Tag Archives: sean parnell

Busting the myth of small government conservatism in Alaska and beyond

myths factsThe New York Times confirms what many in Alaska already knew: we’re a big government state that hates big government. Another way of looking at it: we’re a big government state that’s completely hypocritical about our hatred of big government.

But at least we’re not alone.

The paper has a graphic and corresponding story about how, with few exceptions, states with a larger government presence are states which vote Republican, at least in the last presidential race. And the opposite is also true. Out of the 15 states with the lowest level of government employment, only two — Indiana and Tennessee — voted Republican.

The NYT made a graphic of government employment in all states. 24.9 percent of employed Alaskans work for the government. Only Wyoming beats Alaska, with 25.2 more government workers as a percentage of all employees. New Mexico, which did not vote Republican in the last election, comes in third.

The average percentage of government workers in all states is 16 percent.

Another interesting factoid from the NYT: since Republican Sean Parnell has been governor,  total government employment in the state has risen 3.9 percent.

Digging into those numbers shows that in 2012, there were 15,858 state employees, according to the Alaska Department of Labor. That’s more than a 5 percent increase since 2007, when the state had 15,064 employees. Not coincidentally, that was the year that oil prices began their rise, from $60 dollars a barrel to more than $100.

In 2007, the governor’s office, for one, employed 133 people. Five years later, in 2012, the governor’s office employed 143 people. That’s more than a 7.5 percent increase.

Also, since 2007, the average monthly salary of workers in the governor’s office has risen more than 20 percent, from $5238 a month to $6297 a month.

In the private sector, which Republicans laud, the increase was only about 17 percent during the same time period.

So much for small government conservatism.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


Alaska Railroad asking state for $40 million for safety upgrades

railroadThe Alaska Railroad Corp. is requesting that Gov. Sean Parnell include $40 million in his fiscal year 2015 budget submission for safety improvements to passenger service. The railroad is making the request to comply with federally mandated passenger safety upgrades. According to the railroad’s budget request, more than $150 million total will be required to complete the federal mandate by 2018.

The federal mandate “is too big a lift for our current financial situation to support,” railroad spokesman Tim Sullivan said.

Parnell will present his budget later this year.

The mandates were established by Congress in 2008 in response to train accidents. They are supposed to make rail service safer.

The railroad has already spent $63.8 million on the program, it says. That number includes $19.1 it received from the legislature last year, an appropriation that was requested by Parnell in the final hours of the legislative session without time for committee review or public comment. All told, the railroad will need an additional $69.7 million from 2015 to 2018 to complete the project.

The $40 million is for both fiscal year 2015 and 2016.

“At stake is the continuation of Alaska Railroad passenger service,” Sullivan said.

Roughly 400,000 people a year ride the railroad. About 60 percent of those passengers come to Alaska via cruise ships. It’s unclear how many Alaskans take the train. The direct financial impact to Alaska if the passenger service is disrupted is also unclear. The railroad is working on an impact study, Sullivan said.

A disruption would undoubtedly impact businesses and communities that rely on tourism.

The railroad and all its assets were transferred from federal to state hands in 1985 and was established as a state-owned corporation. Those assets now total about $989 million and include about 500 miles of railroad line and about 36,000 acres of land, about half of which are available for lease, and which accounted for roughly $10 million of the railroad’s revenue in 2012.

It does not pay state or corporate income taxes, nor any property taxes.

Its total revenue in 2012 was $190.4 million, including about $40 million of federal government grants.

According to the railroad’s annual report, operating revenues exceeded operating expenses by $3.8 million.

Unlike the Alaska Housing Finance Corp., another state corporation, the Legislature has no say over the railroad’s budget, and it doesn’t pay annual dividends to the state. The intent was for the corporation to use any profits to be self-sustaining. However since 1996, it has relied on federal grants to make ends meet, and state appropriations in the last few years for capital projects.

In the past, there have been discussions about giving the Legislature more control over the railroad’s budget through the Executive Budget Act, which the railroad has always strenuously opposed on grounds that they weren’t asking for or needed state appropriations.

