- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

April 23, 2016

Ketchikan Daily News: Keep ideas flowing

This isn’t the time to shoot down economic development ideas.

Alaska has a $4 billion deficit. The price of oil on which the state depends for the majority of its revenue is low, and the state Legislature is looking at increasing taxes on oil and other industries as well as individual Alaskans.

Alaska should be open to entrepreneurial ideas sparked by enthusiasm no matter how visionary they appear. Undoubtedly, the words “trans-Alaska pipeline” and “unlikely” were used in numerous comments at the point of the oil-pipeline idea’s inception. But Alaska built the line.

Alaska enjoyed prosperous decades, developed its infrastructure, accumulated billions in investments, and provided jobs for its citizens and opportunities for newcomers as a result.

It just took an “unlikely” idea to bring that all about.

That’s why an Alaska businessman’s proposal to sell fresh water to California shouldn’t be automatically dismissed. It’s worth consideration.

Steven Bowhay, owner of River Recycler System, proposes collecting fresh water from the ocean surface in Boca de Quadra, 38 miles southeast of Ketchikan.

The system would require buoys, anchors and sheeting for trapping Pacific Ocean surface water. It would create a reservoir of about 6.2 million square feet.

Bowhay’s plan begins with shipping water via marine vessel, but ultimately he envisions a 100-foot-wide submersible pipeline to California.

Bowhay just needs the approval of an application filed with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to use submerged state land for the system. The application, which was filed in 2012, fell in amongst a backlog.

A water pipeline isn’t a new idea. Former Gov. Wally Hickel entertained the idea in the early 1990s. The line would have spanned 2,000 miles and cost an estimated $110 billion to build over 15 years. It was expected to carry a trillion gallons of water a year.

California has built a $1 billion desalination plant near Carlsbad, California. Bowhay says California would need 100 of the plants to meet Californians’ water demands. That’s about $100 billion.

Perhaps Hickel’s idea would cost less today. And maybe Bowhay’s could be realized for less. Perhaps one or both would be more costly. That’s why the idea should be vetted.

California isn’t the only place craving water. The demand is high. And Alaskans have a vested interest in California farmers being able to get the necessary water; it takes water to grow the fruits and vegetables that find their way to Alaskans.

The water also is cleaner than the oil flowing through the Alaska pipeline. If it spilled, no harm, no foul. Nature wouldn’t be at risk.

One concern for Alaska would be the effect of capturing the water on fisheries. It would be changing the salinity of Alaska’s ocean water, and what effects that would have on the seafood Alaskans harvest for personal and commercial purposes would need to be evaluated.

But entrepreneurs should be encouraged to come up with ideas. Most ideas, according to historical experiences, will fail, but as with the oil pipeline, some great ones will succeed.

Alaska has been built one success at a time.


April 20, 2016

Juneau Empire: Overtime is OK

The Alaska Legislature didn’t gavel out on Sunday at the end of its 90th regular day, and that’s just fine with us.

The state is running a $4.1 billion annual deficit, a problem unparalleled in Alaska’s history. Difficult decisions must be made, and these decisions should take thoughtful consideration.

When the Legislature finishes isn’t as important as the result.

The state must have a budget solution this year, and even if the entire deficit cannot be filled in a single year, we cannot afford to solve our budget problems from savings alone, as we have been doing.

When Alaska voters were asked in 2006 whether they wanted to limit the Legislature to 90 days, all three of the state’s major newspapers urged voters to say no. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the Anchorage Daily News, and this newspaper all said that a 90-day session would result in rushed deliberations and bad bills.

Unfortunately, we were right.

In 2006, Alaska voters decided by a 117,675 to 113,832 margin that a 90-day session was the right thing to do.

History has borne out the failure of that decision. The 2006 vote was enshrined in statute, not as a constitutional amendment, which means the Legislature has been able to violate it at will.

Ninety-day sessions started with the 2008 Alaska Legislature, and this is the ninth. Only two have finished before midnight on the morning of Day 91 without being followed immediately by a special session: 2009 and 2013. The 2010 session ended close to the deadline: It finished just after midnight.

Again and again, lawmakers have chosen to ignore the 2006 limit and stick to the 121-day limit enshrined in the Alaska Constitution. A shorter session limits debate and consideration. That 2013 session, which ended within the 90-day limit, gave us Senate Bill 21.

SB 21, as flawed a piece of legislation as has ever existed in Alaska, spawned a voter initiative to repeal it. It is costing the state of Alaska hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue due to tax credit loopholes that the Legislature is struggling to close in this very session.

Ironically, those loopholes are precisely the reason the Legislature was unable to finish within 90 days this year.

The framers of the Alaska Constitution were concerned about limiting the legislative session, which is why the Constitution originally contained no limit. The 121-day limit was enacted in a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1984.

The great Gordon Harrison, in the fifth edition of “Alaska’s Constitution: A Citizen’s Guide,” describes the Alaska Constitutional framers’ thoughts on the length of the Legislative session:

“The framers of the constitution adopted the progressive view that the legislature should not be rushed in its deliberations, as the business of state government is too complex to be transacted in hurried, infrequent sessions. …. Delegates feared that constraints on the length (and frequency) of sessions might result in ill-conceived or imprudent measures as well as a legislative disadvantage vis-à-vis the executive.”

The framers of the Alaska Constitution were right. The length of the session doesn’t matter. What matters is the end result.


April 26, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Even with money tight, Legislature should fund engineering building

As the state faces a $4 billion fiscal gap, Gov. Bill Walker and state legislators have made no bones about the fact that there’s little money for capital spending. Certainly, that’s a wise policy. The state is scrambling to find ways to pay for billions of dollars in operating expenses, so new construction projects are naturally a distant priority. But among the items on which the state could spend its limited resources, one stands out as an item that should take precedence over spending like that proposed for the Anchorage Legislative Information Office: the half-finished University of Alaska Fairbanks engineering building.

The building, now enclosed but largely empty, requires just short of $35 million to complete - the first phases of its construction were funded a few years ago thanks to strong work by the university and Interior legislators. They convinced other state lawmakers that to meet state demand for high-paying, high-skill jobs with Alaskans rather than imported labor, someone needed to train that workforce within the state. It was an inexplicably tough sell to a group that was perfectly willing to spend more than $100 million on a new sports arena for Anchorage that the university considered a low priority. Ultimately, however, Interior delegation members managed to secure about half the money to build the engineering facility, as well as an understanding that the remainder of the funding would come through the next year. But in 2013, two weeks after groundbreaking on the building began, the Legislature opted to fund only a fraction of the remaining funding, $15 million instead of the $48.3 million needed. After that year, funding dried up altogether.

The result was a beautiful edifice of glass, steel and concrete at the prow of College Hill that was meant as a monument to the state’s commitment to education, a strong resource economy and the people to build it. It has instead been a monument - so far - to the danger of trusting the Legislature’s commitment to those ideals. When it is finished, the institution that has often been described as an economic engine for the state will have added another cylinder. Until then, the more than $60 million already put into its construction is essentially languishing in a pile for all to see above the intersection of University Avenue and College Road.

Make no mistake, $35 million isn’t small change, and it won’t be easy to find the money to devote to completing the building. But a facility unfinished is a promise broken, and the sooner that promise is kept, the university can better help the state to produce the talented young people to secure its economic future.

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