Opinion

We are making Alaska’s Purple Heart Trail the longest in the nation

Nine hundred miles of highway winds through Interior and Southcentral Alaska, beginning at the border with Canada and ending on the Homer Spit at the "End of the Road." Covering an even larger area, the Alaska Marine Highway system connects 3,500 miles of coastal Alaska from the Aleutians to the Inside Passage. Every year, thousands of visitors and residents traverse these highways in cars and on ferries. Seeing this opportunity, the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) has been working for years to designate Purple Heart cities, boroughs, roads, and bridges across the US to honor and thank veterans who have been wounded or killed in combat while serving our nation. The MOPH began efforts in Alaska in 2008 with the designation of the highways between Alaska-Canada as the Purple Heart Trail. Nearly 15 years later, my colleagues and I in the Alaska Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 203, a bill that I sponsored that extends Alaska's Purple Heart Trail highway designation. Once the House passes the bill, the trail honoring veterans' service will run continuously from the Alaska-Canada border down to the End of the Road in Homer and on the entire Alaska Marine Highway System.  At approximately 4,500 miles, Alaska's Purple Heart Trail will be the longest in the nation's already-expansive network of trails and will include the first-ever marine highway.  It is a fitting record for the years of dedicated effort and thousands of hours given to the project by the MOPH, Alaska MOPH state and chapter Commanders, and veterans with the support and cooperation of numerous city, borough, and state elected officials and employees.  With more resident veterans per capita than any other state, the Purple Heart Trail serves as a tangible demonstration of Alaska's appreciation for the sacrifices made by our wounded and fallen soldiers. Of our 65,000 veterans and approximately 21,000 active-duty military members, many carry with them the scars that earned them a Purple Heart medal.  Signs on the highway and AMHS ferries will stand as a thank you to veterans and an opportunity for those traveling to or around our great State to begin solemn conversations about the meaning of the Purple Heart and the sacrifices that Purple Heart recipients made. In the words of combat-wounded Army Veteran and Alaska Commander of the MOPH, John Knott III, "Let everyone who drives or rides the ferry on the Purple Heart Trail think about the risk all veterans willingly take when they serve our country in the military and know that Alaska recognizes and honors the sacrifices made by Purple Heart recipients and their families." In 2008, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, spearheaded by future National MOPH Commander Ron Siebels, partnered with Sen. Johnny Ellis and the 25th Alaska State Legislature to designate the highway between the Alaska-Canada border and Fairbanks as the Purple Heart Trail. In subsequent years, cities, boroughs, university campuses, roads, bridges, and even the State of Alaska have been given the Purple Heart designation.  Like his predecessors who established the original trail, Commander Knott and the Alaska MOPH spent the last three years reaching out to communities along the highway we propose to designate, gathering letters and resolutions of support from each one.  The Purple Heart Trail designation reflects Alaska's heart for our veterans and the enthusiastic support for the Trail's extension by my colleagues and communities around the state has decisively demonstrated that it is time to make it happen. It is an honor to partner with the Alaska Military Order of the Purple Heart on this legislation and an even greater honor to serve those who have paved the way for our freedom.   Senate Bill 203 unanimously passed the Alaska State Senate on Monday, April 11th, 2022. It is now being considered by the House of Representatives. If passed, construction would be completed this fall. Sen. Josh Revak represents District M in South Anchorage. He is also a candidate for U.S. House.

When saving for higher education, a little can truly go a long way

Energy costs are up. Inflation is at 40-year highs. Interest rates are on the rise. And yet, there has never been a better time for Alaskans to start saving for higher education, because there is never a better time to start than now. That’s right — despite all the grim economic news, Alaskans can and should take steps now to set aside money for college, trade school, vocational training, or whatever postsecondary education is desired. Research shows that even relatively modest investments in a young person’s education savings can increase their chances of pursuing higher education and graduating. In fact, children with $500 or more saved for college are three times more likely to enroll, and four times more likely to graduate. That trend is proved out in the data for low- to moderate-income children, too. Every dollar counts, and even a small amount saved creates expectations that can help launch someone into a college career. Despite those encouraging statistics, far too many families are delaying and not saving, or not saving nearly enough. A “2019 College Savings: Lessons Learned” study showed that 42% of parents wished they had started saving for college earlier, and 22% wished they had researched more options. Here in Alaska, where every resident receives a Permanent Fund dividend, only about 2% of applicants choose to automatically invest part or all the annual windfall for future education expenses. This is a huge, missed opportunity. In Anchorage, more than 70% of business owners surveyed reported that availability of a skilled workforce was a top barrier to business growth, according to Anchorage Economic Development Corp.’s 2021 Business Confidence Index. Alaska employers need to cultivate the next generation of leaders, and they are actively looking for recent graduates of applicable programs who fit those roles. Education has always been a smart investment in a child’s future, but right now, thanks to Alaska 529, the return on investment, as it relates to future employment, is a particularly good bet. I invite employers to participate in a solution to workforce shortages by offering Alaska 529′s payroll direct deposit program as an employee benefit. Alaska 529 offers two of the most generous education savings incentive programs in the country. Launched just recently, the Dash to Save and Dash to Save More programs offer unique benefits not found elsewhere in the U.S. Specifically, the first 5,000 qualifying new Alaska 529 accounts opened this year with a minimum investment of $25 will be gifted an additional $250. Alaska 529 will also pitch in up to $100 annually to accounts with automatic monthly contributions and/or payroll direct deposits. This adds up to $350 in possible benefits, which quickly gets Alaskans close to that magical $500 threshold that research shows make a measurable difference in encouraging students to attend and graduate from college. Alaska 529 accounts grow in a tax-advantaged environment, and offer convenient, age-based investment options, where portfolios become more conservative as a child approaches post-secondary education. Static investment options (that keep the same allocation over time), are also available, including the UA Portfolio that offers a tuition value guarantee if used at the University of Alaska. When is the right time to start saving? Whether your student is an infant or a teen, the best time to start saving for future education is right now. Alaska 529 offers unique and generous benefits that can help families build their accounts and inspire young people to pursue education after high school, earn a higher standard of living, and build Alaska’s future. The bottom line is, it’s always better late than never, a little goes a long way, and something is better than nothing. We owe it to the next generation to get started now.   Lael Oldmixon is the program director for Alaska 529 and UA Scholars.

Comprehensive alcohol reform will help all Alaskans

Last week a report came out showing alcohol-related deaths increased over 25% in the U.S., and in Alaska they increased 31%. Each year, alcohol misuse costs Alaska $2.4 billion, equivalent to $3,272 per person, per year, whether they drink alcohol or not. Alaskans are dying at a rate over twice the national average, with nine of the 10 most common causes of death associated with alcohol and substance misuse. However, this is not an individual issue; alcohol is tied to many of our societal problems. From 2004 to 2016, alcohol-related visits to the emergency room increased by 50%, significantly more when compared to any other type of visit during that time period. Furthermore, alcohol was the number one cause for emergency room visits in 2020 for ages 18-64. Studies demonstrate nationwide, alcohol is a common factor in sexual assaults, and sexual assaults are more likely to occur in places where alcohol is being consumed. Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the nation. With these types of related harms, it is clear alcohol cannot be treated like the caffeine in coffee or the cholesterol in eggs. Alcohol is a different commodity that requires additional laws and policies to keep people as healthy and safe as possible. Science clearly shows that strengthening alcohol laws will help us achieve our shared goal of a healthier Alaska. Senate Bill 9 (SB 9) is full of evidence-based policies that will do just that. The Title 4 Review project, modernizing Alaska’s confusing and antiquated alcohol laws, began in 2012. This comprehensive rewrite will replace a piecemeal approach of passing minor tweaks over the years, attempting to make state policy reflect the needs and practices of today. Senate Bill 9, the latest integration of Title 4 reform, will benefit consumers, businesses, law enforcement, and the public at large. This bill is necessary to address the many issues surrounding alcohol, which is unlike any other product in our society. The bill unanimously passed the Senate, because for the first time, the bill is supported by the alcohol and hospitality industries, the Brewers Guild of Alaska, retail stores, municipalities, and the public health and public safety communities. SB 9 is the result of thousands of hours of effort by more than 120 stakeholders. It is carefully crafted to bring everyone to the table. SB 9 has critical public health measures, such as mandatory keg registration, regulation of internet sales, and other tools for law enforcement to limit overserving or serving minors, which will reduce underage drinking. Most importantly, it has purposeful changes to population limits, which is one of the most effective strategies for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and its related harms, specifically violent crime. This will ensure there isn’t an oversaturation of bars and other alcohol outlets while accommodating flexibility and allowing for responsible business growth. SB 9 is full of positive, research-based policy changes that will address current loopholes and disparities and result in a safer and healthier environment. It is a win for all Alaskans.   Tiffany Hall is the executive director of Recover Alaska, a multi-sector action group working to reduce excessive alcohol use and its harms across the state. Our vision is for Alaskans to live free from the harms of alcohol misuse, so we are all empowered to achieve our full potential.

