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June 11, 2019
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Alaska: Legislature's Budget Heads to Governor's Desk With No Action on PFD By MARY KAUFFMAN - The Alaska Senate on Monday voted unanimously for the smallest operating budget in 15 years, resulting in a $600 million surplus according to a Alaska Senate Majority news release; however, the budget did not include a 2019 Permanent Fund Dividend.
Governor Michael Dunleavy posted a written comment Monday on FaceBook regarding the Legislature's budget: "In the coming days, I will review and scrutinize the budget passed by the Legislature and determine the best path forward, including options to accept the budget as passed, to veto the budget in its entirety, or to veto portions of the budget to better align expenditures and revenues. I am absolutely determined to address the budget issues that have haunted Alaska for years."
The budget provides $4.4 billion in unrestricted general funds for agency and statewide operations – a reduction of $190 million over last year – and transfers $10.5 billion from the Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve account into the fund’s constitutionally protected principal.
“This budget delivers real reductions, keeps Alaskans safe and protects the Permanent Fund for our descendants,” said Senator Bert Stedman (R-Sitka), co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Stedman said, “Today [Monday] we made the largest ever transfer to the Permanent Fund’s constitutionally protected principal in history. Within 15 years, we can expect the fund’s principal to be about $100 billion.”
Currently $19 billion of Alaska’s $65.3 billion Permanent Fund sits in an earnings reserve account that can be spent by the Legislature with a simple majority vote. To protect these funds, the Legislature’s proposed budget moves over $10.5 billion from the earnings reserve into the constitutionally protected corpus, which cannot be accessed without amending the state’s constitution. This does not affect the ability of the fund to pay dividends, according to a Senate Majority news release.
“The people of Alaska sent us here to make the hard decisions for the long-term benefit of all Alaskans,” said Senator Natasha von Imhof (R-Anchorage), co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
“Today [Monday] locked away more than $10 billion into the Permanent Fund’s principal, taking more than half the earnings off the table, forcing all state spending to be in line with our annual revenues and protecting our savings accounts for emergencies,” said von Imhof.
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) issued the following statement Monday: “It is important that we pass the operating budget to prevent disruption in government services for all Alaskans. This is a budget that works for Alaska within our current fiscal climate, and I am pleased to support it."
Begich said, “We realize the amount of the Dividend prevented the passage of the budget, and the best way to finalize the Dividend is through a special session solely devoted to the matter. But ultimately, the Dividend must be protected through a constitutional amendment. Until then, the legislature will continue to debate its size, preventing us from concluding our work on behalf of Alaskans.”
The Legislature’s proposed budget is the smallest since fiscal year 2005, adjusted for inflation and population.
“This budget is good for Alaska’s families and businesses,” said Senate President Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage). “Government spending has been reversed by 15 years – that’s a significant achievement, one that we can all be proud of.”
As of Monday afternoon, the bill was on its way to Governor Mike Dunleavy’s desk for his signature.
Sunday, with just a few days left in the first special session, the Alaska House Majority Coalition passed the House's budget which was then sent to the Alaska Senate for concurrence with the changes to the operating budget made by the conference committee. However, according to the House Minority members(Republicans), that budget was bloated and without an answer to one of the most pressing questions: the Permanent Fund Dividend.
Sunday, in a vote along caucus lines (with Anchorage Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux voting alongside the House Republicans), the Alaska House Minority said the operating budget was forced through alongside a larger-than-necessary transfer of funds from the Permanent Fund’s Earnings Reserve Account (ERA), in order to pay for the extra layers of government spending that the leaders of the budget conference committee refused to cut from the budget.
Quoting a news release from the House Minority, the Alaska House Majority also voted to pass House Concurrent Resolution 101 – despite it not carrying a clear tie to the purpose of the first special session – attempting to defer conversation on the Permanent Fund Dividend to a later date – presumably in hopes of avoiding the conversation and the required payment of a dividend altogether.
“What we have seen today [Sunday] is an attempt to avoid answering the toughest questions facing Alaskans,” said House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage). “At this point, it is clear that the House Majority is completely unwilling to have the tough, voter-mandated conversations, and plans to dictate to the people what will happen with the PFD, regardless of what the law says.”
“This lack of leadership on these issues should be unacceptable to Alaskans,” added Rep. Cathy Tilton (R-Chugiak/Mat-Su), and member of the budget conference committee. “We have a legal obligation to pay a dividend and do as the law says. We cannot just pick and choose which laws we want to follow and which ones we wish to ignore.”
