Monthly Archives: November 2014

Comment of the day: School lawsuit exposes how large portions of Alaska refuse to tax themselves

Here’s Lynn Willis on Superior Court Judge William Carey’s ruling that says local boroughs and municipalities are not required to pay a specific percentage of what they collect in taxes to pay for local school funding. Carey ruled that such mandates act like a “dedicated fund,” which are unconstitutional. During the campaign, Gov.-elect Bill Walker said that he supported the Ketchikan lawsuit that challenged the local funding mandate:

Regarding the school tax decision, I appreciate Bill Walker’s support of this litigation if his intention was to have this court decision finally force the issue the ability for large portions of Alaska to refuse to form local taxing authorities. John Havelock’s commentary in the ADN published today (25 Nov) speaks to this issue.

What is the motivation to form a local taxing authority when the Alaska Constitution actually discourages such action in Article 10 (Local Government) Section 6 ( Unorganized Boroughs) which states:

“The legislature shall provide for the performance of services it deems necessary or advisable in the unorganized boroughs, allowing for maximum local participation and responsibility. It may exercise any power or function in an unorganized borough which the assembly may exercise in an organized borough.”

Currently approximately half of my Anchorage property taxes are dedicated to fund local schools. Continue reading


Inside/Outside morning news roundup for 11.25

  • While Ferguson burned, the Fairbanks News Miner shone some light on an event in Anchorage that have people wondering if questionable use of force is not limited to our friends down south.  Early Sunday morning over 22 patrol cars filled with police in full riot gear converged on an “unsanctioned street party” where people were dancing and singing.  The presence of so many police didn’t seem to help matters.
  • A U.S. District Court judge temporarily halts the EPA’s process regarding Pebble Mine, according to APRN.
  • Superior Court Judge William Carey has ruled that local school districts are not required to help pay for education. The Fairbanks News Miner explains how this could impact the already cash-strapped state. During the campaign Gov-elect Bill Walker said that he supported the Ketchikan lawsuit that challenged the local funding mandate.
  • Gov.-elect Walker is in the process of interviewing and locking in potential cabinet members ahead of his December 1 inauguration. The Juneau Empire states that while Walker got many of the names on his short list from word of mouth, his website is still accepting resumes.
  • While many are focused on the New York Times’ line about Lt. Gov.-elect’s “thunderclap of ego control”, the article’s disclosure that Walker’s missed flight to Bethel was the impetus for the formation of the Unity Ticket.

Continue reading


Is it time for the state to get out of the aerospace business?

One of the potential cost-saving measures that was recommended during the Walker-Mallott transition conference this weekend was doing away with the Alaska Aerospace Development Corp., the corporation that runs the Kodiak Launch Complex, which was recently renamed the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska. Part of that renaming had to do with the corporation’s planned expanded mission, which, if it continues, would include “other aerospace business pursuits.” Such ideas include selling geospatial data and satellite imagery. According to the minutes of an August board meeting, which met a few days after the last failed missile test that left the facility greatly damaged, “launch operations alone may not generate sufficient revenues to maintain financial stability of the Corporation.”

The Aerospace Corp. was founded in 1991, and in 1994, it chose Kodiak as the place to build the launch pads for the missiles that were part of one of the nation’s first independent spaceports. From the start, it was controversial and way over budget.  But in 1998, the site launched its first missile and hope soared. The site, about an hour’s drive outside of Kodiak, was expected to get multiple annual contracts from the military and Kodiak was supposed to experience an economic boon.

None of that happened. Continue reading


Loose Lips: Post election junkets, galas and fundraisers

Loose LipsDid Alaska feel a bit empty to you last week? A bit lighter? A bit less filled with, say, hot air? I felt it and I wasn’t even here. Neither were Rep. Craig Johnson and Sen. Kevin Meyer, who were in Phoenix for some government thing. Sen. Lesil McGuire was in Seattle for a meeting. House Majority Leader Charisse Millett was in D.C. Rep. Scott Kawasaki’s head was in Hawaii, where he arrived on Friday. Rep. Lynn Gattis was somewhere. And 11 Alaskans were in Oregon, for the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses meeting, including. Sen. Click Bishop and Charlie Huggins, Sen.-elect Bill Stoltze, and Reps. Mark Neuman and Wes Keller. Other Alaskans included ADF&G Director of Wildlife Conservation Doug Vincent-Lang, Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease and Safari Club International Veep Eddie Grasser. Surprise: They talked a lot about fishing and shooting things and the feds who were keeping them from doing so.

