- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials:

Dec. 10, 2018

Ketchikan Daily News: Budget efficiency


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Finances are front and center of Alaskans’ concern for the state.

It’s a core concern for Alaska’s future.



And it’s two-fold: The future of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividends and dispensing the multi-year budget deficit.

Beyond that, it’s about bringing new revenue into Alaska through economic development.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has taken charge. He’s consolidating state finances.

Dunleavy has assigned the administrative services directors of every state agency to the Office of Management and Budget instead of to their agency. This way budget directors will answer to Dunleavy through OMB and not their agency commissioners.

It’s a streamlining approach. Dunleavy will set policy and be more closely involved in the budgeting that allows for it to be carried out.

The new governor is required by state law to present a budget proposal by Dec. 15.

With budget directors working in a new way that’s intended to improve efficiency, that date should be met with time to spare.

___

Dec. 5, 2018

Alaska Journal of Commerce: A governor for all Alaskans

When the ground started shaking at 8:29 a.m. on Nov. 30, it did so beneath the feet of Republican and Democrat Alaskans alike.

Nobody on utility crews from Anchorage to the Valley thought about the political party of their fellow citizens they were restoring power to, nor did the firefighters, first responders or the Department of Transportation employees who immediately set to work rerouting traffic and preparing to rebuild our major road arteries within just days of a 7.0 magnitude quake and amid nearly 2,000 aftershocks.

Alaskans who offered up their homes or businesses for shelter or donations did not do so based on how you or they voted.

After a contentious race for governor won by Republican Mike Dunleavy and a recount settled by one vote in one House district that will determine control of that half of the Legislature, the Nov. 30 quake and its aftermath was a powerful reminder that in the end we are all Alaskans.

From the Department of Bad Timing, Nov. 30 was also the day that some 800 state employees ranging from commissioners to road engineers were to have tendered their resignations and reapplied for their jobs or faced termination.

We still don’t know how many employees were fired or retained, but we do know that last Friday was a day for all hands on deck and not for politics.

No matter how Dunleavy’s transition tries to slice it, the unprecedented move to ask for the resignations of every at-will employee in the state was a clumsy, ham-handed decision that did nothing to get the administration off on the right foot with the people he intends to lead.

There was plenty of time for Dunleavy’s commissioners to take office, read the lay of the land and determine who was on board with the direction he intends to take and who was not.

There was no need to make a big show of who’s the boss.

Dunleavy’s picks for commissioners so far have ranged from conventional to not, from longtime stakeholders such as former Associated General Contractors of Alaska Executive Director John MacKinnon being tapped to lead the Department of Transportation to an experienced government hand like Bruce Tangeman at Revenue and a fresh set of eyes from Outside with Donna Arduin to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

However, the rollout of the resignation demand was disastrously fronted by Dunleavy’s Chief of Staff and former Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock, whose fiery press releases have been a fixture of Alaska politics for years.

While not explicitly worded as such, the demand for employees to affirmatively state their desire to keep their jobs in a Dunleavy administration was quickly dubbed some kind of “loyalty pledge” in the vein of those that Babcock has attempted to enforce over the years with Republicans from former Rep. Paul Seaton to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Some employees took their disdain for the request public, leading to further escalation in Babcock’s rhetoric that did nothing to diffuse the situation or smooth the transition.

By holding his swearing-in ceremony in rural Alaska and celebrating in his wife’s hometown of Noorvik, it is clear that Dunleavy wants to be a governor of all Alaskans, with a particular passion for devoting attention to the oft-forgotten Bush where poverty and crime are rampant.

But by picking someone like Babcock as chief of staff and having him claim a mandate that is not nearly as strong as he’s asserted, the message has been muddled from being the governor of Alaska to being the governor of Republicans and created unnecessary uncertainty and distrust among the workforce that was not needed before, and certainly not after, the Nov. 30 earthquake.

There’s a time and place for partisanship, and for vigorous debates over policy philosophies such as the size and expense of government. This is not to suggest Dunleavy should not appoint people who align with his vision, or not expect that those who work in his administration should help advance his goals to the best of their ability.

This was, though, an unforced error that got him off to a rocky start before he even took office and one that he should endeavor not to repeat.

___

Dec. 8, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Alaska’s uncertain oil revenue outlook: Latest numbers are a reminder that the industry needs encouragement

Oil prices have fallen sharply in the last couple of months, a reminder of the global oil market’s volatility. And yet, while that is a significant cause for concern, the recent pricing of a barrel of Alaska North Slope crude is in line with what the state Department of Revenue projected in its annual spring revenue forecast.

The department’s report, issued back in March, stated that North Slope crude would average $61 per barrel in fiscal 2018 and $63 in fiscal 2019. The report was issued 3 ½ months before the end of the 2018 fiscal year. The state is now 5 ½ months into fiscal 2019.

A comparison sheet from the Department of Revenue comparing the spring forecast with the preliminary fall forecast, which was issued Monday and includes final numbers from fiscal 2018, raised the average price of oil for fiscal 2018 to $63.61 and the projected price for fiscal 2019 to $76.

The comparison sheet, which looks at price and production and other aspects of the Alaska oil industry, should get a hard look from Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the legislators who will convene in Juneau in January for the opening of the new Legislature and who will be confronted, as their predecessors were for years, with the state’s budget troubles.

