welders, diesel mechanics, pilots and earthquake engineers. They are also our neighbors, nonprofit board members, community council leaders, legislators, and friends. They are being recognized nationally and internationally. Recently, Samantha Mack was named UAA’s first-ever Rhodes Scholar, Eagle River teacher Valerie Baalerud won the Milken Educator Award, and alumna Megan Green received a Fulbright Scholarship. Local employers recognize the value of UAA-educated graduates. Companies like R&M Consultants, an Alaska-based consulting firm with a workforce comprised of 30 percent UAA graduates, understand how important it is to provide by-Alaska, for-Alaska services. R&M employs nearly 100 people in Anchorage and Fairbanks to provide civil, structural, waterfront, and geotechnical engineering; UAA graduates’ depth of knowledge in engineering for cold weather is invaluable. Nearly every industry in the state benefits from the students that walk across the UAA stage. The Anchorage School District, the State of Alaska, GCI, BP, ConocoPhillips, Southcentral Foundation, Providence Health and Services, Alaska Airlines, and, of course, UAA, are among the employers hiring the highest numbers of UAA graduates. Here at UAA we work to recognize the successes and contributions of our alumni. Since 2010, UAA has honored nearly 30 Alumni of Distinction in our community. The Alumni of Distinction Awards recognize and celebrate those who have made important contributions in their communities and whose actions honor the legacy of excellence at UAA. Leaders like Sophie Minich, CIRI president and CEO, Tim Gravel, Kaladi Brothers Coffee CEO, Jennifer Thompson, Thompson &Co. PR president and CEO, Carol Comeau, former superintendent of the Anchorage School District, Roald Helgesen, CEO of the Alaska Native Tribal Consortium, and Ted Trueblood, a longtime Alaskan and civil engineer, are just a few of the many great individuals who have earned this prestigious award. As it happens, nominations are now open for the 2019 UAA Alumni of Distinction Awards. Anyone in the community can nominate UAA alumni for these distinguished awards. Do you know someone who deserves to be recognized for the work they do in their community? UAA also continues to grow and deepen our community connections through our honorary degree and meritorious service award program. At commencement last weekend we recognized four community members for their significant and lasting contributions to the university and the state of Alaska: Bede Trantina, Sheila Toomay, Barbara Hood and Dr. Thomas Nighswander. These outstanding individuals join the growing and strong network of UAA alumni and friends who make a difference in our community and state everyday. UAA’s commitment to and partnership with Anchorage and extended Southcentral communities is deep and permanent. As this new class enters the workforce, we are excited to see where they will end up, and how they will change their communities, and our state, for the better. A new generation of leaders is emerging and together our community and our university will grow. In a few years we might see some of the 2019 class back on campus for their own Alumni of Achievement awards. I am proud to be part of an institution that produces so many of Alaska’s leaders and change-makers. If you know someone deserving of the Alumni of Achievement Award, contact the Office of Alumni Relations or visit www.uaa.alaska.edu to learn more about the nomination process. Nominations are due by 5 p.m. on Monday, June 17. Megan Olson is vice chancellor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Unite to rebuild infrastructure for Alaska and the nation

“Gridlock.” “Dysfunction.” “Stalemate.” In recent years, all of these words have been used in reference to Washington – especially after the 2018 elections created a divided Congress. It’s true that the partisan divide has oftentimes made it difficult to get things done, but it doesn’t have to be that way. This Congress, Republicans and Democrats from districts across the country have an opportunity to find common ground on an issue important to all of us: infrastructure. As former chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, I understand how important strong roads, ports, and bridges are to my fellow members and their constituents. Robust infrastructure is essential to a strong economy, and when the economy is booming, we all benefit. Improving America’s infrastructure could be the shot in the arm needed to take an already booming economy into overdrive. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, the economy could grow at an additional 3 percent if Congress comes together to pass major infrastructure legislation. However, any successful bipartisan infrastructure bill will need to address a range of issues currently facing our airports, harbors, and roads. First and foremost, Congress must come to an agreement on funding and find a way to fix the Federal Highway Trust Fund for the long-term. The Highway Trust Fund is in danger of becoming totally insolvent, and if you’ve seen the condition of some of Alaska’s highways – including the Alaska-Canada highway – you know how critical it is to stabilize this important funding source. Recent Congressional Budget Office estimates report that the Federal Highway Trust Fund will run out of money by 2022, making reform even more urgent. If we’re going to fix the Highway Trust Fund, we must be willing to consider all available options. Revenues from the federal gas tax have been steadily decreasing as our automobiles become more fuel efficient, and there are more electric vehicles in use, and dollars don’t buy as much as they once did. Just a few years ago, the federal gas tax collected $39 billion in revenue, but needed to support $52 billion in program commitments. The imbalance between revenue collection and highway spending is unsustainable, and only makes it more difficult for Congress to make progress on delivering the infrastructure that America needs. The most obvious solution to this problem is to simply raise the gas tax and adjust it for inflation. However, this simply wouldn’t generate enough revenue as cars are less reliant on gasoline than ever before. Another suggested solution is to initiate some type of user fee or vehicle-miles-traveled, or VMT, tax, which has seen some success in various states that have started pilot programs to test the viability of this solution. Methods to administer such a program on a nationwide scale are untested, and it would be important to ensure that constituents in rural states such as Alaska are not disproportionately affected by a user fee or VMT tax. Regardless of the method used, the fact of the matter is that both Republicans and Democrats want to fix the Federal Highway Trust Fund, and for the sake of the constituents who sent us here, we need to get it done. Rapidly-advancing technology is also improving lives across the world, and Congress should be prepared to not only harness this new technology to improve our infrastructure, but to develop a regulatory approach that keeps Americans safe, but doesn’t hamper innovation or further progress. The promise of companies like Amazon making unmanned deliveries via drone, or Tesla producing self-driving cars represents a new frontier in infrastructure and commerce, but also raises new safety concerns. In any new infrastructure effort, Congress must resist the urge to overregulate these technologies and instead opt for a light-touch approach that finds a regulatory balance while protecting public safety. Another focus that a potential bipartisan infrastructure package must also address is the lengthy permitting and project delivery process that has left so many projects in limbo. Time is money, and implementing oversight and looking for ways to eliminate unnecessary delays saves hard-earned taxpayer dollars. Environmental impact statements – though needed – can cause unnecessary delays, and create cost overruns that threaten entire infrastructure projects. President Trump and congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle must come together to reform the permitting process to better streamline project delivery while still protecting our environment. Project management is vital for the efficient completion of large infrastructure projects and if we are serious about putting together a robust infrastructure package, management standards must be considered in the legislation to ensure taxpayer dollars are not wasted. As Dean of the House, I’ve been fortunate to play a role in major, bipartisan wins for Alaska and our country. I firmly believe that this divided Congress has the opportunity to reverse the trend of crumbling roads and bridges, and finally get major infrastructure legislation passed. This year let’s finally break the gridlock, lose the “dysfunctional” label, and send an infrastructure bill to the President that our constituents can be proud of. Our communities and our economy depend on it. Rep. Don Young is the longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives and submitted this column to mark infrastructure week May 13-20.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Tesla’s warning highlights the eco-left’s hypocrisy

