Monthly Archives: December 2014

Loose Lips: The last boy scout. Keep calm and give Eskimo kisses. Solving one fiscal crisis.

Loose LipsOn Monday night at the New Horizon hanger in Palmer, over 100 Valley residents turned out to visit Sen.-elect Dan Sullivan and his wife Julie. Sen. Mike Dunleavy, who showed with his pistol but without his mule, helped organize the event. He and Palmer Mayor DeLana Johnson were the emcees, which they did a rather unique job of. As Sullivan stood on the sidelines waiting to talk, they continually passed the mic back and forth because they kept on forgetting that they had just one other thing to say. But Valley conservatives—many of whom leave their cushy government jobs at the office when they clock out at 4:30 p.m.—tend to be a patient bunch, and a plethora of cookies helped. Sen. Charlie Huggins also spoke before Sullivan had at it. He made some allusion to Dan Sullivan being the “last boy scout,” which may or may not have had something to do with a 1991 Bruce Willis film involving a pro-football team, a politician and a murder. But Huggins, as he always does, spoke with enough confidence and aplomb that everyone seemed convinced that something prophetic was being said. But the crowd—including Sullivan–was sincerely and understandably touched when Tammy Miller, president of the Mat-Su Republican Women’s Club, presented Sullivan with a pair of cuff links that were made by Sen. Ted Stevens that read, “To Hell with Politics. Do What’s Right for Alaska.” But what brought the crowd to their feet was when Sullivan paid tribute to Alaska’s veterans and introduced Wayne Woods, a gold star parent, and Cajun Bob Thoms, a Vietnam vet who is the recipient of a silver star, two bronze stars and six purple hearts. Other legislators spotted: Reps. Bill Stoltze. Shelley Hughes, Wes Keller and Lora Reinbold. Also there: Bethany Marcum, Mike Coons, Ben and Kathleen Rowell, MEA’s Joe Griffith, Sonya Walden, Joe Balash, John Shepherd, Dave and Dana Cruz, Becky Huggins, Rep.-elect Cathy Tilton, John Lee, Noel and Jean Woods, Curtis Thayer, John Harris, Otto and Nancy Feather, Myrna Maynard, Mat-Su Borough Mayor  Larry DeVilbiss and Assemblyman Steve Colligan, former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and his mother Anne, and Wasilla City Council member Gretchen O’Barr.

Speaking of Mead Treadwell: He told me on Monday night that he was “not ruling out” running for Anchorage mayor. Continue reading


Standard & Poor’s warns that Alaska must reduce deficit to keep credit rating

In an analysis of the fiscal situation in Alaska, Standard & Poor’s wrote that in order to keep its credit rating, Alaska must reduce the budget deficit given the low price of oil.

“Although the rapid decline in oil prices exacerbates Alaska’s existing fiscal budget deficit, whether it will weaken the state’s credit quality will depend on the state’s budgetary response,” the credit rating service wrote. In most other cases, a $3.5 billion, equal to 57 percent of general fund expenditures, would “likely result in immediate negative rating consequences.” However, S&P is not changing its ratings yet because of the state’s large budget reserves, as well as the ability of the state to tap into the Permanent Fund earnings reserve balance, and the constitution budget reserve.

A decline in Alaska’s credit rating could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Here’s S&P’s analysis in full:

Alaska has built up layers of budgetary reserves that allow it to absorb one or two years of large operating  deficits — just outside of our outlook time horizon –at its current rating level. But in order for it to avert credit quality deterioration, we believe the state must make material progress in reducing the deficit in its fiscal 2016 budget.  Continue reading


Quote of the day: Bauer takes Demboski to task over pot ordinance  

The opinionated Anchorage mayoral candidate Paul Bauer Jr. took a side-swipe on Facebook at fellow candidate for mayor Assemblywoman Amy Demboski over her proposed ordinance to ban pot in Anchorage, which failed.

My position: Marijuana. I did not vote for Ballot Measure #2, the legislation to legalize the drug marijuana in our community. I could not support legalizing inhaling a drug substance as I view it as a toxin to my body and to others around me.

However, contrary to the oppositions statements of a slim margin win; the people of Alaska spoke with a 53-47 percentage approval to tax and regulate the production, sale, and use of marijuana for adults 21 and over.