Contact Amanda Coyne amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


Byron Mallott announces campaign kickoff

MallottSome candidates start their campaigns off with a bang, announcing their candidacy and then immediately traveling around the state on a 24 hour whirlwind tour kicking off their campaign. Other candidates seem to meander to the starting line.

Byron Mallott meandered. Mallott, who is running as a Democrat against Gov. Sean Parnell, first told the media his plans on Sept. 2. On Saturday, more than three weeks later, his campaign has announced a campaign kick-off scheduled for October 16th in Anchorage at the Alaska Experience Theater on 4th Avenue.

Mallott is 70 years old and brings a unique understanding and perspective to both government service and the private sector, as well as to the rural/urban divide that plagues Alaska. At 22, he was the mayor of Yakutat. He was commissioner of the Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs under Gov. Bill Egan. He served as mayor of Juneau before becoming the executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund. He was the CEO of Sealaska Corp, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, and has served on the board of many corporations, including Alaska Airlines and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. He’s clan leader of the KwaashKiKwaan clan of the Raven tribe of Yakutat. His wife Toni is a retired elementary school teacher.

Given his history, reputation, and his ties to Native corporations, the slow start won’t likely impede his fundraising abilities. The primary reason for state candidates seeking statewide office to announce over a year before the election is to raise money . State campaign finance laws allow individuals to give $500 and political action committees, or PACs, $1000 per calendar year. Corporate contributions are prohibited. Total out of state contributions for a gubernatorial candidate is limited to $20,000 per calendar year as well

By announcing in 2013 for the 2014 election cycle, candidates can get financial support from large and out of state donors both this year and next. Given the high costs of a statewide campaign, the low maximum contribution level, and our small population base, every day and every dollar counts.

Just last week alone, Gov. Sean Parnell had three fundraisers, two in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks, rumored to have raised collectively in the neighborhood of $40,000 – $50,000. Mayor Dan Sullivan, who is running for lieutenant governor, had a fundraising event in Palmer attended by almost 100 people.

You can bet that starting soon, Mallott will hit the campaign fund raising circuit hard.

Contact Amanda Coyne at  Amandamcoyne(at)yahoo.com


Why are some Republicans so nervous about Brad Keithley?

Brad Keithley, one of the potential independent candidates for governor, must have the Republican establishment scared. I know this because I get texts and emails from those political activists who appear to be scared. They are going through his voting record, trying to make the case that he’s a Democratic operative who moved to Alaska just to sabotage Gov. Sean Parnell, much like Vic Vickers, who moved to Alaska to run against Ted Stevens in 2008.

In order to run for governor, a person has had to live in Alaska for seven years. Keithley has said that he will have been here seven years if and when he files for governor.

Republicans are also trying to make his voting habits an issue. It appears that the first time Keithley voted in Alaska was in 2010. He freely admits this and says that he didn’t register to vote in Alaska when he first moved here from Texas and he doesn’t recall voting in Texas since 2000.

Their fear is understandable. Keithley has been talking and writing to an increasingly growing audience about the spending problem in Alaska. His point is a simple one: since oil prices began to rise in the mid 2000s, Alaska has been on a spending spree that rivals the last big spree the state went on in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

You can still see bumper stickers on cars that were made in the earlier spree’s honor. “Dear God, give us another oil boom and, this time, we promise we won’t piss it away,” it reads.

Keithley’s point: we have had another oil boom, and we’re pissing it away. A fact that he is continually hammering away on is that since Parnell took office, the budget has increased by 55 percent.

Parnell, it should be noted, calls himself a fiscal conservative.

It’s a simple message, and although we can argue about the best way to cut spending, it’s hard to argue that we shouldn’t at least try, unless you’re Parnell, who has no plans to significantly cut the budget for the next five years, or for as long as he’s in office if he gets a second term.

The people who benefit from all the state government largess —  people like the developer Mark Pfeffer, the master of sole source government contracts, and a prolific campaign contributor—aren’t likely happy about what Keithley is preaching. Those people are arguing that the state’s spending keeps Alaskans working. Which, as Keithley points out, sounds suspiciously like Obama’s stimulus plan. Unlike the federal government, however, nearly all of Alaska’s revenue comes from one source, and that one source is continually declining. Even if the producers do start to pump more oil because of the recent tax cut, the state is heading for a fiscal cliff.