Tesla, the world’s current “it” auto manufacturer, is concerned. Their American-made electric vehicles, or EVs, require steady supplies of mined materials: lithium, copper, cobalt and more. And our current capacity might not be enough. Sarah Maryssael, Tesla’s global supply manager for battery metals, reportedly warned at a closed-door industry conference last week that a global shortage of critical EV components is coming. Tesla is warning of “long-term supply challenges” because of “underinvestment in the mining sector.” Tesla is right to be concerned about underinvestment in the mining sector, but who should they be concerned with? We need to be asking why hasn’t there been enough investment when we know the need for these elements is coming? The answer is simple: the environmentalist movement. For years, environmental groups have worked to raise the cost of opening new mines, especially here in Alaska, where we have plentiful opportunities. They threaten lawsuits, file legal actions, bring in protestors — actions that cumulatively make it more expensive and more difficult to open new mining facilities. And here’s the crazy part: The same environmental activists who are trying to push “green” energy and transportation are the people fighting the mining activities that can help make it happen. It’s hypocrisy at its finest: they demand green energy but protest the resources needed to make EV’s and battery storage a reality. In Alaska, for example, the public outcry from environmentalists against the Pebble mine has been deafening. Eco-activists say we must choose between mining and fishery health, and they have relentlessly pursued all means necessary to shutter Pebble before it has a chance to work through the permitting process. Don’t forget, Pebble would be primarily a copper mine — one of the inputs that Tesla is warning could face shortages. The same environmental extremism has begun against the whole of the Ambler Mining District, an area in Northwest Alaska that holds world-class deposits, because it will take a new road through state and federal lands to access the projects. The Aktigiruq deposit features zinc, gold and lead. Arctic VMS has identified copper zinc, lead, gold and silver in its deposit landscape. Bornite has significant copper and cobalt resource potential in its claim area, while Taurus has notable deposits of copper, gold and molybdenum. Graphite Creek has the largest large-flake graphite deposit in the U.S. All of these projects would help in one way or another to improve output of materials needed to build a more robust green energy world. If the eco-activists had their way, these resources would remain in the ground. Their protests then make no sense. Will the environmental extremists cede their moral high ground, stop fighting against the mining industry, and realize that resource extraction actually serves their goals in the long run? My guess is no. To do so would be to give up a potent fundraising method used to vilify responsible resource extraction, and the energy workers who are employed at those projects. Environmental groups in Alaska and abroad should heed Tesla’s warning. America can lead the way, develop our resources and create the inputs needed for new, low-cost forms of energy and storage — if only these groups would stand aside. Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power The Future, a nationwide non-profit focused on supporting energy workers, while pushing back on radical green groups and the ideologues who fund them. Contact him at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: A dividend Alaska can afford

During the May 1 Senate floor debate on the state budget, I offered an amendment to reduce this year’s Permanent Fund dividend from the proposed $3,000 to a more reasonable $1,200 per Alaskan. My reasoning was simple and practical: a $1,200 PFD is one Alaska can afford. It’s a matter of simple math. A $3,000 dividend leaves a gaping $1.2-billion deficit, while a $1,200 dividend would balance the budget and allow funding of core state services at sensibly reduced levels—all while providing a reasonably-sized dividend more in line with the PFDs Alaskans have received over the decades. A $1,200 dividend also keeps a promise the Legislature made to Alaskans just last year. With the passage of Senate Bill 26, we restructured the way Permanent Fund earnings are fundamentally managed and placed into law a fixed annual transfer of roughly 5 percent from the Fund to the state treasury. The goal was simple: protect the $65-billion Permanent Fund itself while creating a sustainable, long-term revenue stream — one that allows for a healthy PFD and helps pay for core state services like education, public safety and infrastructure. But by putting the state on course for a $1.2-billion deficit, a $3,000 dividend is anything but healthy. We have three basic options to close the budget gap created by a $3,000 dividend: 1. Cut another $1.2 billion from the budget. While I strongly support continued downward pressure on the budget, we need to continue making sensible, managed, multi-year reductions so we don’t send the state’s economy into a tailspin or cut core services too deeply. 2. Raise $1.2 billion in new revenue, which means either doubling oil and gas taxes or levying a hefty new income and/or sales tax on Alaskans. But to me it doesn’t make sense to torpedo the oil and gas industry with a massive tax increase or to tax Alaskans heavily with one hand just to send out a big dividend with the other. 3. Pull $1.2 billion from our dwindling cash reserves, which means either wiping out most of what remains of the state savings account or drawing from the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve, a move that will reduce future dividends and our ability to fund core services down the road. Option three — a $1.2 billion draw from the Earnings Reserve — appears to be the course plotted by the budget just sent to the House for concurrence. This move prioritizes a super-sized PFD this year over safeguarding a reasonable dividend for future generations and providing funding for schools, law enforcement, roads, and other essential state services for years to come. The good news is that the budget is not yet finalized. The differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget — including the size of the PFD — will now get worked out in a conference committee. My hope is that a budget that considers the long game will prevail and a balance will be found between reasonable budget cuts, preserving state savings accounts, and paying a dividend Alaska can afford. ^ Chris Birch represents Senate District M, which includes South Anchorage and the Lower Hillside.

