- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

May 6, 2017

Ketchikan Daily News: Checked off

It’s a checkmark in the “done” column.

The U.S. Senate passed a 2017 appropriations bill this week, removing the all-too-frequent worry of whether the government will shut down.

Instead of dragging out the question of whether it will, the bill covers federal expenses through the end of September. Federal agencies have their answer in what will be paid for.

In Ketchikan, the answer is particularly welcome.

An item included in the bill will eliminate the possibility of timber harvest on a portion of the community’s scenic Deer Mountain.

The item calls for a land trade between the U.S. Forest Service and Alaska Mental Health Trust.

The trade involves a portion of Deer Mountain and other land in Southeast Alaska amounting to about 18,000 acres for about 21,000 acres of federally owned land on Prince of Wales Island and in the Shelter Cove area of Revillagigedo Island.

The trust pursued the trade for the past 10 years. Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced legislation for the trade a year ago. The legislation failed by year’s end, but by then the trust had decided it had waited long enough and would offer a timber sale on Deer Mountain.

This riled up the community. Lawmakers quickly responded and, as seen this week, the legislation made it into the appropriations bill.

The trust is obligated to generate revenue from its land to support mental health services in Alaska.

The appropriations bill also contains $3.1 million for maintenance at Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin, and its funding for agencies will affect the community and southern Southeast in other areas, as well.

Funding is included to address the opioid and heroin epidemic, Arctic exploration and development, rural aviation, biomass energy, fisheries, and oceans and river water quality. It also continues the Payment In Lieu of Taxes program, a means by which the federal government contributes as a property owner to communities.

Ketchikan’s appropriations success is reminiscent of the days of earmarks a decade ago. The late Sen. Ted Stevens delivered billions of dollars in earmarks to Alaska through chairing and serving on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

With Stevens influence, he was able to deliver for Alaska. Fifteen years later, Alaska’s senior senator and Stevens’ successor, Murkowski has acquired similar influence and earned the respect to deliver for Alaska, particularly for Ketchikan this session.

Alaska’s junior senator, Dan Sullivan, shares her passion for delivering for Alaskans and supported the appropriations bill and the issues relevant to Alaska, too.

The Alaska delegation, which is complete with Congressman Don Young, delivered for Ketchikan and Southeast Alaska

It’s a job well “done.”


May 6, 2017

Peninsula Clarion: Legislature has better tools than income tax to address deficit

Should the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program be considered government assistance?

It’s a crucial question to ask right now, because one of the main arguments for an income tax is that a reduction in the dividend has a greater impact on lower income Alaskans.

Yet most Alaskans will argument vehemently that the Permanent Fund dividend is not welfare.

The measure in question, House Bill 115, narrowly passed the House and currently is working its way through a skeptical Senate. It would institute the first income tax in Alaska since 1980, when revenue generated from the oil industry made an income tax unnecessary.

As part of its plan to address the state’s deficit, the House also has proposed to restructure the way in which Permanent Fund earnings are used, allocating a portion to pay for state government. The Permanent Fund dividend would be capped at $1,250; revenue generated by the income tax, among other measures, would be used to close the remaining gap.

The Senate’s plan also includes use of Permanent Fund earnings to address the deficit, capping dividends at $1,000 for the next three years, and further narrows the gap with deeper proposed cuts. The Senate would draw on some savings in the next few years for a portion of the budget, which members of the Senate say will ensure that lawmakers continue to rein in spending.

There aren’t too many Alaskans - ourselves included - who like the idea of missing out on a Permanent Fund dividend of potentially $2,000. But when weighed against the alternative of also paying an income tax, we just don’t agree with the reasoning involved in paying out money to all Alaskans, then taking a big chunk of it back from those with other sources of income.

That brings us back to our initial question about the Permanent Fund dividend program. Over the decades of its existence, a wide range of arguments have evolved over its purpose. Guaranteeing income for low-income Alaskans is rarely among them - yet that’s the intent of the House’s income tax proposal, to preserve the dividend by taxing higher earners.

A dividend, by definition, is a share of the profits paid out to stakeholders - in this case, Alaska residents. Companies pay out dividends only after covering expenses; it would seem reasonable for Alaska to do the same.

As Sen. Peter Micciche has said on numerous occasions, Alaska doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a cash flow problem. We know that cuts alone don’t fix the problem, and we know it will be years until oil prices and production levels return to a point where they generate enough revenue to sustain state government - if they do at all.

Given those realities, we encourage lawmakers to use the tools already at their disposal to fix the problem before saddling working Alaskans with an additional burden.


May 7, 2017

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Senate whiffs again on scholarships

Having experienced strong pushback on a move to eliminate the Alaska Performance Scholarship, the state Senate has rolled out a revision that softpedals the change. But residents shouldn’t mistake the revamped Senate Bill 103, passed in late April, as a measure that preserves the aims of the popular scholarship program or is likely to be a net positive for Alaska students. On the contrary, even the revised version of the bill would deplete the scholarship’s endowment and restrict it to students who are least likely to be in need of aid to continue their education.

As it exists now, the Alaska Performance Scholarship offers tiered aid to graduating Alaska high school students who meet curriculum and GPA requirements. Students with cumulative GPAs from 2.5 to 3.0 can receive as much as $2,378 per year to help defray tuition and qualifying expenses at Alaska higher education institutions. Those with GPAs from 3.0 to 3.5 can receive as much as $3,566 per year, and those with GPAs of 3.5 and above can receive as much as $4,755. The scholarships don’t have to be used in pursuit of a four-year degree; they can also be used by those working toward an associate degree, other two-year program or work certificate.

That aid to students with less-stellar GPAs and those pursuing vocational and technical education is one reason why the most recent revision of Senate Bill 103 should be a nonstarter for legislators concerned with Alaska student achievement. The revised bill kills the scholarship for all but the highest GPA range. Sen. Anna MacKinnon spun the move as an incentive for students with lower GPAs to improve their grades.

The fact of the matter, however, is that most of those students with GPAs between 2.5 and 3.5 probably won’t achieve a higher GPA (if doing so were as easy as just trying a little harder, wouldn’t most of our kids be doing that already?) and will thus have less incentive to continue their education. Statistically, many of the students who go into vocational education for high-demand trades that legislators say they value will be the ones who will miss out. Those students who decide higher education isn’t affordable may well settle for lower-paying jobs while state industries are forced to keep importing skilled labor from Outside.

Worst of all, even restricting the scholarship to those with the highest GPAs won’t make the Senate plan sustainable. SB 103 still robs almost $70 million from the fund feeding the scholarship, meaning its earnings won’t be enough to replenish the annual draw. In time, the revised Senate plan would abolish the scholarship just as surely as the bill’s original conception would have.

Twice the Senate has attempted to come up with a bill that would be better than the status quo for improving outcomes for Alaska students, and twice its attempts have fallen short. It’s time for the House to recognize that SB 103, as passed by the Senate, would be a step backward. With other topics such as the state budget deficit looming large, there’s no reason to spend more time considering a bill that would hurt educational prospects for young Alaskans.

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