Rodney King once asked “can’t we all just get along?” Unfortunately in politics people have different visions. The prevailing one in the House right now isn't mine. We can get along as friends. But our policy differences are significant.
Eliminating Pre-Kindergarten Education: Making Alaska an Education Backwater
The Finance Committee is considering eliminating Alaska's pilot Pre-Kindergarten effort - it was too small to start with - and Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole) has taken action to recommend the Finance Committee eliminate the effort. It is unfortunately not clear where the votes are on this issue.
If you want to make Alaska an education backwater, that's the kind of stuff you do. Eliminate education that over 40 states provide on a statewide basis, and that been proven over and over to increase graduation rates, increase wages, and decrease arrests and jail time. It's why I, Chris Tuck, Scott Kawasaki and others keep pushing legislation so hard for expanded voluntary Pre-K. Because it improves education results, improves the economy, and saves wasteful prison costs.
I "Hyperboled" You a Little. Good News on Fishing Stream Access Bill
My legislation to encourage the state to enhance public fishing stream access did pass the House Fisheries Committee last week. Alaska is poised to lose significant fishing stream access in coming years unless the state takes action. That's what HB 144 calls on the state to do. In some states you have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to fish a stream. In Alaska it should remain free. Accessing our trophy wild salmon, trout and char should be a right we don't give away to bad or lazy management.
OK, I "Hyperboled" Again: An Ethics Committee Win
This winter, the Ethics Committee issued a ruling that Rep. Bob Lynn couldn't mention the names of private businesses in his publications. That sounds well and good, but, um, it drove me nuts. We have started some very important private donation projects in our office. We started FosterWear, which provides discount new clothing for foster youth at participating stores. We are getting laptop computers for foster youth. I think it is legitimate to thank those who've made the donations, and to encourage others to do more. And, frankly, we have to be able to tell foster families which stores are offering discount clothing to foster youth. The Ethics Committee rules this week that I can mention the names of private businesses that do charitable work.
Oil Politics: A Plan to Burn through Alaska's $12 Billion in Savings in Five Years. Maybe the Governor Wants to Cut Your PFD?
Yesterday we held a press conference on the disaster that we call the Governor's oil tax reduction bill.
This week the House Resources Committee passed a bill that lowers the state's share of oil revenue by over $2 billion a year, and over $3 billion a year at current oil prices. They claimed oil companies are hurt by the current law that, um, has produced over $7.5 billion in Alaska profits for Conoco Phillips the past 4 years, and over $7.2 billion for British Petroleum through 2009 (they haven't reported their 2010 profits yet). The major oil companies refused to commit, with the $3 billion in tax breaks, whether they would develop any new fields, or expand any development.
I've negotiated big cases as an attorney. I was an Assistant Attorney General on the Exxon Valdez oil spill case. You NEVER give away $3 billion on a promise the other side will do NOTHING. This is the biggest giveaway in state oil revenue in Alaska history, and, probably, the worst negotiating job ever done by a sitting Alaska Governor. Stay tuned. The bill now goes to the Finance Committee.
Democrats (and Republicans) call For More Oil Production
This week Senator Hollis French and I took the lead to write a letter seeking reversal of the Army Corps of Engineers decision blocking development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). That North Slope area was set aside for oil development, and the Army Corps blocked a needed permit for Conoco to build a bridge across the Colville River to access the area for development. Sometimes it's good for national officials to hear from local Democrats who understand these issues better, and we hope our letter will have an impact. The Governor has already written a letter, as has Democratic Mayor of the North Slope Borough, Edward Itta.
One interesting side note here: Conoco wants to develop NPR-A. They want to do it under the current oil tax system. A case can be made that it's not the oil tax system that’s deterring investment - or Conoco wouldn't be working on this project (and the recent fields, Oooguruk and Nikaitchuq wouldn't have recently come on line). Permitting problems, and a score of others rank ahead of marginal changes in our tax rate - and I hope the Governor will consider that. Shoot - we already reduce oil company taxes for companies that can prove they need a tax break to move ahead with an oil development. And provide substantial exploration and investment credits. OK, don't get me started on this one again.
I Feel So Alone!
Roughly half the Legislature is off to Washington, D.C. for Energy Council. Some will lobby federal officials on important matters. Good for them. And I suspect some probably won't. Not so good for them. I'm here taking public testimony on the operating budget (and trying to get on the first plane that isn't cancelled by local 90 MPH winds!).
As always, call if you need something. I need to call to see if I can get a plane out of here and not be the last legislator left in the building.