OPINION: Anchorage digs into couch cushions for camp cleanup

“Budgets reflect values” is a popular axiom of those who believe in government solutions to society’s problems, but whether that is true or not, budgets certainly reflect priorities. In that respect, the Anchorage Assembly can hardly claim that addressing the city’s homeless crisis has been reflected in the budgets it has approved over the last several years. The 2016 budget, for example, listed as a goal to “Eradicate homelessness and improve the health of the community.” The main source of funding that year was a one-time federal grant of about $425,000 from Housing and Urban Development. In 2017, the “Eradicate homelessness” goal appeared again, this time funded by about $339,000 in HUD grants. The 2018 municipal budget for homelessness initiatives was $500,000 between grants and matching funds. For the 2019 budget, with the Assembly and Mayor Ethan Berkowitz lobbying hard for voters to approve a 5 percent alcohol tax, once again a mere half-million dollars was appropriated split between $350,000 for homeless initiatives and another $150,000 for illegal camp cleanups. After voters rejected the tax and its supporting campaign of singling out a group of people and one industry as the most politically-expedient target for generating revenue, the Assembly has dug into the couch cushions to find another $355,000 to put toward homeless initiatives with $185,000 for the overflow shelter and an extra $150,000 for illegal camp cleanup. With about $855,000 now earmarked this fiscal year for homeless initiatives and illegal camp abatement, that represents a whopping 0.16 percent of the municipal budget of some $526 million. The total budget for illegal camp removal represents five one-hundredths of a percent of the budget. A charitable view of the budget would be that the municipality simply lacks the resources to deal with the homeless crisis absent a new source of revenue. A cynical view would be that the municipal government is using its failure to deal with illegal campsites as leverage over the taxpayers to compel them into voting for higher taxes. Much like the deteriorating homeless situations in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Anchorage greenbelts did not turn into Sherwood Forest overnight. Busy intersections littered by trash and the occasional piece of furniture did not spring out of thin air. Rather, the cruelty of compassion and misguided tolerance over many years has allowed this takeover of our public spaces at the expense of safety and the rights of the law-abiding to freely enjoy a city with another stated goal to be the best place to live in America by 2025. Instead, we have resources being dedicated to creating a 106-page “climate action plan” that won’t make a speck of difference in global temperatures even if the municipality took its carbon footprint to zero. Also coming down the pike this fall is the implementation of the plastic bag ban in another all-time great example of virtue signaling with no discernable benefit. If the plastic crusaders were truly concerned about waste entering our oceans, they would make it a priority to address the mountains of trash along the greenbelts of Anchorage creeks that flow into Cook Inlet and eventually the Pacific Ocean. If the mayor and Assembly want money for a new shelter, they should put it on the ballot along with all their other capital projects like schools or fire stations. If they want people to trust them with up to $15 million per year in new revenue, they should put a sunset clause on it as an incentive — and a promise — to deliver results. But what they should stop doing is pretending they are doing everything they can when the budgets they approve say something far different. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: University of Alaska needs support from Legislature, governor

There’s been much discussion and debate about the appropriate amount of state support for the University of Alaska. As a “finance expert” with specific knowledge of University of Alaska (as a graduate, as adjunct professor at more than six campuses, and as a former UA vice president of Finance from 2000-06), I support reasonable state services and budget support for them, but not by draconian and dysfunctional cuts while paying out what I consider extraordinary PFD payments. The Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve can be a source of moderate budget support while downsizing and making public services more efficient over time while we work on other budget and service discipline and broader based revenue enhancements in a methodically planned, strategic and tactical manner. This is true for the university budget, and I agree with President Jim Johnsen that deep cuts will permanently and significantly harm an already challenged fiscal scenario for UA. Knowing that some cuts will be inevitable, I urge them to be minimal and for the governor to respect what is reported out of the Legislature. My wife and I have personally given significant contributions (including funding an endowment) to UA and while serving as an executive officer of various banks and Native corporations I advocated for and successfully influenced millions of dollars of private sector contributions to UA. I intend to continue to do so. I also served as treasurer for the UA Foundation and was a trustee for several years advocating for private support and advanced fiduciary investment practices and entrepreneurial partnering, intellectual ownership and competitive research. I also worked on the university’s land grant issue, trying to gain equity for UA, which is long overdue and currently nowhere near equitable when compared with other states. In short, I know from personal experience that there is no short term funding alternative to supplement the state operating budget support for UA, though everyone continues to seek alternative revenue solutions, operating efficiencies and reductions in redundancy of significant and heretofore mandated services in multiple locations. The university gets it and will work toward the gradual realignment necessary to modernize the system. I also voice support for a single appropriation to the university. While legislative intent and administrative direction to elevate workforce development is a worthy objective, the strategy to bifurcate direction through separate appropriations is a crude, ineffective and inefficient manner to achieve such a goal, in my opinion and in prior past experience. Managing budget allocations and oversight/approval by the Office of Management and Budget is not efficient, effective or motivational. I fear that political, regional and rural funding acrimony will result in reduced financial security for the community campuses — the opposite of the desire intended. The job of allocating limited resources and preserving or enhancing outcomes is more efficiently left to the Board of Regents and the executive teams representing UA (and especially community campuses) and adhering to legislative/executive influenced direction. I have worked closely with all regions and major academic units of UA and especially with the Schools of Management, College of Business and Public Policy, ISER, the Small Business Development Center and the Business Enterprise Institute. I cannot emphasize enough how linked and supportive our UA system is to our state and our citizen success and hope that our legislative and government leaders can and will support UA. Governor, please support the appropriation efforts of the Legislature to keep UA from permanent harm due to lack of funding – for our children’s sake and for our own. My advocacy and my plea is both personal and professional. I am convinced that UA will be making extraordinary consolidation and efficiency moves to keep it a viable solution to higher education needs in our state. Joe Beedle, retired, is the former President and CEO of Northrim Bank.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Impacts of budget cuts at a local level calls for negotiated solutions