Rebuild America’s industrial base from the mine up

As our European allies scramble to disentangle themselves from dependence on Russian energy—and as American consumers struggle with soaring prices at the gas pump—there are ever-louder calls for a renewable energy and electric vehicle (EV) future. These technologies, as the thinking goes, will finally offer the United States a clean break from petro-dictators that has eluded us since the oil crisis of the 1970s. But a pivot away from oil hardly means an easy or clean break from resource geopolitics. In fact, a potentially accelerated energy transition means America’s energy security is now on a collision course with our mineral insecurity. Wind and solar power, plus EVs and the lithium-ion batteries that power them, are remarkably minerals-intensive. As the International Energy Agency reported last year, the energy transition is likely to increase critical mineral demand six-fold by 2040. For some minerals—such as the lithium, nickel, and cobalt used for EV batteries—demand could jump 30-fold or more. But who controls the production and processing of these minerals? It’s a question just as messy and important as who holds sway over global oil and gas production. Unfortunately, China is the dominant player in the critical minerals space. China controls 70 percent of the world’s lithium supplies and 85 percent of rare earth metals. Beijing’s dominance of these supply chains has enabled it to corner the market on advanced energy manufacturing—with China producing the vast majority of the world’s solar modules and lithium-ion batteries. China has turned mineral supply chains into an enormous source of geopolitical leverage—not unlike how Russia has used its energy trade with Europe. And where China has built its strength with mineral supply chains, the U.S. is painfully weak. America’s mineral import-reliance has doubled in just two decades. We’re now import-reliant on 47 minerals—and 100 percent reliant on imports for 17 of them. Recognizing the urgency of the moment and the scale of the minerals challenge, a bipartisan group of Senators recently urged President Biden to use the Defense Production Act to address the nation’s mineral insecurity. It appears that’s exactly what the administration is now considering. If the president is serious about reshoring American manufacturing—and providing the supply chains his climate ambitions need while shoring up U.S. energy security—the Defense Production Act is exactly the tool he needs to employ. Relying only on the market to dig us out of our mineral import-reliance—or to combat China’s industrial policy—simply isn’t going to work. We need to massively scale up America’s mineral production and processing, and we need to do it right now. Mining is a capital and time-intensive industry, made all the more time-intensive by self-imposed regulatory barriers. Employing the Defense Production Act can help cut red tape, de-risk investment in mining, and spur production at the speed and scale we need. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—and the supply chain disruptions of the pandemic—are forcing a rethink of resource and energy security, and the vulnerabilities inherent in overstretched global supply chains. It’s a reevaluation long overdue. As the world leans into the energy transition, rebuilding America’s industrial base from the mine up is an urgent task that simply can’t wait. John Adams, U.S. Army brigadier general (retired), is president of Guardian Six Consulting and a former deputy U.S. military representative to NATO’s Military Committee.

What has changed in recruitment?

Accounting, service or product delivery, telecommunications, marketing, and IT are all examples of core business functions that are fairly easy to describe. Take the definition of accounting for instance, “the action or process of keeping financial accounts.” Seem easy enough. With developing software, some of these functions have allowed small businesses to maintain competitive and agile advantages performing key responsibilities until profits have scaled to either outsource or hire personnel that manage those daily activities. The driving philosophy is “Why pay someone else to do what I can do?” Currently, the core function that seems to be top of mind in the business sector is recruitment. While businesses have been focused on staying in business and keeping up with demand, they have found a shortage in the work force. In a recent survey by the Associated General Contractors, three out of four respondents said they will need to increase their workforce while of the same survey 83% said they are having a tough time filing vacancies. Following the COVID-19 crisis, many employers were concerned that individuals did not want to go back to work. The question that remains for business leaders, instead of, “Why are we here?” is more of a question of “Now what?” and, “How do I find the talent and labor pool I need to flourish?” The truth is that recruitment is dynamic and intentional. This has been made even more apparent by the pandemic. In the past the best recruitment strategies were word of mouth, the best employees know of other great prospects. As business changed, employers realized the risks associated with hiring on a handshake and recruitment became a function of HR. Over the last decade or so, technology has grown, culture is visible, and nearly recruitment has become, more or less, a function of marketing. As a result of these dynamic changes, the employee is as much in the driver’s seat as is the employer. To seek out the best and brightest, “all-of-the-above” strategy is required and with an intentional process: Market to the candidate you want. Provide an opportunity to make a connection, a modern-day handshake. Objectively confirm that wage, benefits, and schedules are competitive. Ensure that HR is engaged in onboarding employees two-fold, risk mitigation and employee engagement, at the onset. Unlike before and due to the increased demand, similar to other functions of a business, employers are looking at recruitment as a core function as opposed to an “other duties as assigned.” Attracting extraordinary talent has less to do with a shiny brochure, signing bonuses, or a prestigious corner office. It is an engaged and intentional process. Paula Bradison is the founder and CEO of People AK, in Anchorage.

Alaska gas can help unlock national strategic, economic and climate goals

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the halting of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline illustrate the world’s long-term reliance on natural gas for energy, light and heat. Due to its proximity to Russia, Europe draws 40% of its natural gas from Putin, Inc. But even here in the U.S., New England has also been repeatedly forced to rely on Russia’s natural gas because environmental chokeholds prevent the expansion of new domestic transmission to the Northeast. What does any of this have to do with Alaska? Alaska is sitting on one of the world’s largest reservoirs of natural gas, but lacks the infrastructure to deliver it to energy-starved residents in Interior Alaska and to U.S. allies around the world. Every day on the North Slope, enough natural gas is produced to meet the needs of California, Oregon and Washington combined, but it is reinjected into the ground because there is no way to get it to market. Adding Alaska’s natural gas to overall U.S. export capacity strengthens our ability to provide energy and economic security to our allies around the world. Bringing Alaska LNG to Japan, Korea, and other allied Asian markets along the Pacific rim frees U.S. Gulf Coast LNG providers to better serve European allies. Fortunately, there is a lot of recent progress on the Alaska LNG Project to report. A just-completed analysis by the respected global analytics firm Wood Mackenzie concludes that, for the first time, Alaska LNG can deliver LNG to Asia at more competitive prices than Gulf Coast-based LNG projects. Wood Mackenzie studied improvements made to Alaska LNG over the past five years, including revising the economic model for the project and reducing project expenses, and determined that Alaska LNG has been able to reduce our cost of supply to Asia by 43%. Wood Mackenzie forecasts that global LNG demand will continue to accelerate through 2050, strengthening the need for new projects like Alaska LNG. The recent Federal Infrastructure legislation, backed by our Congressional delegation and signed by President Biden, includes more than $26 billion in federal loan guarantees for Alaska LNG. Utilizing these loan guarantees will further reduce the project’s development costs and improve its cost effectiveness. I applaud our lawmakers for deploying our natural resources for strategic, economic, and climate reasons. Natural gas burns cleanly, making it a preferred energy source, particularly in rapidly growing Asian markets confronting air pollution created by other energy sources. Here at home, we see the same air quality problems in parts of Alaska winter after winter. Because of these problems, the American Lung Association identified Fairbanks as “the most polluted city in the nation.” China alone emits 28% of the world’s carbon dioxide, about the same as the United States, the European Union, and India combined. Asian energy needs are massive and growing. Just last year, China built “more than three times more new coal power capacity than all other countries in the world combined,” according to the New York Times, the equivalent of adding more than one large coal plant each week. Because energy projects compete on environmental and economic measures, AGDC, the state corporation currently leading Alaska LNG, commissioned a study to understand the project’s climate impacts. Third-party experts determined that replacing a portion of China’s regional coal use with equivalent energy from Alaska LNG will eliminate 77 million metric tons of annual carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, a 50% reduction. According to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, 77 million metric tons of carbon emissions is the annual equivalent of taking 19 coal-fired power plants offline, removing 16.8 million passenger cars from the road for a year, eliminating the emissions generated by powering 9.3 million homes or the emissions from burning 8.7 billion gallons of gasoline. Alaska has some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the world, assuring that natural gas will be produced with minimal impacts on wildlife, air and water versus other parts of the world with looser standards and limited enforcement. Each LNG tanker round trip from Alaska will be about a month shorter than from Gulf Coast ports, further contributing to Alaska LNG’s emissions and economic savings. AGDC is in the process of identifying new private sector leadership to take over the development of Alaska LNG because this project is simply too complex to be managed by the State of Alaska alone. The recent favorable economic and climate studies about Alaska LNG have added momentum to these discussions. Because natural gas is a key ingredient for hydrogen production, the increasing global demand for zero-carbon hydrogen is also fueling progress for Alaska LNG. U.S. policymakers and the private sector are investing tens of billions of dollars over the next few years to drive the creation of new U.S. hydrogen production hubs and carbon capture hubs, and Alaska is well situated to compete. With Alaska LNG under development, Alaska is well positioned to remain a reliable provider of strategic clean energy for the next hundred years. To learn more about the recent reports examining the economic enhancements and climate benefits of Alaska LNG, visit AGDC.us. Frank Richards is president of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC), an independent, public corporation of the State of Alaska charged with maximizing the benefit of Alaska’s North Slope natural gas though the development of infrastructure to deliver gas to local and international markets.