According to UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, Alaska doesn’t have the savings to forestall a fiscal crisis much after 2023.

Keithley thinks that it’s important that Alaskans hear that message.

Keithley is threatening to run for governor, but hasn’t yet filed. If he does, there will be all sorts of time to dig deeply into his past. For now, however, he’s a private citizen speaking what he feels is a message that needs to be heard. Some, apparently, don’t want him to tell it.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


Keithley: Sticks and stones may break his bones. But politics? We’ll see.

laughAs I previously reported, Brad Keithley is making noises about running for governor. If he does so, he’d likely run as an independent, and he likely would be self-financed. He’s well-educated and cultured. He knows as much about college basketball and more about music than anyone who is running or has talked about running to date. And he’s also proving to be rather unorthodox compared to most politicians.

So far, in front of groups, on talk radio, and on his blog, he has focused on Gov. Sean Parnell’s handling of the state’s fiscal affairs, which could prove to be a major weakness for Parnell.

Under Parnell’s “fiscally conservative” administration, the budget has grown 55 percent. There are all sorts of reasons for this: declining federal funds and ballooning health care costs, to name a few. But there’s been loads of fat in Parnell’s budgets. And he’s done nothing to address what Keithley and others call a looming fiscal crisis. In fact, Parnell doesn’t even talk about it.

Inexplicably, Bill Walker let this one get away from him. Someone was bound to jump into the budget-sized opening. Too bad for Parnell that it increasingly looks like it’s Keithley who’s doing so.

That Keithley might have enough money to be self-financed, and not beholden to anybody, should be enough to make Parnell nervous. But already Keithley is proving that not being beholden also provides the flexibility to say and do what he pleases, and to break the so called “rules” of politics. This should be particularly unnerving for Parnell, who is nothing if not conventional.

Last week, for instance, Keithley posted correspondence on his blog that belittled his own candidacy. Most politicians would have tried to bury it. Keithley highlighted it by republishing the criticism in full, saying that it brought him “humor:”

Meant to tell you, I was recently at a meeting that included several Alaskan republican leaders. It was rumored that you were considering running for governor. When I heard their reactions, I was actually embarrassed for you. Of course democrat friends in JNU and on the hill hope you run, as there’s not a chance in hell you can win, but you will help push the vote in their favor. Best part? Several of those I mention above are people you told me were good friends and who you respect immensely. You are the laughing stock of that town. So gratifying to watch…

Keithley’s pitch-perfect response:

The humor? That ‘Alaskan republican leaders’ are wasting their time talking about personalities. (If you believe the writer, at least.) My recommendation? They spend their time instead talking about things that really matter, starting with ways to reduce the upcoming budget. Otherwise … they won’t be leaders for much longer.

Truth is, some Alaska Republicans, the smart ones, are talking about Keithley. In fact, they seem to be talking more about him than they are about Walker, who has been running for months. And they aren’t laughing.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com

Clarification: As far as I know, Keithley posted the correspondence in full. The author of the email that he published, however, says otherwise. 


Days of ‘spend baby spend’ are coming to an end

Budget cutsCutting government budgets is always difficult. There are always lots of needs, lots of government programs and services. And all of these needs, programs and services have constituencies. And all of these constituencies have a legislator or three who share their values and concerns. This is why government budgets are difficult to cut.

And it’s really hard to cut the budget when oil prices are sky high and revenues are gushing into our state coffers. In 2004, the state’s share of the operating and capital budget was about $2.3 billion. In 2011, it was about $5.4 billion. For fiscal year 2014, it’s expected to be more than $7 billion. Some of the explanation for the increase is the declining federal dollars that are coming into the state. Most of it, however, is simply out-of-control spending.

The budget has increased 55 percent since Gov. Sean Parnell took over.

Both parties bear the blame for this astronomical rise in state spending, but the Republicans bear the majority of it. They have mostly been in control of the Legislature and have held the governorship since 2002. And it’s worth noting that the governor in Alaska has the power of line item veto. Parnell could cut as much as he wants, if he chose to.