There’s a lot of good work being done to measure the impact of the Governor’s proposed 2020 fiscal year budget and produce a measured response. The Alaska Municipal League has worked to answer the questions that both Senate and House Finance leaders have asked – what will be the impact to Alaska residents, local governments and the economy? We can answer those questions when it comes to municipalities, and we can walk through the implications at the community level for residents and businesses. The governor’s proposed budget amounts to cuts (with direct and indirect impacts on local governments), cost-shifting (State responsibilities now asked of local governments) and clawbacks (preemption of local taxing authority) that amount to nearly $900 million as an impact to local governments. That’s just for the 2020 fiscal year. The proposal to repeal school bond debt reimbursement will shift another billion dollars to local governments over the coming decade. Further, the proposal that the Power Cost Equalization endowment (that’s earned 8 percent on average over the last 10 years) be swept into the general fund (where it would earn less than 2 percent on average of 10 years) is a billion-dollar impact. We can estimate the secondary impacts of cuts to the University and the Marine Highway System based on the economic impact they both have, and apply that to local government property and sales taxes, at roughly $20 and $9 million respectively. While Community Assistance — which keeps the lights on in many city offices around the state — has been reduced by 946 percent since 1985, adjusted for inflation, the governor has proposed that this be cut by another 30 percent next year. While the state does less with less, responsibilities can’t be shifted beyond the local level. Municipalities will have fewer options to deal with these proposals that result in roughly a $1,500 per capita impact or a 51 percent increase in local taxes or decrease in services. The impact is more than 50 percent of nearly 20 local government budgets, and more than 80 percent of 10. We know that for those local governments that face cuts of that size, history has demonstrated that they very likely cease operations. Our members have looked at this in each of their communities and provided some analysis of the trade-offs. There are three basic options at the local level: 1) increase or add new taxes, 2) reduce or eliminate services, or 3) try to make it work out of existing revenues. Reduction or elimination of services fall into basically three buckets: public works, public safety, and quality of life programs. Municipalities have said that while quality of life programs would be the first to go, public safety and public works budget would plausibly see reductions. An analysis of just one element — the state forgoing reimbursement for school bond debt — shifts $100 million back to 19 local governments. Local governments have overwhelmingly said they would need to increase taxes to make up the difference. That doesn’t just equate to a portion of a property owner’s PFD. For the largest commercial property owners, increases are substantial and will determine just how open for business Alaska is. Just for school bond debt reimbursement: Increased property taxes in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough will fall on Mat-Su Regional Medical, Enstar, Fred Meyer, Alaska Hotel Properties, and GCI, and amount to $547,944. Increased property taxes in Fairbanks will fall on Alyeska Pipeline, Fort Knox, Doyon Utilities, Alaska Communications, Petro Star, GCI, and Flint Hills, and amount to $1.85 million. Increased property taxes in Anchorage will fall on GCI, Alaska Communications, Alaska Regional Hospital, Providence Medical Center, Fred Meyer, Enstar, Hickel Investment, Alaska Airlines, BP, Dimond Center, and JL Properties, and amount to $1.52 million. Local governments have said that in response to the proposed budget, they would leverage every available option, and the combination of choices they have is the best way to mitigate negative impacts. We have had numerous reports from mayors and managers that describe the micro level implications of cuts and cost-shifting, which go beyond statewide employment. We know that in many of our communities, there’s a feedback loop between employment and quality of life, which attract families and businesses, which strengthen the community and economy. Decreased services result in the erosion of both. Yes, Alaska has a fiscal challenge. That won’t go away when the State shifts the burden to local governments. AML is looking forward to working with State leaders, developing better solutions, together. Nils Andreassen is the executive director of the Alaska Municipal League.

OPINION: RIP, ‘Paid for by ConocoPhillips’

In a little-noticed post mortem to the Stand for Salmon initiative battle last fall, the Alaska Public Offices Commission issued a ruling that will serve to limit transparency in campaign financing for future ballot measures. APOC ruled Feb. 4 on a complaint filed last September by the initiative opponents, Stand for Alaska-Vote No on 1, against three entities supporting the measure: Yes for Salmon-Vote Yes on 1, The Alaska Center and Stand for Salmon. In addition to violations of naming regulations and rules for financial disclosures known as the “paid for by” statements, the opponents’ complaint alleged that the latter two initiative proponents should have registered as a group based on their close coordination and should have also been required to disclose the source of hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign expenditures above and beyond what they reported in donations. If you’re interested in the more arcane legal arguments over what constitutes a “group” or an “individual” or the more common decisions on “paid for” statements and naming rules, the APOC complaint documents and final order are on its website (complaint 18-08). We’ll focus on how APOC’s ruling on financial disclosures figures to upend the state’s goal of transparency in campaign spending. For quick background, Stand for Salmon and The Alaska Center were formed in 2013 and 1990, respectively, while the Yes for Salmon group was formed and registered with APOC in 2017 for the specific purpose of backing Ballot Measure 1 in the 2018 general election. The Stand for Alaska complaint focused on its calculations that The Alaska Center reported making contributions to the campaign in excess of $500,000 while reporting donations of about $234,000. Similarly, Stand for Salmon reported spending more than $400,000 while receiving about $181,000 in contributions, according to the opponents’ calculations that were mostly undisputed other than the supporters claiming that they over-reported the amount of donations they received to back the initiative. All in all, about $730,000 of the $1.1 million in reported contributions to Yes for Salmon, the official group registered with APOC to support the initiative, were classified as “non-monetary” with the top donors being The Alaska Center at $357,000 and the Washington, D.C.-based New Venture Fund that paid the salary of campaign manager Ryan Schryver with a total “non-monetary” contribution of $227,000. Stand for Alaska objected to this arrangement, arguing that Yes for Salmon was nothing more than a shell organization and that the campaign was actually being run by Stand for Salmon and The Alaska Center who were clearly expending more than they were collecting without having to report the source of the money. As was previously written in this space, groups like The Alaska Center, Cook Inletkeeper, Trustees for Alaska, Salmon State, and others are heavily supported by nonprofit advocacy groups based outside of Alaska. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but these same groups regularly run their campaigns — and this one was no different — attacking “foreign” oil and mining companies as heartless ravagers of the resource whose arguments should be discounted as Outsiders despite having thousands of employees and billions of dollars invested over decades in Alaska. Whether it was the 2014 campaign to uphold the 2013 oil tax reform legislation or the most recent salmon habitat initiative, the resource companies have erred on the side of transparency no matter how self-serving it looked politically. In 2014, the end of every pro-SB 21 commercial was followed by the statement “Top three contributors are BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips” or some variation of that order. It was the same in 2018, with a combination of BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Donlin Gold or Teck usually holding down the top three positions in the disclosures opposing Ballot Measure 1. Taking the information provided through transparent financial reports as a weapon to slam their opponents while at the same time not being transparent about the source of their own Outside funding takes a particular brand of chutzpah, but politics ain’t beanbag, as they say. Ultimately, APOC sided with the initiative backers on the basis that Stand for Salmon and The Alaska Center, as entities, predated the campaign and are not specifically organized to support any particular ballot measure. For that reason, any money in their general funds that was not expressly solicited for the purpose of the campaign does not have to be reported even if it is used to support the campaign. You don’t have to be Kreskin to see where this goes. There is no shortage of pro-resource development organizations in Alaska, and all of them could be quite capable of running a campaign to defeat the next anti-development initiative that comes along. Under APOC’s ruling, all they have to do is form an organization such as “No to NIMBY” and then allow some other established entity, say, the Resource Support Association, to run the campaign out of their offices with their staffs and call it all a “non-monetary” contribution to the official “group.” Under APOC’s ruling, as long as they spend money from general funds not earmarked for or solicited for that election, they wouldn’t have to disclose a dollar of where it came from. Take resource issues out of it and there is still the potential for this game of hide the ball on every ballot measure going forward. APOC’s ruling may not go against the letter of the law, but it obviously goes against the spirit of transparency that our campaign disclosure rules are intended to demand. If we have seen the death of disclosure in ballot measure spending, it will be thanks to what may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for the supposed opponents of “dark money” who turned to its side in 2018. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Record reflects Trump far tougher on Russia than Obama