Alaska students must learn to “Read by Nine” now — not in nine years

An entire decade. That’s how long Alaska’s public schools have ranked in the bottom five states for fourth-grade reading, regardless of income level. The pandemic has only exacerbated the struggles of Alaska’s students. All of our children deserve the best lives possible, and they need to be strong readers to succeed in today's world. Regrettably, Alaska’s public schools are failing to teach our children to read. Learning to read before the age of nine (typically fourth grade) is imperative for our children. If we fail to prioritize learning to read, so that our children can read to learn, long-term implications on our economy and the fabric of Alaska are unavoidable. Students who cannot read by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school; high school dropouts make up 75% of citizens receiving food stamps and 90% of the Americans on welfare. Nearly 85% of teenagers in the juvenile justice system cannot read to learn and seven out of ten adult prisoners cannot read above a fourth-grade level. Some in Alaska simply call for more education funding. But Alaska already spends more per capita on education than the majority of states. Look what that money has paid for – the bottom of the educational barrel, so to speak. Clearly, throwing more money at public schools is not the answer. A strong reading initiative, such as Read by Nine, could make the difference. Read by Nine starts by ensuring kindergarteners know the ABCs and the sounds they make. Throughout early elementary school, teachers continue this focus and rely on research-based methods, until by third grade each student can read with ease, understand the material and think critically. Easy-to-use diagnostic tests are used to help teachers identify which students are having difficulties and what solutions will help them. For those students, a series of interventions is provided, such as one-on-one tutoring, and at-home support from kindergarten through third grade. We want each Alaskan child entering fourth grade to do so with the confidence and skills they need to learn and succeed. Since 2013, a policy like Read by Nine has been introduced in every single Alaska Legislature, to no avail. That’s nine years of lost reading skills for our children. In 2013, Mississippi passed a strong reading initiative, the year both Mississippi and Alaska ranked 49 out of 51 (including the District of Columbia) for fourth-grade reading. But by 2019, the most recent year with data, Mississippi’s low-income students rose to third in the nation. If Alaska had passed Read by Nine legislation the year it was first introduced, our children could be performing as well as Mississippi and the national average, if not better. That’s nine years of progress, lost. Others claim that reading standards are too abstract for children that come from different backgrounds. They are wrong. Literacy is equity. Science-backed standards set by Read by Nine legislation would make it clear which students are struggling or falling behind, so that teachers, administrators, and parents can better jump to their aid. This is particularly important for our vulnerable children – those learning English as a second language, those needing special education, and those living in poverty. Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation, where 74% of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch and 56% of students are non-white. Yet Mississippi students across the racial and income spectrums have seen rapid progress in reading proficiency since implementing a reading initiative in 2013. And in Alaska, schools with Yup’ik immersion programs generally have English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency rates much higher than nearby programs with no Yup’ik instruction. Now is the time for Alaska to implement a strong reading initiative. Not next year, not nine years from now. Every child – regardless of their income level, race, or first language – deserves a fighting chance to reach their potential and to fully embrace their dreams. Bethany Marcum, CEO, Alaska Policy Forum; Quinn Townsend, policy manager, Alaska Policy Forum; Kymyona Burk, senior policy fellow in early literacy, Foundation for Excellence in Education; Madeleine Ashour, senior advocacy associate, Foundation for Excellence in Education

Let's invest in Alaska

Alaska’s economy needs a reboot. Alaska and Anchorage, as the economic hub of the state, have struggled to regain the jobs lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While states like Texas, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona have regained the jobs they lost during the pandemic, we remain far behind the pack. The devastating lockdowns imposed by the Assembly and my predecessors did not help small businesses overcome this once-in-a-generation pandemic. The anti-development policies coming out of D.C. via the President and his allies are not boosting oil production or creating new jobs. Policies that make it more difficult to start and run a business in Anchorage aren’t what we need. Thankfully there are solutions on the table to change this narrative. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed a plan that I support, to responsibly invest in our state at a moment when we need it the most. The governor’s general obligation bond bill – known as GO bonds – represents a chance to complete critical projects and create high-paying jobs. The proposal totals about $325 million that would go towards roads, ports, airports, harbors, and other key infrastructure projects across our state. As a supporter of small government and fiscal restraint, I normally wouldn’t be in favor of such a proposal. However, a few key factors have led me to support the governor’s plan. First and foremost, the state can afford the bonds for these projects thanks to strong investment returns that exceed the cost of paying down its debt. Further, due to rising oil prices and revenues, the state has its first deficit-free budget in a decade. Additionally, since this proposal entails the issuance of general obligation bonds, both the Legislature and people of Alaska must approve it prior to taking effect. I’m a strong believer in letting voters have a say in important matters like these. Though the bond proposal has a statewide reach, it contains two projects of supreme importance to the nearly three-hundred thousand Anchorage residents I represent: the Port of Alaska and Bragaw Road extension. I thank the Governor for funding both projects in this bill. Securing state funding, specifically $600 million, to construct a seismically resilient cargo dock at the port is my top priority. The port serves 90% of the state, so it’s importance cannot be understated. Likewise, the Bragaw extension project is crucial for the health and safety of Anchorage residents. Studies have shown that extending Bragaw would enable first responders to reach our emergency rooms five to seven minutes faster than current road conditions allow. Rebuilding the port will provide food security for Alaska, while extending Bragaw would enhance public safety operations in our city. Both projects would create high-paying, family supporting jobs. These are the type of jobs we need to rebuild our economy and get Alaska back on the right track. Some will say that we should rely on the federal government to solve all our infrastructure needs and problems. When did it become the Alaskan way to seek a handout, rather than striving on our own to accomplish what we believe in? The people of Anchorage and our state know what projects are truly needed, not some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C. We must not place our future in the hands of those who live thousands of miles away. We are at a critical moment in our state’s history. Are we still a people that believes in building great projects, like generations before? Do we still have it in us to unite for a common cause that transcends politics? It is my belief that we are such a people and can create a bright future together for our children and grandchildren. The governor’s bond bill is a great first step toward jumpstarting our economy and building our state. I hope legislators can put partisanship aside and give Alaskans a chance to vote on this proposal. The people should have the right to vote on the economic future of our state. Dave Bronson is the mayor of Anchorage.