The ordinance by a mayoral candidate on the Assembly to “opt out” of the discussion Continue reading


Inside/Outside morning news roundup for 12.18

  • The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner covered the final day of hearings on the proposed Amber road project. Opposition is building and was vocal at yesterday’s meeting.
  • KTOO has an in-depth feature on how whistle-blowers and victims in the Alaska National Guard sex abuse scandal went unheard.
  • The Department of Health and Social Services has created and filled a new position to help the state reach its goal of expanding Medicaid. APRN announced the “lucky” person to steer this behemoth challenge is Chris Ashenbrenner.
  • wonders if Gov. Walker can overcome GOP opposition to successfully expand Medicaid.
  • The story-breaking machine Becky Bohrer broke the story about how the federal natural gas pipeline coordinator’s office is scheduled to close due to budget redistribution.
  • Austin Baird of KTUU compiled Facebook and Twitter posts on post-November 4th lives of Gov. Walker and former Gov. Parnell and wonders who really won that day.

Continue reading


Meet First Lady Donna Walker

Last Friday, I sat down with Alaska’s new First Lady for about an hour and a half in the family’s beautiful Turnagain home, a home with a view of the inlet that her husband, Gov. Bill Walker built. He’s handy like that, she said. Building things, moving things around, pounding nails is his therapy, she said, which she admitted can be a mixed blessing. If she’s the steady one, the homebody, the one who pays the bills and keeps the family on schedule, he’s always on the move, always fixing things, often enlisting the help of those around him. His children’s friends used to call the new governor, “the animal” because he had so much energy.

“Don’t get around Mr. Walker unless you’re ready to knock down a wall,” the kids said.

donna walker.jpg II.jpg III

The home has some Alaska art on the walls. But the dominant decorations are the pictures of the four Walker children, and now a few of their children, with more little ones on the way.

We’ve heard a lot about Bill Walker, but I wanted to hear more about his wife Donna. I wanted to meet her. I hardly knew anything about her. And if I didn’t, chances are I’m not alone. Most who have seen her on television, say, or on the campaign trail, would likely describe her as a strong, independent woman. And she is. She’s the first First Lady of Alaska with a law degree. Ask anybody who was involved in the campaign and they’ll tell you how involved she was, how keenly smart she is and how she kept everything organized and kept the wheels running. Continue reading


Quote of the day: Should we cut Alaska’s space program?

From Democratic Rep. Les Gara’s newsletter:

At a time of $3 billion budget deficits, continuing the spending of $58 million in state funds over the past five years, on a nearly idle Kodiak Rocket Launch facility which has LAUNCHED ONLY 2 successful rockets since 2010, is not fiscally prudent. Three days of successful and failed launches in nearly 2,000 days is not a model of success. I’ve listened to five years of promises by proponents telling the Legislature they are about to turn the corner, sign big contracts, and stop losing money. The “we’re about to sign a big contract” line is getting old, and expensive.  I hope this facility has value.  If it does, the private sector can measure that, and, in my personal view, purchase it and run it more successfully.

Read more about the state’s space program here. Also read about the new plans for the facility here. 


Comment of the day: Why not use coal to power Fairbanks?

Here’s a comment from Andy, who’s wondering why Fairbanks is so intent on LNG when there’s a gargantuan coal deposit right down the road. I know next to nothing about this, and don’t have time today to dig into it. Anybody have thoughts?

Energy is energy, it comes in all sorts of forms. The easiest and cheapest is low cost electricity, which can run everything, including vehicles…The most economical electrical power is obtained from nuclear, which we all know is a no starter. The next in line is coal. We have clean coal technology that produces EPA-approved emissions. Given the fact that Alaska is blessed with a gargantuan amount of low sulfur, high BTU coal, it is a shame that the interior cannot benefit from this. The Healy plant, capable of 175 megawatts ( I think), would produce electricity to power 175,000 homes. That’s a big chunk of Fairbanks.

Take the big bucks going to LNG, and you could get Healy up and running, and build another plant as well. Tie these two plants to a common statewide grid and voila, problem solved. Alaskan coal would be a stable, predictable fuel cost, and provide cheap electricity for generations. Why we continue to pump money into oddball energy schemes is bizarre.