Sen. Hollis French was also out of town, on his own dime even, which merits its own entry because if there’s anybody who deserves a state junket during the Walker-Mallott transition it’s French, who’s handled everything impressive je ne sais quoi. Remember that French gave up his Senate seat to run for governor. Then, under pressure from the party and others, he gave up that bid to Byron Mallott. And then under pressure, he gave up his lite gov.’s bid to Bryon Mallott. And now he and Peggy are in Los Angeles, among other things, checking out the Warhol exhibit at MOCA, and likely thinking a lot about a certain ticket’s 15 minutes of fame, a phrase coined by Andy Warhol.

Wondering what former state Sen. Dave Donley’s been up to lately? Well, if you go to the Thursday Night Fights you’ll likely run into him. He’s a scorer at ringside.  Continue reading


Inside/Outside morning news roundup for 11.24

  • DOD Chuck Hagel is out. By the time you read this, Pres. Obama will have probably already announced the resignation of his defense secretary. The Hill explains the reasons behind the long simmering frustration the administration has had with Hagel. Not to be outdone, Politico has their take on Hagel’s resignation.
  • Read all about the Walker-Mallott transition teams weekend talk-a-thon.
  • Could Michele Angelique Flournoy become the first female secretary of defense? The Huffington Post thinks so and lays out their case for this impressive (and completely qualified) person to don the mantle that has been reserved for men…until now?
  • The AP’s Becky Bohrer has the latest on Gov.-elect Walker’s possible first act as governor: appoint a new National Guard adjutant general since Gov. Parnell has chosen not to make this decision due to time constraints of the transition.
  • Hilcorp has agreed to purchase Point MacKenzie LNG plant–yes there is one up there– per the Peninsular Clarion. The sale is awaiting approval from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.

Continue reading


Walker-Mallott transition teams talked away the weekend

walker transition picTransitions, before political realities take hold, are always time for optimism. It’s before lawmakers and the governor head to Juneau. Before budgets and bills are introduced. Before committee hearings begin and the presentations start. Before the oilies and the anti-oilies and everyone in between muscle their way into things. Before all of this—particularly with this new administration that has put an Obama-like value on such things–anything feels possible. Mostly, it feels like everyone can get along and talk to one another. Ask nearly any of the 250 Alaskans who gathered for the Walker-Mallott transition at the UAA campus this weekend, and most would likely tell you a version of how wonderful it was that so many different types of people from all across the state gathered to talk to each other. Or, as co-chair of the transition Rick Halford put it, “It put a little less cynicism and a lot more hope,” into the process.

Indeed, hope did seem to abound during most of the 17 work sessions at the conference, where the 250 Alaskans gathered in groups to talk about some of the state’s more contentious issues and to provide recommendations to the governor on how to begin to solve those issues. There was unanimity, I’m told, in the healthcare committee, where they decided that the state’s Department of Health and Social Services needs new leadership and Medicaid needs to be expanded. In the fiscal policy committee, they agreed that the budget needed to be cut and that projects, including the Susitina damn,  the Knik Arm Bridge,  Juneau and Ambler Roads, and the buillet line needed to go. They also talked about doing away with the Alaska Aerospace Corp. And they came up with some nice, lofty goals in the economic development committee.

That’s not to say all went smoothly. Continue reading


Walker – Mallott transition asks for letters of resignation

Here’s an email that was sent from Bruce Botelho, the Walker-Mallott transition coordinator, to professionally exempt and partially exempt employees, requesting resignation letters to be delivered by next Friday, Nov. 28. As is pointed out by Botelho, the letters are customary in new administrations and acceptance is not automatic, As I understand it, however, the normal process is that the incoming governor makes the request of the incumbent to solicit such letters. For some reason, this wasn’t done here.