Sanctions always seem to hurt Alaska

The Alaska Legislature is poised to pass Senate Joint Resolution 16, calling on President Joe Biden to seek an end to the Russian embargo on seafood products from Alaska. It is certainly understandable to stand up against a policy that has created substantial harm to Alaska’s seafood industry. By some accounts up to $61 million per year. In the House Fisheries Committee, Rep. Sarah Vance offered an amendment calling for negotiations, and if they are unsuccessful, the imposition of counter sanctions on Russian seafood imports. The call for negotiations, essentially diplomacy, is the correct direction for us to head and they should also be expanded to encompass a previous set of sanctions that severely hurt Alaskan workers and companies. On March 6, 2014, President Barack Obama issued an executive order banning the provision of services to Russian oil field development. This was a massive blow to Alaskan oilfield service companies and workers who were providing support for the Sakhalin Island and other projects in Russia. These services, importantly, included best technologies and practices to support environmental protection and safety to these projects. In response, Russia imposed counter sanctions on imports of agricultural products from the United States, including seafood products from Alaska, compounding the harm done to Alaska by the original sanction. So, who did Russia turn to in response to Obama’s executive order? China. Is that what we wanted? You have to wonder who is paying attention to the overall and long term effects of these sanctions. In addition, these sanctions have not resulted in any apparent change in policy of either country. The only result has been economic harm to both Alaskan and Russian common people and our businesses. Three years ago I gave a speech at a meeting of the Russian American Pacific Partnership in Khabarovsk, Russia, about the losses to Alaskan fishermen from the embargo, specifically the loss of $13 million per year in the sale of salmon egg caviar (Ikra in Russian). Afterward, I was approached by a leader of the local indigenous group Amur Nivkhs. She reported that due to the embargo and shortage of salmon caviar, poachers had targeted the upriver run of chum salmon in the Amur River, leaving them no fish for their subsistence needs. Another heavy impact on completely innocent people. Sanctions are a blunt instrument, spreading indiscriminate harm to the people of both nations, with the exception, of course, of the leaders who impose them. And frankly, they are an admission of the failure of diplomacy. Rep. Vance’s call for diplomatic negotiations is admirable, and if they occur, it would be reasonable to also address the issue of oilfield services that brought about this fish embargo in the first place. Paul Fuhs is the former Mayor of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and Commissioner of Commerce and International Trade for Governor Wally Hickel.

Biden administration needs to keep its promise to Alaska Native veterans

The federal administration’s broken promises are a slap in the face of Alaska Native Vietnam veterans. Federal overreach has always affected our way of life in Alaska. It is no secret that the federal government has been quick to lock up federal lands and slow to deliver on its promises. In a deeply troubling move last year, the Biden administration delayed a program that gives qualified Alaska Native Vietnam veterans the opportunity to select a plot of federal land in Alaska. As you are reading this, 50 years after these veterans last had the opportunity to apply for their land, take a guess at how many of these applicants have been awarded land. If you guessed just a few, you’d be right. More than 50 years have passed since these veterans were promised land allotments. The administration needs to pick up the pace and keep its promise. The slow-walking of this promise is a slap in the face to our Alaska Native Veterans. It is completely unacceptable, and action is needed — and needed now. They have waited long enough, and they are dying. The timeline During the Vietnam War, 2,800 Alaska Natives served in the military — a higher rate per capita than any other group. Since the conflict did not end until 1973, service members were unable to apply for land before the December 1971 deadline created by the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Alaska Native Veterans were finally given that opportunity once again under the 1998 Alaska Native Vietnam Veterans Land Allotment Act, which authorized a new 18-month filing period for qualifying Alaska Native Veterans to apply for up to 160 acres of Alaska land. But 20 more years of delay ensued. Eligible veterans began passing away. In response, the Alaska congressional delegation worked to include provisions within the Dingell Act of 2019, signed into law by President Donald Trump, to extend eligibility to qualified veterans and their heirs. These provisions also removed a five-year occupancy requirement — freeing applicants to apply for available lands anywhere in the state. Promises made and broken As a veteran, I deeply appreciate the sacrifices and dedication required to serve our nation — all the more present in those who served during the Vietnam era. Subjected to Agent Orange, numerous other toxins on the battlefield and vilification upon their return, these veterans’ scars run uniquely deep. The continued disrespect shown to those who served honorably makes my heart ache and my blood boil. Alaska Native veteran Jerry Ward shared his perspective with me recently. “Many Alaska Natives who were in combat were unable to apply for an allotment. I was in the jungle in combat. I had no idea that the federal government was doing away with this. Thanks to our congressional delegation here in Alaska, this problem is being solved. The problem is that this process is outliving Alaska Natives. I can list half a dozen friends of mine who I served with that have now died.” The trail of broken promises speaks for itself. But it is the stories of veterans like Jerry who motivate me to fight for solutions. How is it fair to tell these Alaska Native Veterans to “pound sand” after decades of waiting? Perhaps most frustratingly, the land that is currently allotted by the federal government, through the administration, is largely unusable, inaccessible land; on top of mountains of glacial land that is not native to those to whom it is allotted. Is this the treatment our veterans deserve? As Alaskans and Americans, we owe these veterans far more than a debt of gratitude for the blood, sweat and tears they’ve given to this country. We owe them the land that was promised. “This was a right that was supposed to be given to Alaska Natives that they will never have,” Ward continued, “It is a promise that we are still waiting for half a century later. I am glad that Sen. Revak along with the delegation is looking at this and I am hopeful that there will be a resolution for my fellow veterans.” Please join me in signing a petition to the Biden administration asking them to keep their promise to our Alaska Native veterans. Email my office today to sign: [email protected] Sen. Josh Revak represents Senate District M in the Alaska Legislature, encompassing the Huffman, O’Malley, Abbott Loop, Independence Park, and East Dowling areas of Anchorage.

Infrastructure finance bill is a win-win for Alaska

Politics is often viewed as a zero-sum game in which one side wins at the expense of another, but the general obligation bond proposal introduced by my administration represents a win-win for Alaskans. Known as GO bonds, this financing instrument for infrastructure projects must be approved first by the Legislature, and then by the voters in the general election. I have always said that we must trust the people if we want them to trust us, and Alaskans will have their voices heard at the ballot box as required in our constitution for the issuance of GO bonds. I trust Alaskans, and I am confident in the case we can make to the people about the benefits of this proposal to build a safer, stronger state. As proposed, my administration’s GO bond proposal requires financing for about $325 million to cover more than a dozen projects including roads, ports, harbors, and airports.  A GO bond package approved by legislators and ultimately the voters is a means for Alaskans to control our own destiny. The projects span the state from the Northwest to Southeast, and from the Interior to Southcentral. Alaskans have consistently shown their willingness to invest in capital projects through prudent financing going back to statehood, and that was at a time when we still had an income tax. In total, Alaskans have approved GO bonds 16  times since 1960 to raise approximately $3 billion to build out infrastructure for our vast state that benefits our economy and our workforce. A natural question is why finance these projects instead of paying for them outright? The answer is that in the current interest rate environment, our investment returns over the long-term are greater than the costs of paying down our debts. Because of strong investment returns, our obligations to our state pension system are virtually erased and that lowers our budget costs over time.  Fixed costs of state government like retirement and debt service are on the decline while revenue outlooks are increasingly positive, the state is well positioned to afford a responsible level of new debt to address these needs and priorities. As a result of this improved budget situation, I will not consider using general fund dollars to pay for projects that will cost less over the long-term to finance. Another question is why take on debt when Congress is supposedly showering states with federal infrastructure money? The answer to that is many projects that are a priority at the state or local level are not necessarily priorities at the federal level. Nor is the state in line to receive a pile of largely unrestricted funds as was the case with the COVID-19 relief bills. While there are some competitive grants available in the recent infrastructure bill, many funding opportunities require state matches ranging from 10 percent to 35 percent. I’ve heard the voices of those who see a contradiction in the receipt of federal funds compared to my criticism of the current administration. Some have suggested I should be thanking the Biden administration instead. One senator went so far as to say that I shouldn’t “bite the hand” that feeds Alaska. To be clear, the Alaska I envision is one that feeds itself, not an Alaska that depends on the federal government to eat. The credit for every benefit to Alaska within this infrastructure bill goes to the hard work of our Congressional delegation, and their dedicated representation of our interests is always appreciated. As champions for our resource development opportunities, they know as well as I do that money from the federal government is no substitute for failing to fulfill its obligations spanning from the Statehood Act to the 2017 legislation that required lease sales to be held in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain.  So, for those who believe I should thank the Biden administration that has been attacking Alaska like no other state since day one, I can only say to prepare for disappointment. Although we may be treated like one by this administration, Alaska is not a second-class state. We will utilize the same traditional infrastructure matching programs available to our 49 fellow states.  We will not apologize for it, nor will we give up our right to speak out against this administration, or to defend the rights of Alaskans when necessary, regardless of whether we receive federal funds.  To suggest we bite our tongues lest we bite the federal hand only underscores the danger of relying on federal funds to support our state. My administration is digging into this 1,000-page bill to better understand exactly what it means to Alaska, and as more federal guidance is received explaining the rules for this spending, and the state matches needed, the bond package may change. It can also change based on input from Alaskans and their legislators. This is not a take-it-or-leave-it piece of legislation.  My administration is willing and ready to work with legislators and listen to Alaskans in order to have the best proposal possible that can earn the support it needs from a majority of voters.  For a full list of projects, estimated costs, and potential federal matching, please visit omb.alaska.gov and select “Proposed Budget.” From there you can scroll down the page to the section about the FY2023 GO bond proposal for more details.   Mike Dunleavy is the 12th Governor of Alaska.