House Bill 39 passed the Senate 20-0 on Monday and the House 22-15 on Sunday, for a combined vote of 42-15. The bill will not become law until signed by the Governor. - More...
Tuesday AM - June 11, 2019
Ketchikan: A Blast From The Past - Thank goodness Ketchikan never needed its fallout shelters By DAVE KIFFER - A half century ago, Ketchikan - like most of the rest of the country - was gripped in the Cold War between the United States and the USSR.
Although children of the late 1960s were less likely that than their 1950s cohorts to have frequent "duck and cover" exercises in school, there was still concern about handling a nuclear attack, even in out of the way places like Ketchikan.
In July of 1969, the borough and city governments produced - with help from the Alaska Disaster Office - a "Community Fallout Shelter Plan." Most of those plans are long gone, but lifelong Northender Dennis Northrup recently came across a copy of the 1969 plan that his late father Walt had saved for nearly half a century.
The plan was signed by the first Borough Chairman, Don King and the Ketchikan Mayor at the time, Oral Freeman. The idea behind the plan, according to the pamphlet was educate Ketchikan residents on what to do and where to go in the event of a "nuclear attack."
First it defined "fallout."
"If a nuclear weapon explodes on or near the ground, tons of earth are drawn up into the fireball produced by the explosion. They mix with the radioactive materials produced by the explosion of the nuclear weapon , and eventually fall back on the ground as particles of fallout."
The pamphlet goes on to note that the fallout pattern depends on the prevailing winds and that fallout could come down as far as several hundred miles from the explosion. It could arrive anywhere from several minutes to several hours to several days after the explosion.
"You can protect yourself from fallout by getting heavy material (shielding) between yourself and the fallout particles giving off gamma rays. The heavier the construction of a building you may be in, the better protection it gives you."
As a result, most of the identified fallout shelters for Ketchikan, were large concrete buildings like government buildings and apartment buildings. Oddly enough, two of the most solidly constructed buildings in Ketchikan at the time, White Cliff School and Main School are not on the shelter list, even though both those building had the familiar "fallout shelter" signs on them, according to students who attended those schools in the 1960s.
"There are 10 buildings in Ketchikan which provide protection 'radioactive fallout.' They have available space for all inhabitants in the borough. There are approximately 11,256 resident people with shelter space available for 11,526." - More...
Tuesday AM - June 11, 2019
Fish Factor: Fishermen Still Waiting For Disaster Relief Funds for 2016 Pinks By LAINE WELCH - Alaska fishermen are still awaiting disaster relief funds for the 2016 pink salmon run failure, which was the worst in 40 years.
Congress approved $56 million that year for Alaska fishermen, processors and communities hurt by the fishery flop at three Alaska regions: Kodiak, Prince William Sound and Lower Cook Inlet. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and NOAA Fisheries finalized plans and procedures for payouts last August. Since then, the paper push has stalled on various federal agency desks.
NOAA Fisheries missed a promised June 1 sign off deadline and now says the funds will be released on the first of July, according to Representative Louise Stutes of Kodiak who has been tracking the progress.
“It affects all the cannery workers all the processors, all the businesses in the community,” she said. “This has a big trickle-down effect.”
The draft spending plan awaiting approval provides for funds in four categories. Coastal communities that would have gotten 1.5 percent of the landed value of the foregone pink catch would receive $2.43 million. Just over $4 million was set aside for pink salmon research, and processors would get $17.7 million for lost wages as a result of the humpy bust.
Alaska fishermen would get the biggest chunk at $32 million. The funds would be distributed using a calculation to restore lost dockside value equal to 82.5 percent of their five even year averages.
As for the July 1 promise, Stutes said she “is not holding her breath because of the fed’s current track record in adhering to its own timelines.”
“They know I’m a squeaky wheel and my job is to keep this moving in a forward direction,” she said.
Season of uncertainty:
Fisheries are always fraught with uncertainties, but there is an added element this year: trade tariffs on Alaska’s largest export: seafood.
“The industry is accustomed to dealing with uncertainty about harvest levels, prices and currency rates. The trade disputes just add another layer to that,” said Garrett Evridge, an economist with the McDowell Group.