Until now, our fiscally conservative governor has chosen not to, mostly because he hasn’t had to. But due to the decline of oil production, coupled with the tax cut to oil companies, coffers are going to shrink in the coming years.

Spending is one of Parnell’s big vulnerabilities. And someone is bound to capitalize on it. Democrats, who are always complaining about budget cuts, aren’t in the position to do so. Independent candidate Bill Walker could be hammering away at this, but since announcing he’s been spending his time dealing in pipe dreams.

So Bradford Keithley, a former lawyer with Perkins Coie and now a consultant on oil and gas issues, looks to be diving into the wreck. On Monday, he told me that depending on how Parnell’s budget shapes out, he might run for governor, implying that he would do so as an independent.

Apparently, even mulling over the possibility is verboten to those fiscally conservative Republicans. Keithley has since been disinvited to speak about fiscal issues at the Republican Women’s Club meeting on Sept. 9, though his name is still on the agenda.

And that is likely just the start of what will be a slow but steady attempt at character assassination.

Nevertheless, Keithley or any other candidate, including Walker or Hollis French, could have considerable influence if they play their cards right and continually call attention to some specifics of what many would consider government gone wild with our money, paid for by big oil, thanks very much.

In 1975, U.S. Sen. William Proxmire from Wisconsin began to hand out what he called the “Golden Fleece Awards” calling out officials for specific examples of wasting public money. The Washington Post  called the award “the most successful public relations device in politics,” and it is still being used by various groups today.

It seems that something like this could be put to good use in Alaska.

There are probably lots of areas where the budget could be cut. Here are a few examples, some of them very small, some not so small, of areas that have either raised eyebrows or will be subject to scrutiny in the next legislative session:

  • The state paid $6.3 million for the movie “On Frozen Ground.” To recap: the state paid that much to help Hollywood make the film about Alaska’s baker serial killer. That might have been all well and good. Lots of Alaskans were hired and got brief roles in the film, and at least one lefty blogger got to have dinner with John Cusack. However, somehow $6.3 million doesn’t even buy you an opening in Anchorage. Worse yet, Anchorage is portrayed in the film as an “anteroom of hell.” As one reviewer put it, “The folk at the local tourist board will watch it through their fingers.”
  • Alaska is one of four states that doesn’t require its state workers, including state legislators, to pay some portion for monthly health care premiums as part of their health care benefits package. The average that other state workers pay is 20 percent.
  • The Alaska Railroad managed to get $14 million put in the last budget in the final hours of the legislative session, per Parnell’s request. And it will need more than $100 million in the next three to five years to comply with federal regulations to continue passenger service. Some members of the Legislature are frustrated with the railroad. First it has a reputation of arrogance, particularly when dealing with the 17,970 acres that it either leases out, or often refuses to lease out. Secondly, it opposes being subjected to the Executive Budget Act, which would give legislators a greater role in its budget.
  • Grants to supposed nonprofits that haven’t gotten it together to become an official nonprofit in the eyes of the IRS could or should be in trouble. I’ve found at least three examples of this during a cursory search, including the Moose Federation, which has gotten more than $2 million dollars to, among other things, keep the boys who run the program driving big, brand new trucks. The Gulf of Alaska Keeper got $1 million for tsunami clean up. At last posting by the IRS, Paxson Community Affairs , which received about $48,000 last year, had its IRS tax exempt status revoked in 2011. Warning: just because they aren’t tax exempt organizations doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing good work. However, it might be telling that they claim to be nonprofits, but aren’t really. As I said, these are just a few examples and there are likely many others.
  • The state gave the Alaska State Fair more than $718,000 in the 2013 fiscal year. The fair paid its lobbyist $110,000. That’s more than the Municipality of Anchorage pays their lobbying team, more than the Mat-Su Borough pays their two lobbyists combined, and more than any utility pays their lobbyist in the entire state.
  • Perhaps it was for good reason, but that the Department of Natural Resources recently paid $20,000 to Bear Mountain Lodge in Southwest Alaska, and $54,000 to Perrins Rainy Pass Lodge in the Alaska Range. Both were categorized as travel expenses.
  • The Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development (DCCED) is spending $700,000 to create a new “brand” for Alaska goods, which is all well and good, and might actually do some good. But the plan will focus on developing the state’s smaller marketing programs like minerals, forest products, agriculture, film, and other Alaska made goods, goods of which — aside from minerals — Alaska produces very little.