Legislators should guard our fund and pass a constitutional PFD now

For a long time, significant issues about our Permanent Fund have been bungled and avoided. How long? Too long, since 2016, when then Governor Walker decided to ignore the long-standing formula to pay the dividend embedded in Alaska law. The failure to pay the dividend according to statute has created political chaos. Every legislative session since Walker vetoed the dividend payment has seen political fighting over the size of the dividend. Without a fix to the dividend fight, Alaska cannot adopt a sensible fiscal plan. The time to act on the dividend formula is now. Pointing to higher oil prices or using the upcoming election as an excuse to continue avoiding decisions is unacceptable. The financial well-being of Alaska is deteriorating because of the inaction by our elected officials. Action is needed now, not down the trail. The best way to solve the annual dividend brawl is to put a workable dividend formula before the voters as part of a constitutional amendment. In order to fix Alaska’s fiscal uncertainty, the first step is to address the dividend and then work on government needs and revenue measures. Alaska’s citizens and their dividend must be addressed first, not government spending, taxes, or any other issue related to solving the fiscal situation of our state. The Permanent Fund is the greatest thing we have done for Alaskans since statehood. The fund takes a portion of our current, non-renewable revenue from oil and holds those funds in trust for the future. Instead of allowing the current generation to spend all the funds on themselves, we wisely saved for the future. Providing a fair dividend to every Alaskan prevents a raid on the fund in multiple ways. Without a dividend, individual Alaskans are without a stake in their savings account and the fund will quickly become less than permanent. As Gov. Jay Hammond once warned: “As go the dividends, so goes the Permanent Fund.” Without dividend protection we risk losing the fund in the future. The annual failure of our elected officials to adopt a fair and sustainable dividend formula is corroding Alaska’s political discussion. Instead of acting decisively on the dividend, too many politicians have avoided difficult choices. Since 2013, the Legislature has gutted Alaskans’ savings accounts, spending over $20 billion to fund government. Now, with oil prices elevated and federal funding flowing into the state’s treasury, far too many politicians are seemingly content to avoid dealing with the citizen’s dividend or putting our fiscal house in order. We need to act now. But we need to act responsibly. Current proposals to use the percent-of-market-value (POMV) formula to fund government and a dividend have potential to erode the value of the Permanent Fund. The current dividend proposal based on a 5% POMV payout is set too high. With inflation running at over 5%, the 5% POMV (with 50% to government and 50% to dividends) presents an unacceptable risk to the fund’s growth. Other threats to Alaskans' Permanent Fund loo as well. There is increasing evidence select individuals and special interests are salivating at the prospect of investing the Permanent Fund in pet projects that are not competitive based on normal prudent investment criteria. We are dangerously close to politicizing the investment criteria for the Permanent Fund. If we allow this to happen, the best idea we Alaskans adopted in our statehood history – the Permanent Fund - will be destroyed. Alaska’s elected officials have repeatedly demonstrated an inability to spend money responsibly. Saving money has also been a problem. Many of these elected officials overpromise and underperform when it comes to dealing with Alaska’s finances. The legislature has spent too much and saved too little of our mineral wealth. That’s why we call on Alaskans to demand that dividend legislation is passed in this 2022 session. The citizens need a constitutional formula and one that works for all Alaskans, not just government. The formula needs to protect the fund from inflation. And, the formula needs to grow the Permanent Fund, not just government. The formula should provide every Alaskan with a guaranteed dividend derived from their Permanent Fund. We must avoid converting the Permanent Fund into a development slush fund to back dubious projects advocated by special interests. The only way our elected officials will protect the Permanent Fund and your dividend is if voters demand constitutional protection of Alaskans’ commonly-owned resource wealth. Joe Geldhof is a lawyer in Juneau and a board member of the Permanent Fund Defenders. Juanita Cassellius is a nurse in Eagle River and a coordinator for the Permanent Fund Defenders.

It's time to save the Port of Alaska

When I came into office, resolving the homelessness crisis in Anchorage was my number one priority. However, as my team and I assessed the dire situation at the Port of Alaska (POA), it became quite clear that rebuilding and modernizing the port had to become the chief focus of my administration. I know Anchorage residents, and folks across our state, have heard about problems at the port for many years. I’m not here to talk about past issues, mistakes made, or score any political points. I am focused on the future, ensuring food security for our state, and rebuilding our great Port of Alaska. The POA is the single most important piece of infrastructure in our state. Yes, we have the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), world-class mines, the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, and other critical infrastructure that support commerce throughout our state. But without the Port of Alaska, none of these would be possible. Why is the port so essential to our economy and way of life as Alaskans? Here are a few pieces of information to consider when thinking about the Port of Alaska: 90% of Alaskans depend on goods handled by the POA 50% of all cargo shipped into Alaska crosses the POA Annually, the POA supports $14 billion worth of economic activity It’s the only functioning tsunami proof port in Alaska 80% of cement used in Alaska crosses the POA All aviation gas for the state comes through the POA Unfortunately, the POA is in dire need of significant repair and upgrades. Right now, 1,400 pilings supporting port structures are considered seismically unstable. Approximately 1,000 of those piles were reinforced with jackets in the past, but those repairs are nearing the end of their useful life. Cook Inlet’s harsh environment is rapidly corroding the piles and jackets. Recent engineering analysis indicates the docks may only have six to eight years left of remaining life before vertical load capacity restrictions would have to be imposed. The 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck Southcentral in 2018 caused extensive damage to the POA. As a result of that quake, 20 percent of the pilings at our newest dock – built in 1974 – failed. The 2018 quake lasted 38 seconds. Some experts have informed us that, had it continued for another seven seconds, widespread liquefaction could have occurred, possibly leading to a total failure and collapse of one or more of the Port docks. Liquefaction occurs during an earthquake when the soil is shaken and mixed with enough water that it essentially becomes liquid, leaving it unable to support the dock. It is hard to underestimate the destruction that losing the POA would cause for our state. Roughly 90% of the food we consume in Alaska is imported, the majority coming across the POA. On average, grocery stores have less than six days of food on hand. If we lose the POA in an earthquake, and Matson and TOTE are unable to offload their ships, no food will be available in a matter of days. A society without food cannot function. Every household and business from Anchorage, to Bethel, to Kodiak, to the North Slope oil fields would be impacted if the port fails. Some have said that we could simply truck or fly in our food and supplies. This simply won’t be practical. Over 700 Boeing 747 cargo jets would be needed on a weekly basis to replace the food and goods that cross the POA. As a former cargo pilot, I can tell you there aren’t enough idle jets in the world to fill that gap. I know this is a stark picture to paint. I was just as concerned as you likely are when I learned of this situation. The time for addressing this problem is now. We cannot wait until a disaster happens to talk about fixing the port. The good news is that we have a broadly supported plan and vision for how to fix the POA, and get us to what I call food security for Alaska. There are two cargo docks at the port. Food security requires we have one-seismically resilient dock where goods and supplies can be offloaded like clockwork. Currently, we don’t have food security as both docks are seismically unstable. The technology exists for us to construct seismically resilient cargo docks. The petroleum and cement terminal, which will be fully completed this spring, withstood the 2018 earthquake by utilizing modern engineering technology and design. Our plan for the cargo docks will mimic this same design and technology. The entire Port of Alaska Modernization Program is a $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion construction project. To get us to food security, which is one seismically resilient dock, we need $600 million. The Municipality of Anchorage is requesting $600 million from the State of Alaska to rebuild POA cargo dock No. 1. The Assembly and port users are supportive of our plan. Recently, the Assembly and I approved a $165 million revenue bond to support this project. We have skin in the game; I am asking the Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy to join in our efforts. The people of Anchorage cannot do this alone. Alaskans must come together to fix the port once and for all. Our economy depends on it. Our way of life depends on it. We must save the port. Dave Bronson is the mayor of Anchorage.