Walker et al need to get serious about an energy plan and stop pussyfooting around with these fantasies. Clean coal technology for those on the grid, and LNG for the bush via barges, makes sense. The plethora of electrical fiefdoms needs to be addressed as well. An energy policy may help that problem as well, and don’t forget to drop the crazy renewable mandate.


Inside/Outside morning news roundup for 12.17

  • Gov. Bill Walker told the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce yesterday that he isn’t expecting oil to rebound and that fact will be reflected in budgets going forward, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
  • In really bad news, Bloomberg announced that Moody’s Investor Service has downgraded Alaska’s outlook credit rating to negative since the price of crude is so strongly attached to Alaska’s revenue.
  • The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the AIDEA board is considering an extension for the challenged LNG trucking project, which has people wondering if it’s going to happen at all.
  • The Anchorage Assembly finished the coup that it began last week! Alaska Commons reports that Patrick Flynn was voted out as chair and was replaced by Dick Traini with the ever-enviable Elvi Gray-Jackson as vice chair.
  • In other Anchorage Assembly news, Suzanna Caldwell covered last night’s meeting where Assemblywoman Amy Demboski’s proposed ban on commercial marijuana was killed 9-2, which likely really bummed the Mat-Su Valley out.
  • The end of the 113th Congress is official. While many people have remarked on this event with rather-err- colorful words, the Washington Post gathered quotes from senators who were on their way out the door. One of them, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine from Virginia, even quoted Wittgenstein.

Continue reading


Tweets of the day: Walker talks energy in Fairbanks as LNG trucking project stumbles

Gov. Bill Walker spoke to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, where according to Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reporter Matt Buxton, he said this:

If there is one bright spot in the tumbling price of oil, it’s that low oil prices will bring down the cost of heating fuel in Fairbanks. So, in this area at least, Walker doesn’t really have to do much.

However, he will have to do a lot if he’s serious about this: Continue reading


AIDEA announces $17 million dividend to the state

Speaking of AIDEA, the board on Tuesday approved a $17.65 million dividend to the state, which will go into the general fund. Since its inception, the state agency, charged with providing project financing, has returned $373.5 million to the state in dividends. Also, according to an AIDEA board member, the agency plans to reduce its budget by 10 percent this coming year.

Here’s the press release:

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) Board on Tuesday approved a dividend of $17,650,000 to the state general fund for Fiscal Year 2016. The dividend represents 50% of AIDEA’s FY2014 Revolving Fund net income for dividend computation purposes of $35.3 million.

“We are pleased to announce this dividend to the State of Alaska,” said AIDEA Board Chairman Dana Pruhs. “Our dividend is another great example of AIDEA’s valuable contribution to Alaska’s economy.”

Since the dividend program’s inception, AIDEA has declared more than $373.5 million to the state, including the $17.6 million approved Tuesday.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is a public corporation of the state. AIDEA’s purpose is to promote, develop and advance the general prosperity and economic welfare of the people of Alaska.



Comment of the day: About the Ambler Road

The idea of building the 200 mile road that would connect the Ambler mining district to the Dalton Highway has been around since the 1960s. And like many projects in the state, the idea made yet another appearance when oil prices began to spike. The road would provide access to copper, zinc, lead and silver deposits that stretch for about 75 miles between the Brooks Range and the upper Kobuk River.

Gov. Bill Walker recently cut out the $8 or so million that had been allocated to AIDEA, which took over the project from DOT, to continue with the environmental impact statement application. So far, the state agency has spent about $3 million on studies, engineering and community outreach. It has about $5 million left. All told, it will need about $10 million to pay the third-party contractor to finish the EIS application, which is expected to be completed yet this year. It’s important to note, however, that as envisioned, the road, which would cost as much as $300 million, is expected to be paid for by the mining industry, much like the road leading to the Red Dog Mine. The upkeep will be paid for by mining-industry tolls.

AIDEA spokesperson Karsten Rodvik wanted to emphasize that AIDEA is looking forward to working with the governor and is awaiting his direction.