Now that the Mueller investigation is over, we can put to bed the persistent and erroneous allegations that President Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians to get him elected. Likewise, we should also put to bed another persistent and pernicious narrative: that the president and his administration have been “soft” on Russia. This narrative has been continuously promulgated by a host of former Obama administration officials (see, for example, the recent Washington Post op-ed by a former U.S. ambassador to Russia) — and disseminated by a headline-chasing national media — who have attempted to disassociate the Trump administration’s Russia policies and actions from the president himself. They have done this by disparaging the president for his words but not crediting him for his administration’s actions. I agree that the president’s rhetoric regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin should be tougher, but as his critics surely know, it is actions backed by power and force that ultimately matter in the world of international politics, not Obama-style soaring rhetoric. This is particularly true when it comes to Putin. And the record thus far clearly shows that the Trump administration, working with Republicans in Congress, has been far tougher on Russia than the Obama administration ever was. After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, Ukrainian leaders desperately requested from President Barack Obama defensive anti-tank weapons systems that could fend off the invading Russian T-72 tanks in eastern Ukraine. In 2015, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee — Democrats and Republicans — encouraged Obama to grant this request to help Ukraine defend itself. Obama refused. Soon after coming into office, Trump changed course, and the Ukrainians now have Javelin anti-tank weapons systems from the United States. Russian tank drivers have a lot more to worry about today. The Trump administration has also replaced Obama’s reticence regarding U.S. troop deployments near Russia with a full embrace of the European Deterrence Initiative, or EDI. In just more than two years in office, Trump has requested more than $17 billion for EDI compared with just $5 billion requested in Obama’s final three years in office. As a result, thousands of U.S. troops, along with other NATO allies, have deployed to Poland, the Baltics and Norway to deter further Russian expansion. In the Middle East, Obama’s passive actions and policies — including a now-infamous unenforced “red line” — led to the rise of the Islamic State and left an open door for Russian ground and air forces. Russian troops and their proxies, aligned with Iranian and Syrian forces, now occupy large swaths of territory in Syria. Nevertheless, the Trump administration has unleashed the United States’ military might in Syria, leading the efforts to destroy the Islamic State territorial caliphate and militarily punishing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons. When Russian-backed proxies and possibly Russian military forces got too close to our Special Operations forces in Syria and failed to back off as warned, they were systematically destroyed by the U.S. military. And while much has been made of the president’s announcement of withdrawing troops from Syria, he has since pulled back to keep U.S. and NATO troops in the country. More broadly, under Obama, the Pentagon’s budget was slashed by 25 percent from 2010 to 2016. Our military’s readiness, unsurprisingly, plummeted. This certainly emboldened Putin. By the end of Obama’s tenure, the Air Force was the smallest and oldest (in terms of aircraft age) it has ever been, and only a small fraction of the Army was combat-ready. The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have reversed this hollowing out of our military by dramatically increasing funding. Readiness is returning. Trump’s national defense strategy clearly prioritizes Russia and China as rising great powers to which our military and nation must respond. Finally, Trump has taken decisive action to unleash an instrument of American power that Putin fears the most: U.S. energy. I’ll never forget a meeting I attended with Sen. John McCain and a prominent Russian dissident, who told us that the No. 1 thing the United States could do to undermine Putin was to “produce more American energy.” Crude oil production may have risen during the Obama administration, but that was only despite Democrats’ systematic efforts — which continue to this day — to undermine U.S. energy production on state and federal lands. As Alaska’s attorney general and the commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources, I fought the Obama administration’s consistent policies to delay and shut down hydrocarbon production in my state. Fortunately, the Trump administration has reversed most of Obama’s harmful anti-energy policies. The United States is once again the world’s energy superpower — producing more renewables, oil and natural gas than any other country on Earth, including Russia and Saudi Arabia. And with Trump administration policies, such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for responsible energy production, U.S. energy dominance is likely to endure for decades. So yes, Trump and his administration clearly have been tough on Russia — more so than his predecessor. Facts are stubborn things, and when it comes to Russia and Vladimir Putin, actions speak louder than words. Dan Sullivan, a Republican, represents Alaska in the U.S. Senate. He is a member of the Armed Services Committee and the chairman of the Subcommittee on Readiness.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Defend the PFD and Fund – or lose them both