Brown's Close Call

It’s January, which means the dark, yet unseasonably warm, weather has us dreaming of summertime. In our nostalgia, let’s consider a fond memory from summer 2021. Some friends and I went to Hidden Lake Campground along Skilak Lake Road. Per Alaska.org, Skilak Lake and the surrounding areas are known as “the premier wildlife-viewing areas on the Kenai Peninsula.” The website promotes many references to bird watching, bird sightings, and sockeye salmon. Tucked away at the bottom, the website also advertises bear watching tours, mainly with the express purpose of watching the bears feed on sockeye salmon. At the campground, there is a paved road down to Hidden Lake, and hiking and biking trails around the lake to a large amphitheater. Saturday at midday, three of us took one mellow bulldog for a walk through the woods towards the amphitheater. This bulldog, Riley, is a gentle animal. I’ve never heard her bark, seen her run, or express more than a passing interest in the world around her. Instead, she greeted the squirrel in the tree at our campsite, which was chattering at us angrily, by shuffling over to the tree and looking up for a while. Riley hobbles along wherever she goes at a meandering pace. If you call her, she will come, but not with any urgency. And it was in this manner that Riley and I led the Saturday afternoon pack, me alternatingly walking her, and dragging her, by her leash. James, the owner of the bulldog, called out. “Wait, Sarah, hold on, stop for a second.” He was staring at the ground, transfixed. I walked back to him. I stared at the ground intently. All I saw was the pavement. “What are you looking at?” He frowned and shook his head. “Sorry, I have a thing about this trail. I always think I’m going to see a bear. I don’t hang around, I don’t stop, I’m ALWAYS watching, I just keep moving.” The two of us looked back at our third walking companion. This friend, Amanda, was wearing a sunhat, sunglasses, and carrying a mimosa. She was poking at the ground, looking for kindling for firewood, and admiring the scenery. “The sunlight is so pretty,” she sighed. “It looks like a fairy forest!” James, the bulldog, and I continued, making it perhaps ten steps. Then James stopped us again and began looking at the ground. Whatever he was looking at must have been impressive, so I looked down too. “Hold up, Sarah these look – ” He stopped talking and lifted his gaze. I followed, looking up at the trail ahead. An 800-pound brown bear was running along the trail, straight at us, and, perhaps most horribly, was making eye contact. In shock, it took me a moment to register what was happening. The bear was so massive, his extra muscles and extra fat and extra skin rose and fell up over his head with each stride like a large mane. It was like watching a lion run at us, but much taller. We were at a loss for options. No gun, no bear spray, just a mild-mannered bulldog who didn’t bark. “Run!” James whispered. We turned around and bolted, and that naggingly rational part of my brain reminded me that running from a brown bear was the worst thing you could do. You were supposed to stand your ground and look bigger. Or were you supposed to keel over and look smaller? Either, way, what we were doing was wrong. But really, what kind of a psycho would honestly stop and wait for this monster to run up and grab him? I ran as fast as I could, full out. I also realized too late that I was wearing flip flops, and this was perhaps the most awful choice for footwear. I kept running. We rounded the bend in the trail and into Amanda, our flower child companion. She saw the wild looks on our faces, and I could hear James calling, “Run, just run!” Amanda turned around, and began running wildly, her arms, currently holding a giant stick, her mimosa, and her sunglasses, flailing about. Her sunhat flopped around her face. She stuck her arm out in front of her blindly, attempting to not spill her drink That rational part of my brain surfaced again; don’t look back, it will slow you down. I kept running, my head down, waiting for claws and teeth to sink into my back in three, two, one… I was still running. I started counting to myself. Every extra second was another second the bear hadn’t gotten me. I put on a jolt of speed and leveled with Amanda. She was looking back. “There’s nothing behind us! I don’t see anything!” She looked back again. “Still nothing. I don’t see it.” “Don’t look back, you don’t want to see this bear,” James grunted. But a glimmer of hope flashed through my chest. Wait a minute, we have a chance. Brown bears can run thirty miles an hour. If it hadn’t caught us by now… maybe it wasn’t going to. The entrance to the forest and the trail were up ahead. Through the trees were roads and cars and maybe more people. I put on another burst of speed and ran flat out towards the light. “Sarah! It’s okay! You can slow down!” James called from somewhere behind me. He and Amanda must have determined with finality that the bear was not following us. But bears don’t stop for pavement. Bursting out of the woods like a bat out of hell, I ran to the middle of the road. I stopped, doubled over, and started coughing and wheezing. I realized I’d completely forgotten about the bulldog. Looking down wildly, there she was, coughing and wheezing beside me. I looked around crazily for people. There were two young dads walking their toddlers down the road. “Bear!” I started to wave my arms and scream wheezily. “Bear! Bear! THERE’S A BEAR!!!!!!!” James and Amanda had exited the forest by now, and they were watching me open mouthed as I danced around and flipped my lid in real time. The dads both looked at me warily. One gave his child’s hand to the other and proceeded towards me with caution. “Okay, okay,” he raised his arms tentatively, like he was trying to calm a raging beast. “What’s happening?” I coughed and sputtered and flapped around some more and danced towards him. He took a few steps back. “There’s…a bear!” I gasped and doubled over coughing. “A, a bear? Where?” One of the toddlers behind him started to cry. “It’s okay,” the other dad patted the terrified child’s head. “There’s a bear… running… on the trail.” “Okay, okay,” the first dad raised his hands again. “Do me a favor, okay? Just tell the camp host.” James and Amanda caught up to me. “Are you okay?” James asked patting my shoulder. I laughed hysterically, which caused me to start wheezing again. “You know, it’s funny what you think about,” he mused, as we ambled back to the campsite, all desire for a walk gone. “The whole, time, all I could think about was how glad I was I wasn’t wearing my crocs.”   Sarah Brown is a champion sprinter. Try to catch her on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com. All names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act brings opportunity for ANCs and their partners

The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (The Act) presents great opportunities for Alaska Native corporations (ANCs) to participate in broadband and other infrastructure projects. The Act includes additional funding for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, and the newly created Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, which provides grants to facilitate access to and adoption of broadband. However, to tap into these new grants, ANCs may find it necessary to collaborate with other companies. This is typically because ANCs must obtain access to technical knowledge and capabilities or to tap into financial resources for capital intensive projects. When entering into these relationships, ANCs and the entities that they are working with should create a good foundation for success by recognizing the risks that may arise and proactively addressing them. ANCs: Preparing to capitalize on the Infrastructure Act The first step in evaluating whether to collaborate with someone for a grant opportunity is to conduct thorough due diligence. This helps ANCs determine if a potential business associate has the capability to do what they claim they will do and, hopefully, uncover any prior issues that suggest the potential for disputes in the future. While past performance is no guarantee of future success, a history of disputes or claims can, unfortunately, indicate a risky collaboration. Due diligence should include a thorough review of public records regarding the potential business associate. This should include simple internet searches for news articles, reviewing the company’s SAM.gov profile, and examining the federal government’s list of debarred companies to ensure that neither the company nor its affiliates are on that list. In the case of those entities or persons who will be providing financial or other material assistance, it may be appropriate to review financial statements or information to ensure that they can deliver what they promise. While a successful collaboration requires trust, taking a “trust but verify” approach gives ANCs the greatest likelihood of success. ANCs should also negotiate and execute a detailed agreement that ensures the parties’ expectations for the project and its implementation. While negotiating and drafting a detailed agreement may seem unnecessary when dealing with a long-time associate, there is always a risk that personnel can change and verbal agreements can be forgotten, leaving the ANC with nothing but the written agreement. Clearly detailing the parties’ obligations, rights, and compensation goes a long way to reducing disputes and provides the base for a successful relationship. In these agreements, ANCs should ensure they have robust termination and audit rights, allowing them to take necessary action if the person or entity they are working with fails to perform or begins to draw outside of the proverbial lines. ANCs should also be mindful of any exclusivity or non-disclosure/non-competition clauses. While someone may be the top choice for a particular project, ANCs should preserve their ability to select others for different projects. Broadly worded exclusivity and non-disclosure/non-competition clauses can prevent ANCs from doing so. Finally, ANCs should ensure they receive fair value for their Infrastructure Act programs, either through direct payments, a guaranteed work-share, or other financial terms. ANCs should be wary of promises of future work without negotiating and agreeing on specific amounts. Don’t settle for vague claims that the project will result in lower prices in the community without contractually requiring those lower prices. ANC partners: Protecting and formalizing relationships For entities working with ANCs on Infrastructure Act opportunities, the same principles discussed above apply. Conduct due diligence into the ANC, confirm it can perform, and clearly define the parties’ rights, obligations, and compensation. In particular, businesses should endeavor to meet with the ANC’s board of directors as they have the ultimate control of the corporation. Establishing a positive relationship with the board of directors can go a long way to ensuring the relationship is a success. Businesses should also determine what type of expectations the ANC has in terms of shareholder hire and land access. If shareholder hire is expected, figure out what form will it take and whether there will be an objective goal to meet or only a general preference. If the project needs to access the ANC’s land, also determine if separate land use agreements and payments need to be negotiated. These are all issues that may arise, and it is better to address them at the beginning of the relationship so that there is no surprise or questions later on. The Infrastructure Act is an excellent opportunity for Alaska Native Corporations and companies looking to work with them. To lay the groundwork for success, everyone must be proactive about the opportunities they select, the people and entities they work with, and the protections and rights they negotiate. Taking these steps at the outset creates guardrails for success—and the ability to resolve issues if they occur. Christopher Slottee of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, P.C., is an Anchorage-based lawyer who practices commercial law and serves Alaska Native corporations. This article summarizes aspects of the law and does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice for your situation, you should contact an attorney.