Here’s the letter:

Message from Bruce Botelho, Walker-Mallott Transition Coordinator:

On December 1, 2014, Governor-elect Bill Walker will be sworn into office.  Prior to and immediately after this date, he will be making personnel decisions concerning the staffing of Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, Director, Deputy Director, Special Assistant and other professional level exempt and partially exempt positions in his administration.

A preliminary and customary step in the transition between administrations is the request for resignation letters. In keeping with that custom, I ask that you submit your resignation from state employment in writing to the address noted below by November 28, 2014.  Please make your resignation effective upon acceptance by the Walker-Mallott administration. Of course, no action on your letter will be taken before the transition. Continue reading


Names of transition conference participants

Gov.-elect Bill Walker released the names of the official participants in this weekend’s transition conference. The 250 or so Alaskans will spend the weekend divided into small groups, which are open to the public, discussing 17 topics, ranging from corrections to administration to natural resources.  Read on for a list of the names, organized by subject area:  Continue reading


Walker announces DOR and DNR commissioners

Pending confirmation by the Legislature, Randall Hoffbeck will be the Department of Revenue commissioner and Mark Myers will be the commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources. I don’t know much about Hoffbeck, but I do know that Myers is very intelligent and capable.

Here’s the press release:

Governor-elect Bill Walker is pleased to announce that he has chosen Randall Hoffbeck as the Department of Revenue Commissioner. Hoffbeck served as the North Slope Borough’s chief financial officer from 2006 – 2011, and as Mayor Charlotte Brower’s chief of staff in 2012.

Hoffbeck brings 30 years of tax administration experience to the position, including his time as the petroleum property assessor for the state from 2001 – 2006.

Hoffbeck is currently serving in Kenya with his wife on a short-term medical mission. He received his master of divinity degree in October. Continue reading


Tough truths spoken at Walker’s transition-conference kickoff

Gov.-elect Bill Walker and Lt. Gov.-elect Byron Mallott both spent a few minutes with pep-talk speeches at that Friday night kick-off of the transition conference at the UAA campus, where words like “unity” and “cooperation” were bandied about. But, generally, if any of the 300 or so people attending the opening were expecting any kind of hopey changey thing, they were mightily disappointed.

The message: the price of oil has dropped precipitously, and we’re in trouble. As Amanda Ryder, an analyst at Alaska State Legislature, put it in a presentation, “It’s not looking like a pretty picture in the future.”

And whoever’s computer was used to project the slide presentations on the overhead apparently agreed. That person had chosen a screen saver with a picture of a serene forest, upon which were written the words: “One day you will die. You will be forgotten.” It was obviously a mistake, and was only up for less than a minute or so, but the person next to me, also squinting to see it, said, “At least they’re speaking some truths.”

Truths indeed. Continue reading


Wielechowski: Confidentiality in AGIA v confidentiality in the AK LNG line

In a comment, Alaska state Sen. Bill Wielechowski responds to questions about the differences between the confidentiality measures in AGIA, which he voted for, and the legislation passed last session that allows negotiations to advance an LNG line, which also include confidentiality agreements, which he didn’t vote for.

There are times when confidentiality provisions are necessary. In AGIA we had a confidentiality provision, but it was much more limited as the burden was on the organization seeking to keep something confidential to prove it was proprietary or a trade secret.

In SB 138, the legislature, wrongly in my opinion, allowed the Commissioner to “enter into confidentiality agreements to maintain the confidentiality of information related to contract negotiations and contract implementation associated with a North Slope natural gas project.” As a lawyer, you should know that “information related to contract negotiation and contract implementation” is way too broad, and potentially allows ANY discussions related to the gasline contract to be confidential and hidden from the Alaska public. This is unnecessarily withholding information from the public and bad public policy, in my opinion.