Alaska is at a crossroads. Voters need to know our government is redefining the purpose of the Permanent Fund and the Permanent Fund dividend. The government wants us to believe that the Fund and PFD belong to the government to spend as it wishes. This is wrong. The government is spending our dividend that is Alaskans’ rightful share of our public oil wealth. Misunderstanding and false information about the Permanent Fund system are widespread. The truth is, Alaska’s founders and the people of Alaska set up the Permanent Fund as a trust fund that belongs to all Alaskans which is funded from the wealth of our commonly-owned oil and mineral resources. We the people amended the Alaska Constitution, allowing for 75 percent of these royalties to go for government spending, and a small 25 percent slice of the royalties to go to the Fund. The Fund is a way to save our one-time, non-renewable oil and mineral wealth for current and future generations. As Elmer Rasmuson, a former chairman of the Permanent Fund Corp. said, “The Fund is a constitutional right, not a gift bestowed by a generous government.” The Permanent Fund dividend comes from the investments of the Permanent Fund, not from taxes. The Fund and the PFD belong to the people. The government would have you believe that the PFD is a welfare program. It isn’t. It’s our share of our savings. My father, former Gov. Walter Hickel, was not an advocate for the PFD at first but later accepted it. He said, “You, as a resident of Alaska, share in the ownership of 103 million acres of land, all navigable waters and the natural resources our land and water contain. It is your oil, your natural gas, your minerals, your timber, your fish…. A portion of your oil royalties are also set aside in the Permanent Fund from which you, as an owner, earn dividends.” If the oil belongs to the people, then so do both the Permanent Fund and the dividend belong to the people, which is the wealth derived from the oil. An important purpose of the dividend is to protect the Fund wealth from mismanagement by government. Former Gov. Jay Hammond and other leaders with vision established the PFD program. These leaders knew that sharing some of the saved wealth in the Permanent Fund via a dividend each year was the best way to keep the Permanent Fund protected from looting down the trail by greedy politicians interested in spending the Fund. Dave Rose, the initial director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., said the greatest threat to the Permanent Fund is the “intense temptations of powerful people (and) …the strongest defense of all is the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.” Has the dividend protected the Fund? Yes, until three years ago when politicians started cutting the PFD almost in half, ignoring the PFD law enacted in 1981. Now the whole Permanent Fund system is under attack by raiding politicians. Why is this attack happening? Oil revenues declined and our politicians are hooked on spending. Legislators in both parties continue to spend savings without efforts to use other options for a sustainable budget. They already spent 75 percent of our oil wealth royalties. But that wasn’t enough, so they have nearly depleted the budget reserves by spending more than $15 billion from these accounts. That still wasn’t enough, so they withheld more than $1 billion for inflation proofing the Permanent Fund, which effectively decreases the Fund’s value. That wasn’t enough either. So they cut your PFD by nearly half, ignoring the law for the past three years. Then in 2018, for the first time the legislature passed a law, Senate Bill 26, to access the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account for additional government spending. But this new law has no formula for yearly PFD payments and that makes paying the PFD optional. These raids on the PFD and Permanent Fund are ongoing and threaten the security and growth of Alaskans’ savings. Apparently our politicians think the dividend is a slush fund to be spent by the government for the government and not by the people. Cutting the PFD is a regressive tax, hurting the state’s most disadvantaged people the hardest while barely affecting the wealthy. Research shows that cutting the PFD is the worst kind of tax and is the most “adverse of all revenue measures.” The PFD has been a huge benefit to our state for more than 35 years. Our elected officials are ignoring the fact that the PFD encourages private sector development, is the best way to fight a recession, and elevates up to 25,000 people out of poverty. I am proud that every Alaskan with limited financial means, especially those in the rural areas where cash jobs are limited, has an equal share of cash generated from our public resources. I support the reinstitution of the historical PFD law that has paid a full PFD and worked well for residents, the economy and Fund protection. And, I see an extremely urgent need to secure the PFD in the Alaska Constitution to guard it from the grasping hands of politicians. I oppose balancing the budget with Alaskans’ PFD; it’s wrong. It’s time to have an open discussion about appropriate budget cuts and revenue raising options. If we do not, we will lose the PFD and destroy the Permanent Fund. Now is the time for every Alaskan to ask, “What direction should we take?” Will we allow these threats to ruin the Fund and the PFD that are admired globally as a great example of resource wealth management and equitable benefit for residents? Or will we choose to defend and strengthen our successful Permanent Fund and Permanent Fund dividend to benefit current and all future generations? Will politicians choose the right path? It’s up to you, Alaska voters, to make sure they do. Jack Hickel is a family physician with the Southcentral Foundation in Anchorage and vice president for Permanent Fund Defenders.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Public lands bill a bipartisan win for Alaska and U.S.

