- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

June 23, 2016

Juneau Empire: What if PFDs aren’t ‘permanent’?

Sometime in the next few days, you should expect Gov. Bill Walker to veto all or part of the funding for your Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend.

We’re warning you ahead of time. We want you to get used to the idea, and we want you to understand why it’s the right thing to do.

Thanks to the inaction of the Alaska Legislature, Walker’s veto pen is the last chance to put Alaska on a sustainable fiscal path, and ultimately save the Dividend.

The fourth special session of the 29th Alaska Legislature concluded June 19. It was mostly a waste of time and money. While some important bills were passed, none included the actions we believe are necessary to fix Alaska’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

Above all else, the Legislature failed to pass Senate Bill 128, which uses 5.25 percent of the Alaska Permanent Fund to fund state services and pay dividends on a sustainable, affordable basis.

On average, the Permanent Fund is expected to earn 7 percent per year from its investments. Subtract the rate of inflation, and 5.25 percent is a reasonable amount to spend. It’s enough to cut the deficit by more than half, but it’s not so much that it encourages overspending.

Despite the sensibility of this idea, lawmakers in the House rejected it because of the idea’s effects on the Dividend. Under this idea, the Dividend would be $1,000 instead of the $2,000 it is expected to be.

But cutting the Dividend right now is necessary to preserve it for the future. Without a cut to the dividend, we risk having no Dividend at all in four years. The state is spending its savings so quickly that unless we cut back, we will have no money to pay the Dividend beyond the end of this decade.

A project begun in 1982 will die from starvation before its 40th birthday.

This is not a choice about cutting the Dividend. This is about how much to cut the Dividend. You can either lose half now or lose the entire thing in a few years.

Many lawmakers said their constituents told them to leave the Dividend alone. If that is true, these lawmakers failed to educate their constituents about what truly is at stake, or how dividends might go away entirely if action isn’t taken.

Now it’s up to Gov. Walker to save us.

This year’s budget contains $1.4 billion for dividends, enough to pay every man, woman and child in Alaska about $2,000.

If Walker vetoes that money, there would be no dividends. When it convenes in special session on July 11, the Legislature would be forced to act.

In the special session that just ended, the House failed to pass SB 128 because it feared cutting the Dividend. If Walker vetoes the Dividend, lawmakers will have an opportunity to save it by passing SB 128.

There’s no question that if Walker vetoes the Dividend, it will infuriate Alaskans. Good. Maybe then they’ll pay attention to the real issue here.

If you’re reading this newspaper, you know the real issues. You’re up-to-date on the Legislature and what it’s been doing (or not doing). The problem lies with the people who don’t read the state’s newspapers. They live with blinders, ignorant of the problems on the ground. If you don’t believe us just look at comments below news articles and on social media. It becomes clear many Alaskans don’t understand how the Permanent Fund will be impacted once all the state’s savings are gone.

Walker might be the only Alaska politician brave enough to tear off their blinders in a spectacular act of political suicide. Walker has said repeatedly he’s less concerned about winning reelection than doing what’s necessary. So far, he’s kept his word. His plan for new taxes left no one unscathed.

According to the Alaska Attorney General’s Office, it’s within the governor’s right to veto a portion, or all, of the dividends to Alaskans. As we said in a previous editorial, the Permanent Fund is the third rail of Alaska politics: Touch it and die. But if something isn’t done to shore up the budget deficit and increase revenue now, we’re just trading electrocution for starvation.

Walker and the leadership of the Senate know this. So do some members of the House. The rest are either trying to protect their chances at reelection or are living in fantasy world where oil prices will soar and never again sink.

If the governor were to veto money budgeted for PFDs, it would make the Legislature’s vote on SB 128 much easier. Many Alaskans would even view them as heroes for protecting the Dividend.

In reality, the real hero tends to be the person who sacrifices the most for the good of all.

Alaska needs that hero now.


June 24, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Measure extending benefits to trooper families dies through inaction

The law enforcement and firefighter survivor benefits bill, House Bill 4002, had a tortured life for a piece of legislation broadly supported by Alaskans. After the original bill was slow-walked and died at the end of this year’s extended legislative session, Gov. Bill Walker resurrected it for the Legislature’s first special session of the year. Once again, it died before final passage. This time, it won’t be on the docket for the upcoming special session that begins July 11 - it’s dead for good. In a year of many legislative disappointments, this still registers as a big one.

The survivor benefits bill arose out of concerns for the welfare of the families of law enforcement officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty. After several high-profile deaths of Alaska State Troopers - Tage Toll in 2013, followed by Scott Johnson and Gabe Rich in 2014 - Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, sponsored a bill that would extend health care coverage to those families for years after the death. As the law currently stands, health benefits for surviving families expire quickly - in some cases, at the end of the month in which the death occurs.

At a time when families are still reeling from a recent loss, it’s shameful to add the headache and burden of seeking health care coverage to the list of items fallen officers’ and firefighters’ families are dealing with.

Those concerns didn’t appear to carry much weight with some members of the Legislature, however. Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, held Rep. Millett’s bill in his committee for more than a year, saying he was concerned about the legality of giving benefits to some state employees’ families and not others.

Those concerns must have been addressed after a wave of publicity about the bill’s plight late last month, as the House finally passed the bill, albeit on the last day of the special session, directly before gaveling out. In effect, this killed the bill without either the House or Senate having full culpability: The House could claim that it did its part by passing the bill, while the Senate, which is required to end its session within 24 hours after the other chamber does so, could claim its members didn’t have time to parse the bill before a vote.

That the Legislature should give the bill such shabby treatment is inexcusable. Gov. Walker’s choice to only include measures targeting the state’s budget deficit in the second special session is understandable - the deficit is by far the most important item left unaddressed by the Legislature. But it will mean the survivors of troopers Toll, Johnson and Rich will be perilously close to losing their health care coverage by the time the Legislature comes back to session next January. Legislators have already disappointed the people by failing to deal with the survivor benefits bill for two years in a row; a third would be inexcusable.

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