- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2016

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

April 8, 2016

Ketchikan Daily News: House should vote down bill doing away with daylight saving time

Legislation to exempt Alaska from daylight saving time is on the move in Alaska’s Legislature again.

In 2015, the Senate voted 16-4 to approve Senate Bill 6, which would keep the state on Alaska standard (winter) time year-round and petition the U.S. Department of Transportation to consider putting all or part of Alaska in the Pacific standard time zone.

The Alaska House of Representatives, however, didn’t follow the Senate’s action. After the Senate vote, SB6 got referred to the House finance and state affairs committees, where the bill remained stuck - until this week.

On Thursday, the House State Affairs Committee held a hearing on SB6 and then moved a revised bill out of committee.

The revised bill would petition that all of Alaska - deleting the “part of” provision - be placed in the Pacific standard time zone. It would require that the petition be successful before the daylight saving exemption could take effect. In other words, Alaska would have to be placed on Pacific time first, then it would be exempted from daylight saving time.

The next stop for SB6 is the House Finance Committee. Who knows? Legislation moves in strange ways, especially during the last moments of a legislative session, and this bill could be destined for a vote on the House floor.

If it does, the House should vote it down.

First, the Senate-approved version would exempt Alaska from daylight saving time and petition the feds to move Alaska to Pacific time. If the House approves its current version with petition first and exemption second, who knows what a Senate-House conference committee will come up with as a final version.

Second, the current House version hasn’t been around long enough for meaningful analysis or input from the wide range of Alaskans that opposed the original SB6. Seeking to change the entire state of Alaska to Pacific time is a huge move, one deserving more scrutiny than a last-minute slide through the Legislature.

The Senate-approved SB6 prompted opposition from the statewide chamber of commerce and travel industry groups, and especially the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce and the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau.

Exempting Alaska from daylight saving time would keep the state on winter time throughout the visitor season.

The effects would include one less hour of evening daylight, which many businesses indicated would make their operations more difficult.

“This will mean the loss of crucial daylight hours for our operation and others,” wrote Marc Cappelletti of Lindblad Expeditions, a small ship cruise company that has an alliance with National Geographic. “The effects can be very immediate, like a reduction in runs for air taxis and tours, or, more global, like a strain (on) business relations between Alaskan companies and partners in other time zones.”

Many businesses noted that the additional hour time difference between Alaska and the Lower 48 - there would be a 5-hour spread between Alaska and the East Coast - would cause substantial issues.

“SB6 would create unnecessary new hurdles for Alaska businesses dealing in financial markets, global trade, logistics and tourism,” wrote the Alaska Chamber of Commerce in opposition to SB6. “The concern about throwing Alaska business out of synch with financial markets is real and would impact banks, traders, investors and other members of the Alaska finance community.”

Ketchikan, especially, could be hit hard.

Most cruise ships visiting Ketchikan are southbound vessels. Given the long distance between Ketchikan and the seasonal home ports in Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, those ships already spend much less time in Ketchikan than they do in ports like Juneau. If they also had to make up an hour to resync with Pacific time schedules, those ships likely would be leaving Ketchikan an hour earlier than they already do.

“The earlier departures of those southbound ships would equal the loss of 30 days in port and a conservative value of $8,892,000 in lost spending,” according to a Ketchikan Visitors Bureau resolution opposing SB6.

That’s port time, spending and revenues that Ketchikan simply cannot afford to lose.

It’s unfortunate that any version of legislation that could end daylight saving time in Alaska is moving at this point in the legislative session. The Legislature would be prudent to shelve SB6 now and avoid risking severe damage to vital parts of Alaska’s economy.


April 8, 2016

Juneau Empire: Campus guns bill is unfortunately necessary

It’s unfortunate that legislation like Senate Bill 174 even needs to be debated. In a perfect world, there would be no threat of violence at institutions of higher learning. But the times we live in require unorthodox solutions to curb the trend of mass shootings on university campuses.

SB 174, which would allow for the concealed carry of firearms and knives on University of Alaska campuses, isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s a better solution than doing nothing.

Nothing is essentially what the federal and state governments have done to address the rash of fatal shootings on college campuses. They have not sufficiently increased funding for mental health services or improved screening to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining firearms.

Because of this failure, our universities have become targets.

The idea behind a gun-free zone is to prevent accidents and ensure safety. Universities have taken up this idealistic notion. Now, through the actions of others, that safety has been compromised.

