By Rep. Mike Doogan
August 01, 2008
The bill to grant a state license for the gas pipeline is in the clutches - did I say clutches? I meant, of course, loving hands - of the Alaska State Senate where, I'm sure, a thousand plots are being hatched. I could list them all, but why bother. These things are like soap bubbles and last about as long. So let's talk about something concrete, like logistics, instead. If the legislature is to approve granting a license <http://gov.state.ak.us/agia/> to a subsidiary of TransCanada, it must do so by midnight Aug. 2, which is the last of the 60 days the law allows for legislative review and approval. The way the votes seem to be distributed in the Senate, approval will take four days: send the bill to the floor, second reading, third reading, reconsideration. As I write this, there are four days left. What does that mean? It means the license's opponents have succeeded in stalling long enough that the slightest bobble could kill it. (Necessary disclaimer here: The license's opponents claim they haven't been stalling. But if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and talks like a duck ) Stay tuned.
And the So-Called AGIA Appropriations
If no bill passes, there's no need for appropriations.
If a bill does pass, there are a lot of appropriations in HB 4001 . Many have, at best, a dubious connection to the gas pipeline. Of the ones that are connected, most are for multiple years. Legislators don't like multiple-year appropriations. So whatever emerges will likely be different from the bill that's available now. Not necessarily better, mind you. Just different.
Energy Relief? Resource Rebate? Whatever
Somewhere in the Capitol, a couple of staffers are trying to squeeze parts of several bills into one House Finance bill on energy. (Well, two bills, actually, since there has to be one to spend money. But I'm talking the actual legislation here.) When the bill is finished, it will be whisked into the committee, where the people running things will try to whisk it right out to the floor again, jam that baby across and go home.
I'm all for the "going home" part of that, but I'm not sure this strategy -- long the favorite of people in power will work. Here's why.
The energy cost problem is greatest in places that use diesel fuel to heat homes and generate electricity and are a long way from anywhere. In other words, rural Alaska. They are getting worse in places on the road system, like Fairbanks. And they are getting worse for poor people in places that have relatively cheap power, like southcentral Alaska.
So you've got a lot of differing interests.
In a rational world, what we'd do is pass changes to the Power Cost Equalization program which deals with electricity and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program which deals with home heating . Then we'd appropriate the money to pay for the changes -- $200 million or less and go home.
But we can't do that, because Gov. Sarah Palin wants us to give every man, woman and child in Alaska $1,200. Why? Well, the first explanation was that it was energy assistance. But when it was pointed out that $1,200 is too much to pay some people for energy assistance and not enough for others, she switched to calling it a resource rebate .
I looked up "rebate " in the dictionary. It says: Return or repayment of money. Since nobody in Alaska pays anything to the state for energy except, in a way, the North Slope producers this can't be a rebate.
So what is it? Simple. It's a government handout. But, for some reason, neither the governor nor any other politician who supports it wants to call it what it is.
The rationale behind this handout is every bit as wrong-headed as its name. It's this: The state is making a lot of money from selling oil. The oil money belongs to the people. Therefore, they should share in it.
I've written about why this is wrong before, but it bears repeating:
The Alaska Constitution is written so that mineral revenues flow to the state, not individuals. Why? Because the people who wrote the Constitution knew that Alaska would never be able to afford a government on the usual mix of taxes. And they were right. Without oil revenues, we would have a much, much, much smaller government. Eighty-five percent smaller, in fact.
Because they didn't want individual Alaskans to be able to get their hands on the state treasury, the Founding Fathers included a provision that says people can't appropriate by initiative. Their idea and they made it the law was that the minerals and the money they bring belong to the state, which is an organization different from the people who happen to live here at any given time. And the money is to be used to pay the state's bills, not the bills of people who can afford to pay their own but just don't want to.
In the three weeks since I wrote this, I've asked for a legal opinion on this question. The opinion agrees with me. So why does the governor support handing out money to people? You'll have to ask her. And why do some legislators? Well, I think there are some who think that some people need the money, and the only way to get it to them is to give money to everybody. And I think there may be a few folks who are making the connection between giving the handout in October to people who are going to vote in November.
In other words, it's a mess. We might be able to knife through the muddle and spit out a fine, fine piece of legislation in just a few days. But that's not the way to bet.
More Politicians in Peril
As I said in the newspaper , it's not every day your United States senator gets indicted. Thank God. And, of course, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens might be able to beat the charges against him. Innocent until proven guilty and all that.
But the indictment puts the capper on a month that's seen the indictment of a state senator and the legislature opening an investigation into the governor's office, as well as the Stevens indictment. The hits just keep on coming . Since the day I decided to do my public service by running for the state House, three former representatives have been convicted of bribery and other crimes, another has charges pending. And now this, with no end in sight. I'd start fulminating again, but what good would it do?
This is some profession I've gotten myself into, and for some reason it reminds me of a song my father used to sing, one verse of which goes something like this:
About: Rep. Mike Doogan (D)
is a member of the Alaska Legislature representing House District
25 - Anchorage.
Received July 30 , 2008 - Published August 01, 2008
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