Is it time for a more independent Permanent Fund board of trustees?

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation (APFC) Board of Trustees voted to dismiss Executive Director Angela Rodell at its Dec. 9 meeting. That decision has raised questions about whether the APFC Board of Trustees is sufficiently insulated from political influence. Alaskans should understand that the APFC board is much less insulated from political influences than is typical of independent regulatory agencies at the federal level. There does seem to be some agreement that the APFC Board of Trustees should be protected from political influence. For example, the APFC website states: “One of the goals when creating the Corporation was to protect the fund from political influence through the establishment of a six-member Board of Trustees, who serve as fiduciaries.” But simply having a board does not insure independence. That independence depends upon the appointment process for members of the board. The APFC Board has six members. By statute, one member is the Commissioner of Revenue and a second is the head of another state government department. Department heads are appointed by the governor, approved by the Legislature, and serve at the pleasure of the governor. The other four are public members, appointed by the governor, who serve four-year staggered terms, so one is replaced each year. The appointments of the public members are not subject to approval by the Legislature. Under the Alaska Constitution, only “principal department heads” and members of “a regulatory or quasi-judicial agency” are subject to legislative approval. The APFC is structured as a state-owned corporation. Individual board members are clearly not department heads. While one might wonder if the “regulatory or quasi-judicial agency” term could be stretched to include the APFC Board, the statutory structure seems to assume that the APFC Board does not fit that second category either. The APFC does not regulate any activity outside the APFC, nor does it make quasi-judicial decisions that affect outside parties. While there is no court decision directly on this question, it seems very likely that a court would agree that supervising the management of the Permanent Fund is not a “regulatory” activity in the constitutional sense. The federal government has created a large number of agencies that are independent of the Executive branch. Examples include the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federal Trade Commission, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The federal government therefore has considerable experience in defining the appointment of independent commissioners and board members. Independent commissions almost always have an odd number of members to avoid tie votes. The most common board size is five or seven members. Terms are almost always an odd number of years, so terms are longer than a single four-year presidential term, and new appointments are made at varying times of the election cycle. The most common term is five or seven years. Many boards have limits on the number from the same party. The SEC illustrates a common appointment process. There are five members, they serve for five years, and no more than three can be from the same political party. All commissioners and board members are nominated by the president and approved by the U.S. Senate. In comparison to federal agencies, the APFC board is subject to much greater political influence. A new Alaska governor would appoint half of the trustees (the two department heads and one public member) during his or her first year and a clear majority (with the second public member) by the second year. One-third of the trustees, the department heads, report to and serve at the pleasure of the governor. In comparison, a new U.S. president would not have appointed a majority to most federal independent commissions until the third or fourth year of his or her first term. Finally, approval by the U.S. Senate provides a check on presidential authority and also involves a confirmation process whereby appointee qualifications are publicly reviewed. The Legislature is conducting hearings about the dismissal of the executive director. Its deliberations should address the underlying issue, which is the level of independence of the APFC board. There clearly are alternative structures that provide greater independence. The federal example would suggest having a board of five or seven entirely independent members who serve terms of five or seven years. A restriction that no more than of three of the five (or four of the seven) members could be from the same political party also bears consideration. These changes could be accomplished by amending the statute. The biggest, and perhaps most obvious, change would be to require approval of appointees by the Alaska Legislature. As noted above, a constitutional amendment would very likely be required to allow legislative approval. Delegates at the Alaska Constitutional Convention could not have foreseen that a Permanent Fund would become central to Alaska state finances. Otherwise, they might have included different language about which board members are subject to legislative approval. If a constitutional amendment to create a percent-of-market-value (POMV) distribution to state government from the Permanent Fund is under consideration, it might be appropriate to also consider requiring legislative approval of APFC trustees. Ralph Townsend is a professor of economics at the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Alaska Anchorage. ISER faculty has long contributed to understanding economic policy issues in Alaska. George Rogers, who was one of ISER’s founders, was appointed by Gov. Jay Hammond as one of the first six APFC Trustees.

Turnover got you down?

During a recent meeting, a well-respected business owner shared that he feels as if his leadership team is “held hostage” by employees given the unprecedented resignations in the US; in some instances, even softening standards for fear of not being able to fill vacancies. While the vacancy rates are highest amongst retail, hospitality, and construction, other industries are also feeling the pain. There is a change in demographics in the workforce that is amplified by the pandemic. By taking a step back and re-evaluating their workforce as an area of opportunity, employers can look at ways to encourage quality workers to hire on and stay on. Most noted are signing bonuses and the ability to work from home. While the latter issue is certainly more apparent today than two short years ago, the desire of our younger workforce is to secure work-life balance as much, if not more than wages and benefits. By understanding motivators, employers and leaders have the opportunity to review the entire life cycle of their employee’s experience from recruitment to succession. The business environment is fiercely competitive, and employees know they are in the driver’s seat, perhaps for the first time in history. A “bad day” can lead to a resignation without fear of finding another position. In some instances, they land with a higher pay rate and more desirable conditions. You might think this is all part of the natural churn of talent. But, according to Gallup research, it’s not. “52% of voluntarily exiting employees say their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job,” according to the consulting firm. Of these options, the most notably neglected by employers are: Have a plan: Know your turnover rate, historically and projected. What is the rate within your industry, what is likely in the next 24 months? Recruitment: It is a dynamic and ongoing process. Gone are the days of competitive recruitment being word-of-mouth or simply deferred to the HR department. Employers should consistently look out for talent and ensure that their brand is consistent and positive to attract the next hire. By the time there is a vacancy, the recruitment cycle is already reactionary. Meaningful engagement: These strategies should not include fear of resignation and measure more than profitability. Employers should have a 360° view of the strengths and attributes of their employees. Onboarding and succession: Planning should be thoughtful and intentional. Exacting the processes of welcoming new employees and having a well understood process for exiting an employee creates confidence and understanding for all employees coming or going. In short, turnover is a cost of doing business and should not be deemed as good or bad, but rather an element of normal business operations. Of course, when an employee leaves a position there is an immediate impact, but the angst and confusion of other employees left standing should be mitigated by leadership actively managing recruitment, retention, and succession. Paula Bradison is CEO of People AK.

Will Biden side with America’s solar industry or China?

President Joe Biden has a big decision coming up. U.S. tariffs on solar panel imports are set to end on Feb. 7. The president must decide whether to keep the tariffs, or let them expire. If the American people have any say, the president will continue the tariffs. That’s because a new poll conducted by Morning Consult found 90% of voters think the U.S. should manufacture its own renewable energy systems. And 70% want the U.S. to end its dependency on solar imports from China. But how can tariffs grow America’s solar industry? In January 2018, the Trump administration imposed tariffs on imports of solar panels. This followed a lengthy investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) into China’s dumping of solar panels in the U.S. at less than fair-market value. As a result of Beijing’s massive government subsidies, Chinese solar imports grew roughly 500% from 2012 to 2016. By 2017, the U.S. solar industry had almost entirely disappeared. The 2018 tariffs were designed to help America’s solar industry survive in the face of China’s strategy to dominate the industry globally. The tariffs worked extremely well. In the last four years, America’s solar manufacturers have ramped up production — and in 2019 reached a 10-year market share high of almost 20%. Why did the tariffs succeed? China has been heavily subsidizing its solar industry for years — all in an effort to put U.S. producers out of business. The tariffs started to level the playing field, allowing U.S. companies to build new factories and start supplying critically needed solar panels. Once the tariffs were in place, U.S. manufacturers quickly built new factories with the latest technology — and to such an impressive degree that solar prices actually dripped after the tariffs were imposed. The average price of a solar panel in 2017 was 48 cents per watt. By 2019, the average price had dropped to 40 cents. The ITC is now recommending that the tariffs be extended. And U.S. solar producers agree. Q Cells — a Georgia assembler of solar panels — recently announced a $160 million investment in U.S. polysilicon production. It makes little sense for the U.S. to keep importing solar panels from Chinese factories dependent on the coal-fired power plants that contribute to climate change. And many of these coal plants are located in the Xinjiang region, where Beijing is committing genocide against ethnic Uyghurs. The ball is now in President Biden’s court. He must decide whether America’s solar future will be made at home or in China. The decision should be obvious, considering that China’s solar panels must be shipped across the ocean after being produced through forced labor and toxic environmental practices. Voters have decided that it’s far better to create good jobs and a sustainable energy future here at home. That’s what targeted tariffs can do — strengthen an important U.S. industry while competing more fairly with an aggressive China. Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA).

