- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials in the last week:

Oct. 17, 2017

Ketchikan Daily News: Strong words

On Monday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced an interesting choice - one with ties to Southeast Alaska - as director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Bryan Rice, a former forester with the Tongass National Forest who earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Alaska-Southeast, was scheduled to start work Monday at the helm of the federal agency that “coordinates government-to-government relations with 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States,” according to the Interior Department.

In addition to his experience in Southeast Alaska, Rice, who’s a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, has a fairly extensive resume in government service.

Rice most recently served as director of the Interior Department’s Office of Wildland Fire after a stint from 2014 to 2016 as director of forest management for the U.S. Forest Service. He’s also had experience with the BIA, serving from 2011 to 2014 as deputy director of the agency’s Office of Trust Services.

He’s also worked as a timber sale officer on the Yakama Reservation, according to Interior Department information.

The department’s announcement of Rice’s appointment contained a set of quotations that strongly indicate the agency’s focus in the near future.

Zinke is quoted as saying that he has “full confidence that Bryan is the right person at this pivotal time as we work to renew the department’s focus on self-determination and self-governance, give power back to the tribes, and provide real meaning to the concept of tribal sovereignty.”

John Tahsuda, the department’s acting assistant secretary for Indian affairs, said Rice will be a “strong leader for the Bureau and closely follow the secretary’s plans for reforming the BIA into a top-notch service delivery agency for tribes and tribal leaders.”

For his part, Rice said that “Native Americans face significant regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles to economic freedom and success.

“I am honored to accept this position and look forward to implementing President Trump’s and Secretary Zinke’s regulatory reform initiative for Indian Country to liberate Native Americans from the bureaucracy that has held them back economically,” said Rice.

Those are strong words, especially from Rice and Zinke. Time will tell how the Interior Department and BIA translate those words into action.

For now, we’re encouraged that the new BIA director has BIA experience, can likely tell a spruce from a pine, and can find Southeast Alaska on a map.

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Oct. 16, 2017

Peninsula Clarion: Peninsula residents deserve chance to participate in fish board process

The Alaska Board of Fisheries may have just had its Upper Cook Inlet meeting earlier this year, but stakeholders already are looking forward to 2020 and the next Upper Cook Inlet meeting.

Specifically, local municipal governments are urging the board to meet on the central Kenai Peninsula - something it hasn’t done since 1999. The board will consider the location for the 2020 meeting at a work session this week.

Last Tuesday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly passed a resolution asking the board to meet here, while city councils in Kenai and Soldotna passed similar resolutions at recent meetings.

“Upper Cook Inlet finfish issues are vitally important to and directly impact residents, municipal governments, and communities on the Kenai Peninsula, and the majority of Upper Cook Inlet finfish proposals considered by the Board of Fisheries pertain to central Kenai Peninsula area watersheds,” reads the resolution. “. It would be beneficial for the Board of Fisheries’ members to hear from members of the public from the Kenai Peninsula Borough as well as Anchorage and Matanuska Susitna Borough residents, and to view firsthand the rivers and the infrastructure created by the finfish fisheries; and . the costs and travel time to attend meetings outside the Kenai Peninsula pose a significant burden to local residents, limiting participation and the Board of Fisheries’ ability to benefit from local knowledge.”

We whole-heartedly agree with those sentiments. Since that 1999 meeting, the fish board has held six Upper Cook Inlet meetings in Anchorage, despite the fact that the vast majority of the proposals considered involve the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. The board has called Anchorage a neutral location in the Upper Cook Inlet fish wars, but the fact of the matter is that holding the meeting - which lasts up to two weeks - in Anchorage has made much of the proceedings inaccessible to the average Kenai Peninsula resident.

The fish board has a number of new members since it last planned a location for an Upper Cook Inlet meeting, including Soldotna resident Robert Ruffner. We hope that the current requests to meet on the Kenai Peninsula won’t fall on deaf ears. Kenai Peninsula residents deserve an opportunity to fully participate in a process that so greatly impacts our day to day lives.

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Oct. 15, 2017

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Fix the budget mess - now

The first snows of the season have just fallen, and the Alaska Legislature will be convening in special session in eight days.

It’s absurd to think that it has been a full 10 months since our 60 lawmakers first gathered for the year and that Alaskans remain without an agreed-upon package of steps to straighten out the state’s finances.

The session that begins Oct. 23 will be the fourth of the year. And, again, it will be devoted in part to considering yet another proposal to help close the state’s expected multi-billion revenue shortfall for the next fiscal year.

The revenue picture is grim. Alaska needs a multi-component package to close the persistent gap, but legislators didn’t deliver one earlier for the current fiscal year, which has a projected gap of $2.6 billion. So the state will be using a large chunk from its savings accounts.

But those savings accounts will have a short lifespan at such a rate of drawdown.

Alaska needs some fundamental changes to stay afloat.

The House and Senate each approved legislation to use a portion of the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund to help pay the cost of government, but the differences between the versions of each chamber have yet to be worked out. The bill by the Democrat-led House coalition was conditioned on approval of an income tax, something the Republican- led Senate opposes.

How about cutting our way out of the problem? Alaskans need to understand that cuts alone won’t come close to getting the state out of this mess.

Additional revenue is needed. Use of money from the permanent fund’s earnings reserve account is by far the largest pot available, but it alone won’t close the gap. The problem exists in finding agreement on where to get the rest of the revenue.

Gov. Bill Walker must be as frustrated as anyone at the lack of a fiscal solution. He has been presenting ideas and watching the leaves on the trees turn from green to yellow and then float to the chilly ground.

The governor has been generally driving the process since taking office in 2014. He first did it publicly, pressuring the Legislature. That didn’t produce results. He then eased off, hoping the Legislature would see the seriousness of the financial problem and act accordingly to fix it. That didn’t work, either.

So here we are, 10 months since the start of the 2017 regular legislative session and just about three years into Gov. Walker’s term. And Alaska remains without a comprehensive fiscal plan to handle the projected multi-billion dollar deficits of the years ahead.

Gov. Walker pointed out in his proclamation calling the Legislature into special session later this month, as he has previously, that he and legislators have reduced state spending 29 percent, or $1.7 billion, since 2014.

The quest to reduce state spending is a never-ending one. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there comes a point where cutting cannot be the pre-eminent approach. Alaska is well beyond the point where looking for reductions should be the first step.

The special session begins Oct. 23. The one revenue item on the agenda is yet another proposal from the governor: an income tax of 1.5 percent on Alaskans and non-resident workers. The tax would be limited to the higher of $2,200 or twice the previous year’s permanent fund dividend amount and would raise an estimated $325 million annually, still not quite enough to fill the hole even with the use of the permanent fund earnings, according to the governor’s budget director.

Gov. Walker has shown strong leadership in a difficult time. He came into office with oil prices tumbling and oil production down, two developments that sent the state’s oil-reliant revenue stream into rapid decline.

Time is running out on Alaska. Legislators should have solved the problem long ago.

If this group of 20 Senate members and 40 House members can’t get it done, then perhaps a new group should be given the opportunity next November.

Let your legislators know that they need to solve the fiscal crisis now.

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