Looking way out to fiscal 2028, the department’s comparison sheet won’t give them great comfort. It shows the average annual price of oil increasing by only $1 or $2 each year in both the spring and fall forecasts, although it does raise the annual average price by $8 or $9 per year over the spring forecast. Those amounts are in nominal dollars, meaning they aren’t adjusted for inflation.

That’s minimalist optimism.

Pricing, though, is just one major piece of the revenue equation.

The other piece is production. And that’s where the little bit of optimism of the pricing side seems to vanish in the department’s new comparison sheet.

The department projected average daily oil production for fiscal 2018 at 521,800 barrels per day in its spring forecast, but the final number came in at 518,400 barrels in the fall report. Looking at the present 2019 fiscal year, the fall forecast shows an increase of 3,200 barrels over the spring forecast, for a projected average of 529,800 barrels per day. For the following fiscal year, oil production is expected to increase again, though the fall forecast indicates it won’t be as much as first thought.

Things then start to look grim for fiscal years 2021 through 2024. The fall forecast - it’s still preliminary, remember; the final comes out later this month - sharply downgraded the production estimates for those years by the following amounts over the forecast from earlier this year: 11.1 percent, 15.5 percent, 20.3 percent and 23.9 percent, respectively.

Production is expected to turn around somewhat in fiscal 2025 through fiscal 2028, but both of this year’s forecasts still expect production to be below current levels by 2028, at slightly under an average of 500,000 barrels per day.

So what does this mean for the state’s revenue, especially since about 80 percent of the state’s unrestricted general fund revenue comes from petroleum products and is expected to continue to do so? (That percentage, by the way, will remain about the same when excluding the new annual transfer of permanent fund earnings into the unrestricted general funds box.)

It means that Gov. Dunleavy and legislators of both parties must make increasing oil production a priority and that they should resist any urge to change Alaska’s oil and gas tax structure in a desperate attempt to get more money from the industry. The state has changed the system enough times already. Oil executives and industry analysts often say the industry needs stability in a tax system in order to help validate long-term development plans.

Petroleum economist Michael Lynch made that point quite clear at the end of his August column in Forbes magazine in which he discussed Alaska’s oil patch:

“The biggest fear, as always, is that politicians will kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

___

Dec. 9, 2018

Anchorage Daily News: Thank you, teachers, for taking great care of Anchorage’s kids during the earthquake chaos

At 8:29 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 30, Jessica Connaher of Eagle River was in a bad way. A magnitude 7 earthquake had hit a few miles away, she had no means of transportation and she couldn’t get in touch with her son Steven, a freshman at Eagle River High School.

“It took me 45 minutes after the earthquake to get from my house in Parkview Terrace to ERHS, because my car was trapped in my garage,” Connaher wrote. “A friend was driving by and helped me finish getting stuff out of the way so I could leave. I wasn’t able to get ahold of my son once in that time, and was really worried. I could hear the fire alarms at the school going off from my house.”

Connaher was one of thousands of parents across the greater Anchorage area whose thoughts once they were out of immediate danger turned to their children, most of whom were already in classes at schools around the city. Though some students were able to contact their families almost immediately and put their minds at ease, many were unreachable, and parents feared the worst. Calls canceling school went out quickly, and the roads filled with parents rushing from home or work to collect their children. Drives that ordinarily took a few minutes became hourlong commutes.

Fortunately, parents would soon find their children were in good hands.

Connaher pulled up at Eagle River High as students huddled together outside, supervised by their teachers. Her son, unable to contact her, had made arrangements to go home with a friend and keep trying to call her from there. “He was just getting into their car further up in line when I arrived and had his name called,” Connaher wrote. And for the first time ever, she was happy to see her son improperly dressed for the near-freezing temperatures.

“My son was in a T-shirt and visibly shivering when he got in my car, and I was thrilled to see it. He always takes his hoodie off and stuffs it in his backpack because he says his second-hour class is so warm. This told me the teacher focused on getting the students out as quickly and efficiently as possible when they were evacuated from the school, and did not let them stop for anything.” Steven was uninjured, Connaher wrote, “except for a bump on the head when they were diving under their desks.”

Stories like Connaher’s played out that morning throughout the Anchorage School District. As videos showed, teachers, students and support staff did exactly what they were supposed to during the earthquake. Teachers, though affected by the earthquake themselves, projected calm and gave clear instructions to students, keeping them under desks until well after shaking stopped and shepherding them out of the building quickly when fire alarms started to blare. When it was safe to do so, they let students contact their families and let them know what was going on. In some instances, they even used the quake as a teachable moment, talking to students about the processes behind earthquakes and how they affect Alaska.

Connaher’s reaction to the situation, like that of many other parents, was gratitude. An email arrived a few hours later from school officials detailing what had happened in the quake’s immediate aftermath and the procedure for keeping students safe. “I’m just really appreciative that ERHS and ASD at large have such competent and thoughtful staff,” Connaher wrote. “It’s possible I grabbed my son and cried all over him again, although I’m pretty sure he’ll insist now that it didn’t happen.”

Systems like ASD are complex, filled with thousands of policies, procedures and people. But in moments of crisis, it’s what people do on an individual, person-to-person scale that matters most. And when the earthquake came, the people in classrooms across the city - teachers, staff and students alike - did just what they were supposed to. They remembered their training, they took it seriously and they kept each other safe. As parents, as friends and as community members, they did us proud.

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