In March I joined Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate at the White House with President Donald Trump for the signing of major lands and conservation legislation. The “John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act” is now law after years of effort. As chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I worked to combine more than 120 lands, resources, and water measures — including many that will help resolve long-standing issues for Alaskans. One of the provisions of which I am most proud will provide equity to Alaska Natives who served during the Vietnam War to finally receive their land allotments. Sponsored in the last Congress by Sen. Dan Sullivan, this provision will provide an estimated 2,800 veterans with a chance to receive the lands promised to them decades ago by the federal government. Due to their service, many missed the application deadline imposed by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Previous programs have had a rejection rate of up to 75 percent, which led us to create a new program that will work better for everyone. Other provisions within my lands package will provide new opportunities for economic development. For example, the new law will provide routing flexibility for the gasline project in Denali National Park and Preserve. A separate provision repeals a prohibition that prevents the Kake Tribal Corp. from exporting unprocessed logs harvested from its lands. Another requires the Department of the Interior to convey sand and gravel resources within and contiguous to the Barrow Gas Field to the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp. In a state with 224 million acres of federal lands, we encounter more than our fair share of land management issues. To address one in the Southcentral region, we require the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service to conduct a study to identify the effects that federal land acquisitions have had on Chugach Alaska Corp.’s ability to develop its subsurface estate and identify options for possible land exchanges. We also restore the claims of four Alaskans who wrongly had their placer mining operations taken by the government over a decade ago due to bureaucratic discrepancies. Now that this bill has been signed into law, those miners will finally have relief. Their claims will be reinstated and they will able to go back to business. My lands package also includes national policies that will benefit Alaska. We extended a geologic mapping program for five years, which will help us understand our world-class mineral base and highlight new opportunities for mining in our state. By modernizing and expanding our nation’s volcano early warning and monitoring capabilities, we will keep communities and travelers in Alaska safe. The permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is a significant national conservation achievement that also now includes a requirement that at least 40 percent of its annual funding go to the popular state-side program, which supports the Alaska park system and local recreation sites. I am also proud of the provisions we included that relate to access to federal lands for sportsmen and women. We direct federal agencies to expand and enhance opportunities for hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting on public lands, in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. “Open unless closed” will now be the standard for Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands to ensure that closures are justified and provide for public notice and comment. We also agreed to include a number of conservation-related provisions specific to the Lower 48. Our lands package designates new federal wilderness in states such as New Mexico and Utah. We created new wild and scenic river segments in Oregon, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. And we established five National Monuments the right way — with Congress in the lead — in California, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Utah. Our lands package is the result of good process and extensive negotiations. It took us years of regular order in the committees of jurisdiction to process its components. Following that, we spent months engaged in bipartisan, bicameral negotiations to reach agreement on its exact scope. We struck a careful balance between the need to provide for economic development and the desire to protect treasured landscapes. And we ensured that every provision — especially those related to conservation — enjoyed strong state and local support. The result is a sweeping package that drew 92 votes in the Senate, 363 votes in the House, and the support of hundreds of stakeholder groups all across the country. That’s a rare occurrence in an era where partisan division and gridlock often prevail. And while much work remains, our lands package will deliver real benefits for Alaskans and all Americans. Lisa Murkowski is the senior U.S. senator from Alaska.

OPINION: Status quo isn’t sustainable

There’s been no shortage of sturm and drang over Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s proposal to radically overhaul the state budget with deep cuts to K-12 and university education, Medicaid and the state ferry system. What there has been very little of from the defenders of the status quo are alternatives to achieve better outcomes and reform the state’s unsustainable spending habits. After avoiding it for more than a decade thanks to triple-digit oil prices followed by spending down state savings and dipping into the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve and dividend appropriations to cover the deficit since multi-billion dollar shortfalls hit four years ago when prices bottomed at $26 per barrel, the time of reckoning has finally arrived. Competing roadshows from the governor and the House Finance Committee are now traversing the state with diametrically opposed goals: one by the Republican governor that favors cutting services to match revenues, capturing local property taxes on oil properties and leaving the PFD untouched and the other that has been organized by the Democrat-led House in order to give vent to public outcry over the drastic proposed reductions and a venue for PFD cuts and new or increased taxes to fund government. Neither solution is achievable in the reality of a divided government in Juneau, but only one recognizes the old axiom known as Stein’s Law: “if something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” The simple fact is the state is spending more than it can afford, and until appropriations are brought in line with reality the PFD will continue to be reduced until it either goes away to fund the budget or a statewide tax regime will have to be imposed to balance the books. Raising taxes on the oil industry won’t do the trick, and driving out investment for the short-term objective of plucking the golden goose will only accelerate the revenue shortfall. Dunleavy has been accused of being heartless or amoral for his proposed budget, but is it any less heartless to continue to accept failure as the best we can do while spending our way into oblivion? The governor isn’t wrong to point to Alaska’s dead-last ranking in reading as a failure of our education system. That doesn’t mean he hates kids. The governor isn’t wrong to point out ferry ridership is falling as costs are rising. That doesn’t mean he hates Southeast Alaska. University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen can claim the UA system is “more vital than ever” but that doesn’t change the fact that its largest campus can’t graduate teachers after losing its accreditation. Hundreds of millions in “free” federal Medicaid dollars have no doubt boosted the health care sector of the economy during the three-year recession, but the governor is not wrong to point out that outcomes aren’t improving. The last thing a state should be proud of is having nearly 1 out of every 4 residents on Medicaid. The goal of state policy should be to get as many of these people to work and off assistance. There are no doubt flaws with the governor’s proposed budget, from the abrupt rollout that shocked many if not most observers around the state and the resulting failure to get any buy-in from stakeholders, not to mention falling far behind in the messaging battle, to the sheer scale of cuts this large in one year. Restoring a full PFD according to the statutory formula was the centerpiece of Dunleavy’s campaign and a sudden reversal of that pledge would be political suicide. That doesn’t mean, however, that $1.9 billion in dividends amid the biggest budget cuts in history is the wisest long-term plan, either. That means a compromise is going to have to be in order. But in order for there to be a compromise, both sides need a vision and a plan as starting points. So far only Dunleavy is checking those two boxes while the Legislature appears to be choosing the same can-kicking path of the past decade in a dangerous game of chicken with the veto pen. One way or another, that which can’t continue, won’t. What takes its place will decide our future and the great question of the day is whether our elected officials are up to the challenge. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaska’s resource future can and should be a win-win