Tariffs of up to 25 percent on U.S. seafood products going to China went into effect last July and more are being threatened now by the Trump administration. China is Alaska’s biggest seafood buyer purchasing 54 percent of Alaska seafood exports in 2017 valued at $1.3 billion.
“It’s important to remember that a tariff is simply a tax and it increases the prices of our products,” Evridge explained. “As Alaskans we are sensitive to any increase in the price of our seafood because we are competing on a global stage. And right now we have tariffs imposed on seafood from the Chinese side and the U.S. side.”
In terms of Alaska salmon, the new taxes could hit buyers of pinks and chums especially hard. Managers expect huge runs of both this summer and much of the pack will be processed into various products in China and then returned to the U.S. - More...
Tuesday AM - June 11, 2019
DANNY TYREE: Are Four-Day School Weeks the Wave of the Future? - According to NBC News, a growing number of school districts (especially in rural areas) are experimenting with a four-day week.
In many cases, school boards can't raise the funds for competitive salaries and improvise by using the nontraditional schedule as a perk to attract and retain high-quality teachers. Applicants who would otherwise go for the biggest bucks appreciate having an extra day each week for preparing lesson plans, grading tests, taking "Meth-Head Parent As A Second Language" courses, etc.
(Other perks that were considered but ultimately put on the back burner included "Flunk a jock: we'll get you off with temporary insanity," "No more paying for school supplies out of your own pocket; our band geeks make a great distraction for snatch-and-run operations at Costco," "Whatever extracurricular club you're stuck with sponsoring, feel free to improvise! Did somebody say, 'mixed martial arts chess'?" and "Background check? Do you IDENTIFY as needing a background check?")
Students and teachers seem to respond enthusiastically to the new schedules, but parents who work Monday-Friday lose sleep worrying over (a) affordable daycare for their younger children and (b) unsupervised mischief by their older offspring. ("This is Mrs. Brown on Second Avenue. I'd like to report a kitten in the top of the big oak tree. But it IS a matter for 9-1-1! The kitten is on the hood of a police car!")
Of course, states still require a certain number of classroom hours per school year, so the remaining four days must be lengthened. With students already running a sleep deficit, this could really change the nature of the forbidden public displays of affection. ("Awww...she's tucking him into his locker for a nap. Aren't they the cutest couple?")
Yes, longer days and final period can be a real recipe for disaster. ("No, that's not an example of a dangling participle. Looks more like a dangling thumb! Did you just come from dissecting frogs, Ethan?")
At least the real estate market will benefit from a four-day schedule. ("You say your 16-year-old will be spending the extra day off studying hard and feeding the homeless? I've got a real deal on oceanfront property in Arizona...") - More...
Tuesday AM - June 11, 2019
Political Cartoon: Impeachment Divide
By Bob Englehart ©2019, Middletown, CT
Distributed to paid subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.
Our Alaskan Elders Deserve the Best Affordable Quality Care Available, Let’s Honor Them Together By
Jordan Adams - Alaska enjoys a deep-rooted history of honoring our elders. The state administration is proposing rate hikes for Pioneer Homes residents, making them a profit center would be disrespectful. At the same time - it wants to obliviously outsource jobs at the Pioneer Homes without an appropriate study to find potential hidden costs. Local 71 is proud to represent the deeply committed, hard-working people who provide food and custodial services to the residents of our Alaska Pioneer Homes. I am regularly reminded that these working people are highly valued by the residents, their families, the health care staff, and those serving on the Advisory Committees and Foundation Boards. We support our Pioneers together. But turning our elders into a profit center - that’s just not Alaskan.
That’s because the working people of Local 71 care about the quality of the services they provide and subscribe to the EDEN Home philosophy of care, which is committed to “eliminating loneliness, uselessness, and boredom; and valuing community, empowerment, passion and integrity,” which enhances the overall health and wellbeing of Alaska’s Pioneer Home Residents according to the medical community. The respect and compassion our Local 71 members bring to these great Alaskans is unsurpassed and is widely recognized by our Pioneer Home residents, their families, Advisory Committees, Foundation Boards, vendors, and communities at large. Our members average over 10 years serving our elders, and many have served in their positions for over 20 years. Outsourcing their jobs would punish these public servants for their perfect record. That would be a mistake. - More...
