The Alaska chapter of Americans For Prosperity had a dinner on Thursday night. One of the featured speakers was Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, who talked about the possibility–given the state’s current fiscal crisis– of having a state constitutional convention to rethink the concept of the “owner state,” a Wally Hickel concept that, as I understand it, basically envisions collective ownership, funneled through the state, of resources. Sullivan pointed out that the concept was at its heart either socialistic, or communistic. He said that it has kept the land and the resources under government control, and that at the very least, it was time to talk about opening up the land to private ownership. He said that as it is, only about 1 percent of Alaska’s land is privately owned.
In a comment, reader Pamela Brodie took issue with the 1 percent claim, pointing out that Alaska Native corporations own 12 percent of the land. Another reader, who seems to know the subject pretty well, claims that Native corporation land acts more like federally-owned land than land owned by the private sector. Read on:
(T)he Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act established Native corporations with 44 million acres of federal and state land. It also gave the corporations $1 billion. In return the Act “extinguish(ed) all aboriginal hunting and fishing rights that may exist,” and removed all claims that attorneys for Alaska Natives might have been able to use to further delay the oil pipeline. The land was set up in a special, exclusive, protected quasi-governmental status that cannot be taxed by the state and municipalities except if developed in specific ways and it removed the land from the reach of creditors, even in bankruptcy. Profits generated by the land, when distributed to stockholders, are beyond the reach of the Internal Revenue Code. So the case can be made that it is not private land but a special class of federal land.
Moreover, shares in the corporate land cannot be bought or sold (no REIT spin-offs for Native corporations apparently), and if it is inherited by anyone not an Alaska Native, regardless of tribe, region or village, the stock becomes nonvoting. I think that helps make the case, should anyone want to make it, that the land is not private in either a general sense or a usual legal sense.
In Alaska, fire suppression on private land is completely paid for by the state. However, fire suppression on Native land is paid for by the federal government. The state invoices the federal government for any costs the state incurs in fighting wildfire on Native corporation land.
I have not done the arithmetic and have no opinion on the 1%, but I think that on balance most reasonable people would maintain that Native corporation land has more in common with federal land than it does with private land in Alaska.