Anyway, that’s what I learned today, and that there’s a rabbit hole in the middle of that road, which I fell down today when I was trying to fact check Lynn Willis’ comment about the project, which also got him into the LNG trucking project, which I didn’t even touch. This is what Willis had to say about the two: Continue reading


Obama declares Bristol Bay off limits to oil exploration

Here’s President Obama announcing his decision to invoke executive action to make Bristol Bay off limits to oil and gas leasing. It’s being hailed as a big victory by environmentalists and local groups. Sen. Mark Begich also weighed in: “I stand with the majority of Alaskans who agree that protecting Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery is a top priority.” To me the action seemed largely symbolic. No one seems to have any immediate plans to develop oil and gas in the area. It does, however, call to attention the value of the world-class fishery in Bristol Bay.


Inside/Outside morning news roundup for 12.16

  • Gov. Bill Walker’s dramatic spending cuts to the capital budget were yesterday’s story du jour. Read about those cuts here, here, and here. And keep in mind that those cuts to the capital budget were akin to sweeping off chicken feed compared to what’s coming in the operating budget.
  • Jeb Bush announced on Facebook that he is “actively” exploring a 2016 presidential bid. The Hill has the FB message, and writes about why he shouldn’t be discounted as a serious presidential candidate, even if he’s from Florida.
  • A two-day power meeting with the stakeholders to discuss Ambler Road begins today in Fairbanks. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has the meeting’s details, back story, and the possible future of the 200-mile road. One thing is certain, the Juneau Empire reports that a study conducted by the Wilderness Society, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service found little impact of Ambler Road on the caribou population.
  • Texas might be known for hearting God, high-school football and BBQ (not necessarily in that order), but their love for fracking seems to Politico as a relationship in decline.
  • Fairbanks  Daily News-Miner reports that Fort Greely will be receiving $50 million in federal funds for their ground-based missile defense system.

Continue reading


Loose Lips: Balls for the rest of us. Ugly holiday sweaters. Girdwood libations.

loose lipsSome people, it seems, are always getting invited to balls. I look on Facebook, at yet another woman dressed in sequins, and another man in a tux, and I think, what do they have that I don’t? (A pleasant personality? Big bucks?) Anyway, there are some balls coming up—inaugural balls—that we all might be able to attend. They are balls for the people, of the people. While I haven’t seen any official announcements, I’ve heard that Lindsey Hobson and Mandy Mallott, daughters of the governor and lite governor respectively, will be co-chairing the inaugural committee. The first ball is scheduled to be held in the governor’s hometown, Valdez, on January 3. The other dates appear to be in Juneau on January 10, Fairbanks on January 24, and Anchorage on January 31. More details as I get them.

Karly Meyer, daughter of Senate president Kevin Meyer, graduated from college this spring and served as the volunteer coordinator for the Parnell for Governor Campaign. She has now joined PS Strategies, a local PR/advertising firm, which was founded and is owned by Mary Ann Pruitt, wife of Rep. Lance Pruitt, and radio talk show host David Stieren.

The Department of Health and Social Services announced the appointments of Dr. Jay Butler and John Sherwood to the department’s senior management team. Dr. Butler will serve the dual roles of Chief Medical Officer and Director of the Division of Public Health. He most recently worked at ANTHC. Sherwood is a 25 year DHSS employee and will now be a deputy commissioner. The press release also incorrectly indicated that the appointments were subject to legislative confirmation. They aren’t.

The two key people working to improve the Aetna insurance contract for state workers and retirees was DOA Deputy Commissioner Mike Barnhill and the state’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ward Hurlburt. Both have been released from state service by the Walker administration. So, who knows what’s going on, what the issues are and who, if anyone, is handling the contract? Continue reading


Walker proposes trimming $113 million from capital budget

Facing a fiscal crisis due to the plunge in oil prices, Gov. Bill Walker submitted a draft of the stripped down capital budget, which is more than $113 less than what former Gov. Sean Parnell proposed. Among the projects that were cut are the Susitna-Watana Dam, the Ambler Mine Road Project, the Knik Arm Bridge Crossing, among others.

The budget is very much a work in progress. The administration said it wants the public to weigh in on the process, and will be setting up a system where they can share ideas. It’s a torturous project, and the capital budget is the easy part. Where things are going to get particularly tricky is the operating budget.

Here are screen grabs of Parnell’s and Walker’s capital budgets based on departments, which sets the situation in relief: Continue reading