Once again, these are just a few examples of what could be construed as government waste. At least some of these programs, and others, will likely come under scrutiny at budget time. More examples to come. Stay tuned.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


Gov. Sean Parnell’s friends with benefits

In 2008, the New York Times swooped into the state after Sarah Palin’s veep announcement and wrote about how many friends she had hired as governor. “The Wasilla High School yearbook archive now doubles as a veritable directory of state government,” the paper wrote. Many of us already knew this to be the case, but we collectively shrugged our shoulders. This kind of stuff happens in Alaska all the time, in a small state with a shallow talent pool, in a place so far away from the rest of the country.

Successful people, in a position to do so, do often hire their friends and people in their social circles. Generally there’s nothing wrong with that. It can get a little murky, however, when you’re in public office and your friends and their friends are being paid with public money.

To be clear: just because something’s murky doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. But it is something to watch. And Gov. Sean Parnell’s penchant for hiring friends and being good to friends of friends, no matter how talented and well qualified, needs many more eyes on it than it currently has.

Parnell was a legislator from 1992 to 2002. It’s said that during that time among his closest friends were Sen. Pete Kellly, former Sen. Gene Therriault and former Rep. Mark Hanley.

Below is a list of what has happened to them and some of their staff since:

  • Sen. Pete Kelly left the Legislature in 2003 to work as a university lobbyist. Parnell hired him in 2009 as a special assistant in the governor’s office shortly after Palin resigned. Parnell supported Kelly in his bid to get back into the Legislature in 2012.
  • Back when Parnell and Kelly hung out together as legislators, Parnell got to know Kelly’s legislative aide Bryan Butcher. After winning the election, Parnell hired Butcher to be his commissioner of Revenue. More recently, Parnell moved Butcher to Alaska House Finance Corp. where he’ll serve as executive director, making a whopping $250,000 a year. It should be noted that Butcher’s qualifications include a degree in speech communication from Oregon University.
  • Shortly after Palin resigned, Parnell hired former Sen. Gene Therriault as a special adviser on energy. The hiring was ultimately deemed illegal by Alaska’s attorney general because Therriault had not yet been out of the Legislature for a year prior to the hire. Therriault then went to work for Golden Valley Electric in Fairbanks, where, among other things, he worked to try to get the state to help finance a natural gas liquefaction plant on the North Slope. After being liquefied, the gas would be trucked to Fairbanks. In 2012, Therriault left Golden Valley and Parnell appointed him to be the deputy director of Alaska’s Energy Authority, a division of Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA. In both of these roles, Therriault was instrumental in getting Parnell’s support for the trucking plan and the liquefaction plant. A bill was passed last legislative session which included $362.5 million of financing for the plan, including giving AIDEA the authority to offer $275 million in low interest financing.
  • Therriault’s staff did pretty well too. Joe Balash for one, went from Therriault’s office to work as a special assistant to Parnell. He then moved to DNR as deputy commissioner and is now the acting commissioner. Heather Brakes, also from Therriault’s office, is Parnell’s legislative director. Former Therriault staffer Wilda Laughlin was the DHSS legislative liaison until a recent ill-fated, hot mic issue. She’s still at HSS, but in a less high profile position.
  • Then there’s former Rep. Mark Hanley. He left the Legislature in 1998 to work for big bucks in the oil industry; however, he also worked closely with Parnell as a kitchen cabinet adviser and helped him prepare his first budget. Possibly coincidentally, in 2011 Mark’s brother Mike was appointed as Commissioner to the Department of Education. Kip Knudson who worked for Hanley was hired to run the state’s airports and later took over Parnell’s Washington D.C. office when John Katz retired. Michelle Toohey also worked for Hanley. She was in Parnell’s press office until moving to Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell’s office, where she is chief of staff.

