- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Jan. 18, 2017

Ketchikan Daily News: Interference

It’s in Alaskans’ best interest to manage the state’s wildlife.

That said, the state is suing two federal agencies over regulations imposed on Alaska. The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created the regs.

Gov. Bill Walker argues that the regulations interfere with some Alaskans’ basic means of survival.

The National Park Service imposed regulations that restrict certain sport hunting practices in national preserves in 2015, according to The Associated Press. NPS prohibited killing wolves and coyotes, including pups, during denning season, killing any black bear while using artificial light at den sites and killing of black and brown bears over bait.

The agency says the rules didn’t affect subsistence hunting by eligible Alaskans.

The main rub between the state and the feds is predator control on federal conservation land.

The state Game Board would like to expand human consumption of moose and caribou through the killing of bears and wolves. Its members also have supported longer hunting seasons for predators, and management toward the goal of control.

But, state law officials say the lawsuit is about federal control, not predator control or protecting Alaska’s wildlife. The agencies are interfering with what should be Alaskans’ management.

Management at the local or state level is most often more responsive to the people than that from afar. Alaskans, who in some cases depend upon, and who enjoy Alaska’s wildlife year-round should be making the rules.

It’s in Alaska’s best interest to manage wildlife well.


Jan. 18, 2017

Alaska Journal of Commerce: The discoveries that almost didn’t happen

We aren’t hearing much from the opponents of the 2013 oil tax reform lately.

Facts tend to get in the way of rhetorical hyperbole, and it appears that reality has finally caught up with Democrats and Gov. Bill Walker, who collectively agitated for the repeal Senate Bill 21 in a 2014 voter referendum.

Losing that fight didn’t end the debate, however.

Nor did the undisputed evidence from Walker’s own Revenue Department that SB 21 was bringing in more money than the previous system as prices started to slide late in 2014.

Record employment and record drilling on the North Slope in 2015 didn’t stop the noise, either.

The 2016 fiscal year increase in production - the first since 2002 - was barely noted as the news came amid a chaotic end to the session and Walker vetoing some $1.3 billion in spending on June 29, about half of which was cutting the Permanent Fund Dividend to $1,000.

The calendar year also closed with an increase in production, which followed by only a couple weeks the third-best lease sale on the North Slope since the area-wide offerings began in 1998.

Now comes the news that ConocoPhillips has followed the Nanushuk formation now under development by Armstrong Energy and Repsol with one of its own in the same play that holds 300 million barrels of oil that could flow at a rate of 100,000 barrels per day.

The Armstrong-Repsol project in the neighboring Pikka Unit could flow at a rate of 120,000 barrels per day.

Those two projects combined are a bit less than half of the current fiscal year average through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System of 510,000 barrels per day, and both companies are further exploring their acreage this winter with the belief there’s even more to be found.

Add in ConocoPhillips’ Greater Mooses Tooth 1 and 2 now in construction and permitting, respectively, and that’s another 60,000 barrels per day with GMT-1 to provide half that total beginning late in 2018.

Should the more longshot prospect being explored by Caelus come to fruition with up to 200,000 barrels per day from Smith Bay, we now have developments that nearly equal the current throughput potentially coming online by the early 2020s.

As we ring in the new year with the state expected to lose 7,500 jobs in 2017 and the sharply divided Legislature convening with its last best chance at fixing a $3 billion-budget deficit, it is the oft-maligned oil industry that is providing a lone ray of hope for the Alaska economy.

When the Legislature inevitably takes up oil tax policy this session, it is important to remember who was completely wrong about SB 21. All of the current developments and the 2016 increase in production would have been at risk if the Democrats and Walker had their way in 2014.

Walker, for his part, had a convenient case of amnesia in responding to the ConocoPhillips announcement after he proposed tax increases on the oil industry just last session.

“It demonstrates that Alaska remains an attractive place to do business and look for oil,” Walker said.

Certainly it does “remain” attractive, but that’s no thanks to Walker or Democrats whose preferred policy resulted in continued annual decline and no discoveries.

It is not hard to draw a straight line from the change in policy in 2013 with the increase in activity and possibly the biggest find since Kuparuk on the North Slope with the Nanushuk play.