Recently, several public opinion messages and campaigns have voiced concerns about the mining industry here in Alaska. It seems that much of the angst is based on either a perceived favorable bias of the regulatory system towards industry, a bias against natural resource extraction in general, or a zero-sum game view that says you must “trade one resource for another,” which precludes the possibility of success for more than one resource. I am grateful this attitude has not defined Alaska’s journey, and I pray it will not define our path forward. I believe Alaska is on the verge of the greatest resource production renaissance in the history of our state and it will only be realized if we come together as one. All resource extraction industries have struggled to overcome enormous obstacles in this last frontier and have evolved into more accountable and effective stewards of our environment, providing excellent jobs for our people. Alaska is a paragon for the world because of our long history of the mining and oil and gas industries co-existing with fisheries, wildlife and other habitat users. In Cook Inlet, oil and gas exploration, development and production has existed alongside a significant commercial and sport fishing industry for nearly 70 years. Mining and commercial salmon fishing have co-existed in the waters of Southeast Alaska for generations. And the North Slope oil and gas industry has demonstrated to the world that polar bears, caribou and other wildlife can thrive alongside one of the world’s largest oil producing basins. We understand that the land and the sea make up one Alaska. There is no question that the mining practices of the late 1800s and early 1900s were hard on the laborers and the environment. The commercial fishing industry certainly had its dark moments in the history of our state and was one of the prime motivators for statehood. And certainly, the oil and gas industry has made mistakes. Yet we all know that much has changed with these modern industries. Today, you can’t find better regulated, higher performing resource extraction industries anywhere in the world. Alaskans decided to move forward. I have been commercial salmon fishing in the waters of Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet for nearly 50 years. I remember listening to my father and others from his generation talk with pride about the honor of being able to participate in the rhythm and cycle of this harvest. It was a family business. We were focused and “all-in” physically and emotionally. We enjoyed success and failure, exhaustion and exhilaration — together. I was never a miner, but I have dear friends who have devoted their whole lives to this industry. One recently told me a story of his late father emerging from a mine at the end of a hard day, his face dark with dirt and sweat, a hard hat with an attached light on his head. He said, “the grimace on my dad’s face would break into a smile when he would see us. We were always waiting for him at day’s end. Mining was our family, our life.” The roustabout crews from the oil derricks in Cook Inlet to the drill pads of the Slope are no different. They live, work, and die as a family. These vocations all have inherent risks, and we Alaskans accept and learn from them. We keep moving forward, no matter what. Today our state university has powerfully connected education to jobs through robust fisheries, mining, and petroleum engineering programs because these industries have a great future in Alaska and need a highly skilled workforce. The incorporation of strong public input into our industry permitting processes and considerable regulatory oversight is a good thing. It is true we have well-founded concerns about local impacts and the need for safe, responsible development of our resources. But I think it is fair to say that most Alaskans want to see mining, fishing and other resource extraction industries be well-regulated and flourish in our state. Alaska has consistently had a higher unemployment rate than the national average since 2013. Within Alaska, unemployment is highest in rural areas, which have limited economic opportunities and year-round employment is almost non-existent. Mines produce high paying jobs without question and a sense of self-sufficiency in areas long deprived of careers that can offer multi-generational prosperity. No one industry could have brought us to the point where we have the capacity to energize, feed and enrich far more than just our own people. If we each are willing to support opportunity, self-sufficiency and purpose’s expansion outside of our own interest, there is no limit to how bright our future will be. Our families and future generations will be the beneficiaries. Chuck Kopp is serving his second term as state House representative for District 24 in Anchorage and is chair of the House Rules Committee.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Resource development is good for Alaskans’ health

It seems as though we are constantly beating back the regressive ideas that development of our abundant resources is bad, businesses are bad, people who work for businesses are bad, and on and on. Generally, our response to these views has something to do with revenue to the State of Alaska, jobs and the state’s gross domestic product. While true, these cold, dry facts draw little interest. To my surprise, an article published last May in the Journal of the American Medical Association caught my eye and put new and brighter light on what resource development means for Alaskans. It drew me in. I thumbed through the pages and came to Figure 2, “Change in Life Expectancy at Birth by County, 1980 to 2014.” It was a map of the U.S., Alaska and Hawaii showing that the average life expectancy of Alaskans had increased in every area of the state during those years. But the most dramatic increase could be seen in the North Slope Borough, Northwest Arctic Borough, Aleutians-East Borough, Kodiak and the Southeast coast of Alaska; these areas saw an 8- to 13-year increase in life expectancy, at birth, between 1980 and 2014. Nearly 80 percent of the state saw an increase of more than six years over that 35-year time period. That stopped me. I had to ask, what caused this dramatic increase, larger than most of the rest of the U.S.? The researchers’ discussion was interesting. Socioeconomic and race/ethnicity, behavioral and metabolic risk factors, and healthcare factors combined to explain 82 percent of the contributing factors to change in life expectancy. This begged the question: What was happening in Alaska during the years 1980 to 2014? Well, that’s not hard to answer for those of us who were here in those years. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System began flowing oil in 1977. Red Dog Mine began production in 1990. The Magnusson-Stevens Act pushed out the foreign fishing fleets, leading to important development of Alaska fisheries. These resource developments, along with others around the state, changed Alaska from a struggling new state, to an economically thriving place. These resources became jobs and opportunity for work close to traditional homes, something previously unavailable. And boroughs were formed in these areas, enabling the ability to levy taxes that funded community infrastructure. Healthcare, education, clean water, wastewater treatment and good-paying local jobs transformed rural and urban Alaska. The Alaskan people benefited. After the 1957 discovery of oil on the Kenai, Congress finally decided, in 1958, that Alaska had a chance of supporting herself on her rich resources. Alaskan voters, all 46,000 of them, voted six-to-one to become a state. As a territorial kid growing up in Fairbanks, I remember those days. I had the delightful chance to frequently go to work with my dad, a Wien Airlines captain. That meant riding along on an F-27 as he made rounds to rural communities around our state. They were referred to as “villages” then and they were isolated, poor and small. Then came resource development. As a nurse practitioner, I had the wonderful privilege of providing healthcare services in those same rural areas, now thriving communities with schools, clinics, roads and jobs. In one very remote community, I was on the same flight with a young man, going to his job at Prudhoe Bay. His wife and little son bid him goodbye at the airport. The airline agent told me that the young man was the pride of the community, bringing his paycheck back home, helping his parents and grandparents out with fuel costs in the winter and supporting his family. That is what resource development means for Alaska’s families. It’s all about our people. Yes, we love the state government revenue and services that it pays for. We have all prospered during these years since oil and mining production. But the most important benefit of resource development is to our people, our families and our local businesses. As a healthcare professional, it still brings tears of pride to my eyes to contemplate the change in our state. We still have challenges. But we met challenges before and have demonstrated an ability to solve them. The caribou, polar bears and fish all coexist with our industries. The important thing is our lands are precious for the resources they contain, and our people can and will thrive by utilizing and stewarding them. Alaska’s resource development continues to bring health and happiness to our people. ^ Senate President Cathy Giessel, a Republican, represents District N, which covers parts of Anchorage and communities along Turnagain Arm.

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