Our circumstances have changed. Our society has reached a point where we have two unfavorable options: allow responsible students to arm themselves and risk an accidental weapons discharge, or don’t and risk dozens of lives if a campus shooting were to occur.

It’s impossible to say how probable a mass shooting at an Alaska university might be. Some may say it’s near impossible. Students and faculty at Seattle Pacific University (three injured, one dead) and Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon (nine injured, nine dead), likely never imagined they would have been targeted.

We understand many students and faculty are against this bill and have concerns over their safety. We agree, but the language of the Alaska and federal constitutions are clear: If a student does not believe law enforcement or campus police can adequately protect them, they have the right to protect themselves.

Article I, Section 19, of the Alaska Constitution specifically states, “The individual right to keep and bear arms shall not be denied or infringed by the state or a political subdivision of the state.”

While well-intentioned, we believe the University’s actions to date have unduly infringed upon this section.

SB 174 still allows universities to prohibit concealed weapons in restricted areas, dormitories and during disciplinary review proceedings, among others.

What the Alaska Legislature is considering is the best solution presented so far to deter the kind of attack that Virginia Tech experienced in 2006, and many other universities since. It might not be a good solution, but it’s the best one we’ve seen that follows the rules laid out in our constitution.

What we do know with certainty is doing nothing, or doing what has already been tried and failed, isn’t a valid solution when lives are at stake.


April 10, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: In debating revenue measures, Legislature should be evenhanded

With less than two weeks remaining in this year’s session, the Legislature is finally getting down to brass tacks. Perplexingly, the body in control of Alaska’s purse strings opted to largely focus on one side of the balance sheet, eschewing meaningful discussion of revenue measures until after the state budget had been passed. And while it’s better that legislators act on state revenue late than not at all, it’s hard to envision the group giving such issues the focus and vetting they need in the time remaining - and, unless they are able to show the public that everyone is contributing to a budget solution, it will be hard to see them having support for any path they choose.

It’s not as though legislators didn’t have time or opportunity to research the available options to help balance the budget. The situation that exists now is near-identical to the state’s situation last year. Then, the Legislature opted to focus solely on cutting the budget rather than address revenue measures. This session, the story was almost the same, with little discussion of revenue bills taking place until the past few days. And it wasn’t for lack of ideas to talk about. Gov. Bill Walker’s administration spent last summer engaging Alaskans on potential solutions to the budget crisis and at least two major pieces of legislation, by the governor and Sen. Lesil McGuire, were filed before this year’s session started. Both would alter inflows and outflows of the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve in order to help provide a more stable flow of income to state government.

In addition, several other revenue bills have been proposed, though they have yet to see much discussion. Rep. Paul Seaton’s HB 365 would establish both a restructuring of the earnings reserve, a cap on the amount of permanent fund dividends and a state income tax, while Rep. Kurt Olson has proposed a 35 percent tax on dividends themselves in an effort to raise money for state coffers. The notion that we all must make sacrifices to continue funding the services government provides has been slow to gain traction in Juneau, but is gathering steam as other methods of balancing the budget - spending cuts and a hoped-for oil price rebound - are clearly not enough to address the issue on their own.

While it’s good to see legislators addressing the budget scenario in a more holistic manner, the public’s willingness to embrace whatever revenue measures are deemed necessary is endangered by other budgetary stances the Legislature is taking. Specifically, the softening of Gov. Walker’s proposed cuts to oil tax credits will make a hard sell of other measures, as the public may see the legislators as trying to raise revenue from the public for the benefit of North Slope producers. At a time like this, no one - industry or citizenry alike - should be seen as getting a free pass from the shared revenue hardship.

Additionally, decisions such as the Legislative Council’s offer of $32.5 million to purchase the widely unpopular Anchorage Legislative Information Office make it appear to the public that the Legislature is perfectly willing to spend money when they stand to benefit. This is especially the case as other crucial capital priorities, such as the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ half-finished engineering building, have scant support despite their obvious potential benefits. It doesn’t help that the price tag to finish the engineering building, estimated at $34.8 million, is so similar to the purchase offer for the Anchorage LIO.

A fiscal solution that charts a path to a balanced budget for Alaska may require a special session given how little time is left to debate revenue measures. But the Legislature should push to chart that path, for the good of Alaska’s future. In doing so, they should take care to ensure they don’t make the mistake of asking the public to bear the financial burden of government while holding others harmless - whether industry, themselves or any other group.

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