It’s often the case that politicians hire friends and reward political support and loyalty. But just because it happens all the time doesn’t mean that we should collectively shrug our shoulders.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


Parnell’s communication team needs to get out more

5475643_mThere are many people in Alaska who believe that cutting taxes on oil companies is something that is necessary for the state’s economy. I’ve met many, from small shop owners to waiters to teachers. They know that more than 90 percent of Alaska’s economy is dependent on oil. They believe the oil companies when they say that the only way to stem the decline of production is to make Alaska a more fiscally attractive place to do business.

These are people who have no direct ties to the oil industry, but somehow they’ve internalized enough of the debate to be able to make up their minds.

I don’t know if I agree with them, but I have at least heard these people talk, and felt the pull of their stories. Apparently, nobody in Gov. Sean Parnell’s communications office has, because if they had, they would have put these people on camera to share their opinions instead of the people they chose to try to help gain support for Parnell’s tax bill and to try to buttress support against a repeal.

The governor’s press office sent out an email today, urging the media to take note of what people are saying about the tax bill. “Alaskans from across the state are speaking up about the opportunities they are seeing in their communities as a result of the More Alaska Production Act,” the press office said.

It then sent readers to the “More Alaska Production Act,” website, where four Alaskans talk about the impact the tax cut is having on their businesses and places of work.

All four Alaskans work for businesses that provide services to oil companies.

Don’t get me wrong. These are important businesses that put people to work. These are businesses that have huge effects on our economy, and the people who work for them are likely good people. Their voices should be heard.

It’s just that neither the engineer working for Ch2M Hill, the company that bought VECO, nor the CEO of Little Red Services, an oil services business, are going to win the hearts and mind of Alaskans who need to be won over.

What the “fiscally prudent” administration has seemingly done, once again, is to waste government money by preaching to the choir about the tax bill.

But what’s more disturbing is that the communications office, the one office that is supposed to actually communicate with the public, couldn’t seem to find anybody who isn’t directly tied to the oil industry to appear on camera. Perhaps stepping out of their cushy government offices and popping out of their tiny social bubbles would require too much work, to say nothing of answering media questions in a direct and timely manner.

Perhaps it’s easier to sit among themselves, chalking up to media bias the 50,000 signatures gathered to repeal the tax bill.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com 


BW2 : A “squared” idea that sounds cool to some of Parnell’s opponents

Bill W2Fourteen percent of Alaska voters are registered Democrats. About 27 percent are Republicans. The rest belong to the Libertarians, Alaska Independent Party and the vast majority are undeclared. So those who want to beat Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, whose term is up next year, had an idea: put parties aside and join the independent candidate for governor with the likely Democratic nominee.

And if those candidates are both named Bill, and both have last names that start with W, you’ve at the very least a good campaign logo: Meet “BW2.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Bill Walker, the gubernatorial candidate, is a Republican at heart and that he’s friends with Democrat Sen. Bill Wielechowski, the potential lieutenant governor, and that both have the potential for populist appeal.

To be clear: right now, the scheme seems more of a quixotic Facebook campaign than anything. But the two have been talking about the possibility. Walker said that although he’s a Republican, he and Wielechowski agree on more issues than they disagree, particularly oil taxes.

Walker isn’t the firebrand on the issue that Wielechowski is, but he doesn’t think that the bill that passed, SB21, had the necessary investment assurances and said that he wouldn’t have voted for it if he were in a position to do so.

Pollster Ivan Moore, whose been pushing the BW2 idea, is sure that this is the only chance to beat Parnell, whose support is relatively strong statewide and especially among Republicans.

“The only ticket that could possibly beat Parnell right now is a ticket that unites moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats,” Moore said.

“If the Democrats put someone in the race now, it dooms the Democrats and independents and instantly reelects Parnell,” he said.

Word is that the Democratic Party is none-too-happy about the possibility and has been trying to pressure Wielechowski to abandon the idea. But the party doesn’t really have that much leverage these days. Its numbers are down. Campaign finance reform that the Dems pushed for has greatly limited its fundraising ability. And its bench of candidates is dismally short.