Tuesday AM - June 11. 2019
“EVERYTHING BUT THE SPLINTERS” By David G Hanger - The local Wal-Mart has stopped carrying Kleenex brand nose tissues, apparently in favor of its own preferred generic brand. Reminds me of an old saw I was told about my grandparents one day back in the 1930s when my grandfather brought home from the store a substitute type of toilet paper, “Northern Pine.” Next morning, so the story goes, Grandma came a mumbling and a grumbling down the stairs, “Northern Pine. Northern Pine. Everything but the splinters.”
I can’t really say that “Great Value,” Wal-Mart’s store brand, is going to lead to a chapped nose faster come a cold than Kleenex; haven’t done that test yet; so for the moment that is just an assumption, but while one could submit that it is not polite to force buying choices on your customers, I would simply observe that the preferred brand is available elsewhere, and for a box of Kleenex sending your customers to someone else’s store is rather stupid.
When in addition, as I assessed about three months ago, the prices for the items I routinely buy have already gone up 9% or more, and this before your threatened increases because of Trump’s tariffs, and you are apparently incapable of keeping your shelves stocked, I do have to wonder if you give even a tinker’s damned about your customers. (Inflation has increased under Trump from the 1.9% average for all the years of the Obama administration to just short of 2.2%, in other words a trifle, so how you begin to get 9% and counting out of that is curious.) - More...
Tuesday AM - June 11, 2019
White House Staff Out Of Control By
Donald Moskowitz - A White House staffer, who works for President Trump, sent a message to the Navy in the Pacific to " minimize the visibility of the USS John S. McCain " during Trump's visit to Japan. This constitutes interference in naval operations.
The USS John S. McCain's crew was not invited to events on the USS Wasp, at one point a tarp was seen obscuring the USS John S. McCain's name, and at another point a barge blocked the name of the ship.
The ship was originally named after Senator McCain's father and grandfather, both past admirals in the U.S. Navy. I am sure crew members are proud of their ship, but have to be dismayed at the request from the White House, and Trump's constant criticism of the late Senator McCain. - More...
Tuesday AM - June 11, 2019
Constitutionalize the Dividend By
Sen. Tom Begich - As this week comes to a close, the legislature has yet to finish its work on the budget and the State is nearing a possible government shutdown. What’s the holdup? While there are many issues including the Governor’s unconstitutional claim that he can simply not fund education, the issue that has tied up the legislature and left us in a stalemate at present comes down to a question of the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend. Should it meet the Statutory Formula (currently around $3,000)? Should it be reduced so that we can break the impasse on the Operating Budget and ensure that needed state services are not interrupted? Should we develop a new formula and pay a full Dividend this year? All of these are valid questions with strong constituencies. The answer lies in a place that will likely leave no one fully happy. - More...
Friday AM - June 07, 2019
Crime Bill Passes the Legislature By
Rep. Dan Ortiz - Earlier this month, the House passed House Bill 49, which is a collaborative bill between the House, the Senate, and the Governor's administration to improve public safety. After the Conference Committee process last week, the Senate passed the bill on Tuesday, May 28th. The bill now heads to the Governor’s Office to be signed. The bill has most generally been referred to as the “SB91 Repeal” and contains the following provisions:. - More...
Saturday AM - June 01, 2019
Local Tourism Growth By
Austin Otos - Welcome to the beginning of the 2019 tourist season! This year our community is expected to reach 1.2 million visitors. I was excited to see entrepreneurs start up new local businesses ranging from delicious eateries to adventurous sightseeing tours. These important businesses make up the backbone of our tourist economy and provide excellent service to eager visitors willing to come see our awesome town! Many people see tourism as a healthier and more stable economy than past resource extraction. However, I sense a growing division within the community between “restrictionist” and “expansionist”. The common themes I hear from restrictionists are capping visitors and playing hardball with the cruise ship industry over dock improvements. On the other side, I find expansionists looking to take visitors beyond Ketchikan, working around zoning laws. These two forces have brought up issues over infrastructure such as road and sidewalk improvements, growing the outlying Clam and Herring Cove areas, and the private-public dock partnership. - More...
Saturday AM - June 01, 2019
Refusing to release education funds is harming our schools and children By Sarah Sledge; Dr. Lisa Skiles Parady; Norm Wooten - We’re perplexed. And disappointed. Gov. Mike Dunleavy was an educator and claims to serve all Alaskans but has decided that education funding will not be released to school districts on July 15 this year. Talk about a harsh disconnect! - More...
Saturday AM - June 01, 2019
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