ConocoPhillips drilled no exploration wells in 2010, 2011 or 2012. It drilled three last year, made a big find and snapped up hundreds of thousands of acres around its discovery in December despite losing billions in 2015 and 2016 as prices cratered.

The only good thing about that was a temporary pause in Sen. Bill Wielechowski’s banal quarterly press releases pointing to ConocoPhillips profits as a reason to jack up its taxes.

“There is a direct correlation between investment and tax policy,” ConocoPhillips Alaska President Joe Marushack said on Jan. 13 as he described the company’s process for allocating capital between Alaska and the rest of its global portfolio.

“If the tax changes, the economics change, the allocation changes,” he said. “It’s very simple.”

So simple even the Democrats and the governor should be able to get it.


Jan. 20, 2017

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Fixing budget problems requires leadership from legislators

Legislators and Alaskans of a like mind who believe the size of government always can be cut are misguided. Although it is proper to constantly review expenditures, eventually the time will come when no more can be cut.

The problem, of course, is that no one can agree on just when that time is, because government means different things to different people. The dollar size of the Alaska state government today, though quite a bit smaller than when Gov. Bill Walker came into office at the end of 2014, may be too large for some people, too small for others, and maybe just about right for another group.

Cuts aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet, mind you. They are people and services. Gov. Walker listed some of that impact in his annual State of the State speech Wednesday night:


“The Department of Health and Social Services has been cut more than 13 percent. One result is that more than 2,000 Alaskan families will no longer get help to heat their homes. Crime rates are too high, and the number of state troopers has decreased.

“By the end of this year, we will have closed seven trooper posts, six public health centers, three maintenance stations, one correctional facility, two youth detention facilities, multiple jobs centers and a fire training facility.

“We are selling search-and-rescue aircraft and ferries. We are assessing whether it makes sense to sell other state assets …

“By this time next year, we will have reduced the state workforce by 3,000 state employees since I took office. That brings the workforce down to what it was 15 years ago.”


Ask any budget-cutting aficionado in Juneau this question: “When is enough enough for you?” An answer is likely hard to come by.

What we know is this: It’s a dangerous hindrance to make budget-cutting a hurdle that must be cleared before any other deficit-reduction efforts can be considered. Alaska’s multibillion budget gaps cannot be solved through budget surgery alone.

It is a fact.

And it was one of the many truths to come out of Gov. Walker’s speech Wednesday. As for other facts in his speech, let’s focus on the word “crisis,” which appears in the text of the governor’s speech several times.

There’s no question we are in one and that to state otherwise is foolish. Here’s some of the proof:

The budget deficit was $3.2 billion this year and was closed up by drawing on dwindling budget reserves, which will be depleted in a year or so unless the Legislature acts. Those reserves, the governor said, are being spent at a rate of $8.2 million per day. The state is expecting a deficit of $3 billion in the next fiscal year.

The price of oil has plummeted, though it has rebounded slightly yet insufficiently to offset the deficit. Oil production has generally fallen over the years, and the outcome of the prospects for improvement that exist are far from certain despite the encouraging early signs.

And this month, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development projected continued job losses across most sectors in Alaska, a sign of a weakening economy.

The governor correctly stated in his speech to the joint session of the Legislature that a crisis necessitates using all available options to resolve it. Cutting the budget alone isn’t the answer. Additional revenue is needed, and that likely means using some of the earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund and raising money with new or higher taxes and fees.

Gov. Walker and his team have been aggressive in trying to educate legislators and Alaskans about the dire financial situation. The governor has taken quite a bit of criticism for his veto last year of half of the money for the annual dividend. The blowback was expected, but doing what you think is right in the face of strong opposition is what a leader has to do once in a while. The Senate last year showed some courage of its own when it approved the governor’s bill to restructure the permanent fund to make money available for government use in a sustainable manner, but the House wouldn’t take it up. That ultimate inaction - as well as inaction on the governor’s eight other budget-fixing bills - led to the veto of funds for last year’s dividend.

Alaska deserves leadership from its leaders. It didn’t get all it needed in that regard last year.

Let’s hope the full Legislature can do its part this year to help solve the budget crisis. And soon.

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