If nothing else, it would be fun and could provide the kind of excitement that Parnell seems incapable of generating.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


Obamacare: the politics of delay and denial

Obamacare On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Don Young voted on a bill to give President Obama the authority to delay, by a year, the employer health care mandate portion of Obamacare. The mandate was to go into effect in 2014, and would have required businesses that employ more than 50 full-time workers to provide affordable insurance, or else be subject to a fine.

This doesn’t mean that Young approves of Obamacare. Young, who has for more than four decades been the beneficiary of some of the best tax funded health care available, has been one of the bill’s staunchest critics. In a release on Tuesday, he called it “one of the worst bills Congress has ever passed,” and promised to continue to advocate for full repeal.

Many critics of Obamacare crowed after the administration announced the delay in the mandate. Others, however, saw a greater game at work, one that could ultimate strengthen the program.

Now that employer mandates are off the table, at least temporarily, the thought is that people are increasingly going to be signing up for individual coverage. Such coverage was always available to the individual, but often times it was too costly, overly burdensome to get, and many were denied due to pre-existing conditions. However, insurance exchanges, one of the key provisions of Obamacare, are still set to be up and running by the end of this year, and individual coverage could be cheaper and easier to get under those exchanges.

Recently, California announced that such exchanges could cut rates for individual insurance by up 29 percent for some consumers. And on Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that New Yorkers who buy individual policies will most likely see their premiums cut by half in 2014.

Beginning in October, individuals in New York City who now pay $1,000 a month or more for coverage will be able to buy that plan for as little as $308 monthly. The costs could be lower with federal subsidies.

That consumers might find individual health care insurance affordable makes Obamacare foes nervous. The public, once it tries it, actually might like it. They might actually be able to afford the kind of insurance that state and federal officials get. Such a notion is anathema to many, including Young and Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, as well as other Republican governors. Parnell, among others, has refused to help set up those exchanges. The feds are doing it for Alaska, no matter that if the state cooperated, the exchanges would be better for residents.

Apparently, Parnell and others would leave uninsured Alaskans uninsured in the hopes that they can force Obamacare to fail.

Some Republican governors however, seem to have the health of their residents more in mind than partisanship. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for example, said that he’s not fighting Obamacare because it was in the best interest of New Jersey for its residents to have access to affordable healthcare.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


Cost of opting out of Medicaid expansion

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, originally sought to coerce states into expanding Medicaid to everyone who makes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. States that refused to go along with the expansion would have been denied federal Medicaid funding. However, in the Supreme Court ruling that upheld health reform, the justices also found that such coercion was unconstitutional. Now, the states can decide whether or not to enact the Medicaid expansion.

Alaska is one of seven states that is still deciding. Thirteen have opted out and Iowa is trying to create its own policy.

Most governors of the states that have either opted out of the expansion or are undecided, including Gov. Sean Parnell, have cited costs of expansion.

But a recent study by Rand Corp. published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs calculates the impact of the states opting out of the Medicaid expansion, and finds that opting in is good fiscal policy:

With fourteen states opting out, we estimate that 3.6 million fewer people would be insured, federal transfer payments to those states could fall by $8.4 billion, and state spending on uncompensated care could increase by $1 billion in 2016, compared to what would be expected if all states participated in the expansion. These effects were only partially mitigated by alternative options we considered. We conclude that in terms of coverage, cost, and federal payments, states would do best to expand Medicaid.

Currently, about 125,000 Alaskans are without insurance. Because health care is so expensive here — more expensive than anywhere else in the country — many who are insured only have catastrophic coverage. Medicaid expansion in Alaska would cover roughly 32,000 Alaskans by 2014, the time when the Medicaid provision of the law would be enacted. The federal government will cover all of the costs of that expansion for the first five years. By 2020, the states will pick up about 10 percent of the costs.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


Parnell urges UA president to ‘take a stand’

Gov. Sean Parnell wrote a letter to University of Alaska President Pat Gamble on Thursday, urging him to “take a stand,” regarding issues that have plagued University of Alaska Anchorage’s athletic program.

In the letter, Parnell referred to news reports about UAA’s failing hockey program and a 2011 assault between a hockey coach and a student. Parnell said that he has “waited for action from the University’s leadership; however, to date no decisions appear to have been made nor communicated publicly.”