That said, some vital pieces of information have been kept confidential, like the results of the supposed failed 2010 open season, and what, exactly, the company spent $300 million of state dollars on while working under the AGIA license.


Obamacare’s very bad month

If you’re going to overhaul the whole healthcare system, then it’s probably a good idea not to continually make stupid, sloppy mistakes, and maybe even lie to the public, and in the process give a Republican controlled Congress all that much more justification to dismantle the program. (To make a weak comparison, it’s kind of like Sen. Anna Fairclough sending out a gasline “secrecy memo” on the eve of a takeover of a new administration that’s already skeptical of the project.). Here’s Sarah Kliff from Vox on Obamacare’s “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month:”

(W)hat should have been a great month for Obamacare has become a disaster — and all of it due to unforced errors on the part of the Obama administration and its allies.

A quick recap of Obamacare’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Month:

  • On November 7, the Supreme Court announced it would hear arguments in King v. Burwell, a lawsuit that could effectively dismantle the Affordable Care Act in 36 states.
  • Three days later videos surfaced of MIT economist Jonathan Gruber crediting the “stupidity of American voters ” with helping pass Obamacare (this was arguably GruberGate 2, separate and distinct from another Gruber controversy back in April).
  • Another week passes. Another controversy surfaces: it turns out the Obama administration wrongly included dental plans in sign-up figures, inflating sign-up numbers by about 400,000.

Kliff argues that the most generous interpretation of events is that the Obama administration and his allies are simply incompetent, which gives little conform to those of us millions who have signed up under the plan, and now risk having it all undone.


Comment of the day: How to solve illegal immigration problem

A reader responds to the story about the GOP’s response to Obama’s executive action plan on illegal immigration:

Republicans are so full of crap. For the most part, they have spent the last six years actively trying to prevent anything that could be even remotely construed as beneficial for the country from happening because a Democrat sits in the White House. So their complaints of “executive overreach”, however warranted they may be, seem like little more than sniveling tantrums to me. A fairly sizeable chunk of our economy is supported by the labor of illegal immigrants, and those enterprises that employ them are much more profitable than they would otherwise be, because it is understood that illegals can/will be exploited under the current paradigm. This tidy arrangement, where illegals quietly work for fractional wages because the ominous threat of deportation is always looming, works out quite nicely for those at the top. For the system to work, there must be both a pool of illegal labor to draw from (hence the porous borders), and the pretense of “patriotic nationalism”, bordering on xenophobia, which sustains the anti-illegal immigrant sentiment throughout the country. Republicans HAVE to jump up and down and feign moral outrage at the state of things, because it is the only way to keep the charade going.

If anybody, from any political party, really wanted to change the status quo Continue reading


Inside/Outside morning news roundup for 11.21

  • While it is old news that House District 36’s newly elected House member, Dan Ortiz (I) is caucusing with the minority Democrats, the Ketchikan Daily News reports that the reason was that he was given two choices: “Caucus with the Democrats or no caucus at all.” The majority didn’t invite him. Apparently, they are big enough that they didn’t need to extend an olive branch to the House’s only Independent legislator.
  • Unlike in Anchorage, the Peninsula Clarion reports that the Municipality of Kenai is being proactive in discussing marijuana in the borough in a realistic manner,
  • Jim Hunt can breathe a sigh of relief as the Seward City News announced that the December 4 Special City Council meeting for the city manager’s evaluation has been postponed to December 8.
  • Gov-elect Bill Walker spoke before the Resource Development Council yesterday where he extended an olive branch with the oil and gas crowd by saying, “You can’t be anything but pro-oil development in this state to be a successful governor in this state.” To which AOGA’s Kara Moriarty tweeted “Thanks for the shout out Gov.-elect Walker! AOGA looks forward to working with you to get more oil in the pipeline!” It all seemed so copasetic, until later that day, when Walker released the names of his transition chairs, which include Robin Brena, an artful lawyer who has spent years taking on the industry, and often winning. It seems to indicate that there’s probably no exchanging of friendship bracelets in their future.

Continue reading