- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Jan. 28, 2017

Ketchikan Daily News: New deal

The bottom line is that someone pays.

In this case, it will be business, and business will pass the cost along to its customers.

An Alaska Native community has sold its Bering River Coal Field, which effectively closes the door to mining there, as the new owners are conservationists.

The sale will be used to offset pollution projects in California. For example, if a business or industry subject to California’s greenhouse gas pollution reduction program uses carbon-based fuels, then it will pay to offset that environmental impact through the conservation of the coal field. It will be allowed to use carbon fuels in exchange for preserving others. That’s cap-and-trade.

The Chugach Alaska (Native) Corp. acquired the coal field, which is located about 50 miles southeast of Cordova on the eastern edge of Alaska’s Copper River Delta, in a 1983 conveyance through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The Chugach will continue to manage and maintain the land.

New Forests, which is a sustainable forestry and conservation investment manager, made the purchase and will transfer the coal rights to The Nature Conservancy and the local Native Conservancy land trust.

New Forest manages more than 1.8 million acres of timberland in the United States and abroad. It is one of the largest creators of California carbon offset projects.

The sale permanently removes the coal field from development. This might prove profitable to the Chugach. Future figures and the coal market will tell.

It most certainly increases the cost of business and consumer prices.

But, Alaska’s environment is ripe for carbon offsets. Other Native corporations and even non-Natives might entertain the prospect of carbon sales. If natural resources aren’t mined or harvested to produce jobs, then communities might gain income from no-development pacts.

This is a relatively new prospect for Alaska. But it’s just one. Mining and timber harvest still are others.

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Jan. 29, 2017

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Senate survey shows residents want a full-fledged solution to fiscal gap

Lawmakers are wise to listen to their constituents, and at the beginning of this year’s legislative session, the Alaska Senate majority caucus made a meaningful overture to reach out to residents for their opinions on matters related to the state budget. An online survey set up by the caucus asked several questions about different approaches to help balance the budget and gathered about 7,000 responses from Alaskans over a period from Jan. 22-25. The results may not have been quite in line with the majority’s own positions, but legislators would do well to heed the responses when crafting a solution to the state budget crisis.

It should be stated up front that the survey wasn’t scientific in its approach. It was up to residents who heard about the survey to go to the website themselves and answer its questions, so the people who responded may well not be a completely representative cross-section of the state’s residents. That said, the manner of the survey’s distribution and the self-selecting nature of participants make its methods closely akin to other avenues for public comment on actions by the Legislature. What’s more, 7,000 Alaskans is a huge sample size as polls go - far bigger than most telephone surveys done by research firms. That so many Alaskans were motivated to respond to the survey in a relatively short period of time is a demonstration of how strongly residents feel that the budget deficit must be addressed now, with a sustainable solution and not a temporary fix.

The responses to the survey were enlightening. About 50 percent of Alaskans who responded think the level of state spending is too low (21.9 percent) or about right (28 percent), with 43.5 percent believing the level of spending is too high and 6.5 percent unsure. This jibes with the growing outcry from Alaskans as cuts to state services begin to reach aspects of government - the state troopers, road maintenance and education, to name a few - that affect residents on a day-to-day basis. There was roughly an even split on whether there should be a constitutional limit on state spending.

What might have been more surprising to the members of the Senate majority who designed the survey were the responses to questions about new revenue sources. More than half of respondents were in favor of a state sales tax, income tax and some sort of permanent fund earnings restructuring that would cap the dividend. They were also in support of increasing taxes on motor fuels and strongly in favor - 64.7 percent - of reducing oil tax credits to producers.

One of the most popular items on the survey was K-12 education, with 62.8 percent saying the allocation to elementary and secondary education is too low (46 percent) or about right (16.8 percent). Only 18 percent supported cuts in school funding.

Not every spending item was popular. About 54 percent of respondents were wary of the state going it alone on a liquefied natural gas pipeline from the North Slope, which likely owed partially to the state’s budget straits and a paucity of savings to invest in megaprojects.

It’s wise not to treat the survey’s results as gospel; Alaska is a notoriously difficult place to conduct an accurate poll of how the state’s residents feel. But there are some trends the survey highlights that deserve strong consideration. Residents’ appetite for a cuts-only approach appears to be waning, and there is increasing recognition that more revenue sources will be necessary to provide state services and lessen dependence on oil tax receipts.

Most importantly, residents appear to be accepting of the fact that they will shoulder some of the burden of paying for services - that some combination of taxes and restructuring of permanent fund earnings will both be necessary to put the state back in the black. Legislators should take heed.

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