Since news broke three weeks ago on the assault (read more here), the university has been stone silent. Until recently, so was Parnell.

Parnell’s later is dated May 23. Presumably, the letter was leaked shortly thereafter to UAA Athletic Director Steve Cobb, who has been the source of many complaints about the athletic program, and has also been implicated in the alleged cover-up of the assault. Sources say that on Saturday Cobb told his staff about the letter and wondered aloud if his days at UAA may be numbered.

On Monday, Cobb supporters Don Winchester and Steve Nerland sent out a statement in support of Cobb. In that statement, the two seemed to blame the rivalry between UAF and UAA for the controversy surrounding Cobb.

‘”The UAA domination of UAF that (sic) probably doesn’t go over well in Fairbanks up on the Hill,”‘  the statement read. “Nerland, who was born and grew up in Fairbanks was referring to the UA Statewide Administration Building which is on a viewpoint rise high above the Tanana Valley overlooking Fairbanks.”

Winchester said that he “would bet…that secretly UAF wishes they would have as an effective and experienced administrator as Dr Steve Cobb.”

Read Parnell’s letter here: 5.23.13 Patrick Gamble – University Athletics

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


Captain Zero alert

During Gov. Sean Parnell’s tenure, Alaska Department of Labor hired Judge Paul Pozonsky who was being actively and openly investigated by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office at the time of his hire. Pozonsky has been charged for pilfering cocaine while on the bench in Pennsylvania. He is the brother-in-law of Chuck Kopp, a short lived Alaska public safety commissioner under Palin and current staffer for Alaska state Sen. Fred Dyson.

This happened under Parnell’s watch and yet he refuses to comment. Quote from the ADN:

A spokeswoman for Gov. Sean Parnell would not answer questions about the case Thursday, including whether Parnell believes failure to vet candidates is a widespread problem in the state and whether Pozonsky was given special consideration for the job because of personal connections to current or former state employees. The spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, referred all inquires to the Labor Department.

You guessed it: Labor’s spokesperson is on vacation until June 3.

What could Parnell be thinking? Who in heaven’s name is advising him to stay mum? Does he have laryngitis? Is he scared? Does his simply not care? Does he have something to hide?

To the extent that this debacle could have been avoided as a big campaign issue, Parnell’s silence assures that it will stay front-and-center. That is, if any challenger or Alaska’s Democratic Party has any political instincts, which still remains to be seen.

Contact Amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


The ‘quiet governor’ creates noise

Early evening Friday announcements are normally reserved for bad news and document dumps. So, that Gov. Sean Parnell would announce his future intentions on a Friday after 5 p.m. struck many, including this writer, as flatfooted. Then again, Parnell’s not known for his ability to generate excitement. In fact Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell once called him a “quiet governor” in front of a group of businessmen and officials from all across the globe visiting Alaska to discuss opportunities in the Arctic. The president of Iceland was there. Parnell was somewhere else being quiet.

But sometimes—well at least once anyway—he gets it right. In the weeks leading up to Parnell’s announcement, nearly all of Alaska’s political establishment had assumed that he would forgo a run for U.S. Senate against Sen. Mark Begich and instead stay the course. But in the hours leading up to Parnell’s 5:50 p.m. announcement in Fairbanks, the political trap lines were buzzing. Had everyone been wrong?  In the past weeks, had Parnell been able to muster the political courage to take Begich on?

Why else would he choose to make an announcement at an event—the Alaska Republican Women’s Convention– where both Rep. Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski were in attendance?

Even those who should have known were second guessing their assumptions. The backbone of Alaska’s Republican Party was in Fairbanks waiting to hear his plans. Party stalwarts like don’t-mess-with-Paulette Simpson from Juneau was there.  Rhonda Boyles from Fairbanks and newly elected Rep. Lynn Gattis from Wasilla, were there.  (Everyone knows that you shouldn’t mess with them either.) Sen. President Charlie Huggins and House Speaker Mike Chenault showed. The room was packed. Everyone waited and whispered.

So, an announcement that might have been as exciting as waiting for water to boil-turned into an event. It might just be the most exciting one of the governor’s race.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com