An Alaska startup supports new mothers amid rising mental health challenges

Last year Heather Helzer “inherited” an extra child for a few days. The mother of two discovered that a close friend was dealing with postpartum anxiety, recognized that she needed medical attention, and sprang into action. “I have two children, a 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, and so I had all the clothes and supplies on hand for another child already. I told my friend to check into the hospital immediately and that I could care for her child,” said Helzer. “I know how hard it can be for mothers to ask for help, even when they really need it. So often mothers feel ashamed if they are struggling or worry about inconveniencing someone and I didn’t want that to be a barrier to seeking treatment.” Helzer is keenly interested in the topic of mental health and motherhood, and at the time was partway through a class being offered by Moms Matter Now. Founded by Holly Brooks, a former Olympic skier and therapist specializing in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and Calisa Kastning, a nonprofit executive director, Moms Matter Now focuses on proactive and preventative maternal mental health. The startup offers a membership that includes online courses, live coaching, and a private support community for expectant and new mothers. Their mission is to “educate, empower and support women in pregnancy through early motherhood so they don’t lose their minds, selves, or relationships.” Mothers themselves, Brooks says that although she and Kastning had been thinking about Moms Matter Now for quite some time, the pandemic catalyzed them into launching on Mother’s Day, 2021. “With daycares closing and school going virtual, someone had to be home with the kids and more often than not, that someone was the mom. In fact, 80% of the 1.1 million Americans who left the workforce were women,” says Brooks. “Women already do twice as much childcare and rearing, even if both parents work full time, and the pandemic exacerbated this even more. … It felt like a crisis, but also a call to action.” The number of women experiencing anxiety or depression after delivering a child almost tripled during the pandemic. Possible COVID-19 exposures, increased social and physical isolation, economic concerns, and less access to health care and social supports are some of the causes of increased mental distress for new mothers. Researchers have identified a direct correlation between the physical and mental health of a mother and the health of the baby. If a mother is healthy, there’s a better chance for the baby to thrive. Conversely, depression and anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum can impact their physical and mental health for years. Even without a pandemic, the transition to motherhood, known as matresence, is challenging. Brooks likens it to adolescence, when teeneagers undergo a physical and psychological transformation and are flooded with hormones, but explains that it’s lesser known and often overlooked. “It’s a real gap. People take birthing classes and breastfeeding classes, but there’s very little talk about how to be proactive in terms of the emotional and psychological transition to motherhood,” says Brooks. “There are reactive services for women experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety, but nothing to prepare women for this big identity shift and what it might do to their lives and relationship with their partner, if they have one.” Brooks and Kastning think there’s an opportunity to fill the gap with their startup and hope to reach mothers across the country. With more than a million millennial women becoming first-time mothers each year in the U.S., that’s a sizable market, one that Forbes calls the “new mom economy” and estimated at $46 billion in 2019. “The more we connect with mothers, the more we discover how much they really need access to this kind of information,” says Brooks. “When a woman is pregnant there’s so much excitement and expectation, and focus on things like her belly, the nursery, baby showers. Then after birth, the attention, effort and health care visits are all about the baby. We believe that when a baby is born, so is a mother, and she needs support too.” The Moms Matter Now membership is due to launch February 2022 and will focus on helping mothers and their families build realistic expectations for what Brooks calls “baby shock.” Expectant and new mothers will learn about topics including anxiety, mom guilt, maternal gatekeeping, strategies to balance the mental load, and acceptance of postpartum bodies. Brooks and Kastning created Moms Matter Now to include everything they wish they’d had or known in their own motherhood journeys and believe that the blend of online courses, live coaching, and a private support community will empower women in their respective motherhood journeys. Helzer says the community and courses would have been especially useful when she had her first child. “When we’re caring for our children, it’s so easy to forget who you are as an individual, you’re doing things for your kids that you’re not even doing for yourself, like making sure they have healthy food, time to play, exercise, and learn. We often put our kids’ or partner’s needs in front of our own, but Holly and Calisa helped me see that I can’t do a good job as a mother if I’m not taking care of myself too.” Future plans include content focusing on new fathers, another underserved population. Gretchen Fauske is a marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. She is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for Anchorage Downtown Partnership, and a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach.

Brown's Close: 2021 year-in-review

In some respects 2021 was a great improvement over 2020. People were rarely locked at home. Travel resumed. Vaccines and toilet paper were plentiful. In other ways, however, 2021 was disappointingly similar to 2020. Fights broke out in public places over sundry items. The Rockettes again cancelled their Christmas spectacular. One man was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iowa for beating up and coughing on someone who asked him to pull up his mask. In celebration of New Year’s Eve, let us review some of Brown’s Close's highlights from 2021: January: While there was an obvious riot in the Capitol, there were a few other, much neglected, events. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West broke up; Bernie Sanders wore mittens; and Anne Hathaway demanded everyone start calling her Annie.   February: The Kansas City Chiefs failed to score even one touchdown in the Super Bowl, devastating my coworkers in Kansas City. Also on Super Bowl Sunday, I participated in Alaska Ski for Women dressed as an apple.   March: While murder hornets plagued the world in 2020, a swarm of locusts pestered the citizens of Kenya in 2021. In other, chillier places, I finished near the bottom (but not last!) in the Tour of Anchorage ski race.   April: A blockage in the Suez Canal halted international commerce for six days. This made me wonder, when was the last time the Suez Canal was in the news — 1956?   May: In the normal course of my shopping, a retail store worker informed me Donald Trump was still the president. Her proof was a cell phone video of him walking out to “Hail to the Chief.” The video was presumably filmed in 2018.   June: Twitter was banned by the entire nation of Nigeria.   July: Simone Biles backed out of the Olympics due to a case of the “twisties.”   August: I took my dad to see “The Guess Who” at the Alaska State Fair. The entire week leading up to this event, I kept telling people we were going to see “The No Doubt,” and/or “The Good News.” At the concert, a pair of 60-year-old women seated in the wet section stormed the stage and sat on the edge of it for the remainder of the concert. The lead singer gamely came over and sat with them for a few songs.   September: The QAnon Shaman plead guilty to entering a restricted building. Not only known as the “QAnon Shaman,” I discovered he sometimes goes by “The Yellowstone Wolf.” He’s also the accomplished author of two self-published books.   October: Scared straight by news stories that Christmas would be cancelled by the supply chain crisis, I began my Christmas shopping.   November: I concluded my Christmas shopping, just in time for all gifts already purchased to go on sale for Black Friday.   December: One of my friends is from Minerva, Ohio. In lieu of a traditional Christmas movie, we sat down to watch famed Bigfoot documentary, “Minerva Monster.” The film, with an audience score of 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, does not have a critics rating. Minerva, Ohio, is, apparently, one of the most prominent sites for spotting Bigfoot. In 1978, Bigfoot terrorized the home of the Claytons over the period of several months. The Claytons claimed they mistook Bigfoot for a large hairy man who weighed over five hundred pounds. It’s unclear whether they know an actual person who fits this description. Nevertheless, the residents of Minerva were somewhat unconcerned with ensuring they proved Bigfoot’s existence. For example, one of the Claytons did claim he had photos of Bigfoot bites on his brother’s neck. He did not think to produce these for the documentary. Also, while the residents went through the trouble of collecting a sample of Bigfoot’s fur and sending it to Malone College for analysis, when the sample went mysteriously missing they took no steps to retrieve it. Just as the Claytons quietly accepted their Bigfoot DNA analysis was going awry, I am dutifully plodding into the new year expecting the chaos of the last two years to continue. However, let us be optimistic. From this mighty army of one at Brown’s Close, Happy New Year, and may we all have a more peaceful 2022.   Sarah Brown had an action-packed year. Before she gets too busy in 2022, tweet her @BrownsClose1 or email her at [email protected] “Close” is a British term for an alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

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