AKLEG Day 56: Pro-ANWR resolution passes Legislature with Alaska hire provision

Something might be going on in there.The Alaska State Capitol building as photographed in 2010. (Photo by Kimberly Vardeman/Creative Commons)

We’re nearly halfway through the 121-day session and the Legislature has approved its first resolution. It has not yet passed any bills.

Today is day 57. Woo.

Senate approves House changes to SJR7

The House passed Senate Joint Resolution 7 on Monday, a resolution supporting oil development in the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It serves as the Legislature’s comment on the federal environmental impact statement process, which has a public comment deadline of Wednesday.

After the Senate rejected slew of floor amendments, including a change that would have supported Alaska hire, when it first passed the chamber, the House added a pro-Alaska hire amendment in the House Resources Committee. The amendment, which was authored by Fairbanks Rep. Grier Hopkins is as follows:

“Whereas, while most Alaskans support development in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, many do so with the understanding that the state’s workforce will be used to the maximum extent possible if the leasing program moves forward.”

The measure passed the House 36-3 (after a few procedural maneuvers by Rep. David Eastman) and continued onto the Senate later that afternoon where Sen. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, recommended the measure for passage.

“The fact that this says ‘maximum extent possible’ mitigates to any potential constitutional issues, and I would urge that because of the timely consideration necessary and because this resolution is intended to serve as the 31st Legislature’s official comment on the draft EIS and because that public comment period ends on Wednesday, I would encourage members to concur with these changes.”

The measure passed the Senate on reconsideration 18-1.

The legislators who voted against the measure seemed generally driven by concern about oil development in a wildlife refuge and the role that the development of fossil fuels has had on climate change. That included Reps. Adam Wool, Sara Hannan and Geran Tarr. Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson also voted against the measure.

“I support the economy, I support the industry, I support the industry that supports Alaska–I really do, and I want it to grow and do well–but at the same time I don’t think we can make this leap into a new area that’s a refuge, by the way, without consideration of the grand policy that we should be addressing,” Wool  said. “The climate change we’re experiencing right now is happening at a much faster rate than predicted. It’s not on the 100-year scale, it’s 10- or 20-year scale.”

On a day that the House was filled with the children of legislators, Wool said he was concerned about what kind of world his generation would be leaving for them.

“I have two good reasons in this room why I want to protect our environment for more than 10 or 20 years, and they’re standing right over there. My children are here today, and I want an environment for them and other peoples’ children and other peoples’ grandchildren,” he said. “We as Alaskans as individuals we may not be able to solve this problem, but as a nation we can and as an international community we can.

The resolution is now on its way to the feds.

House advances anti-pot Stiver

Anti-marijuana campaigner Vivian Stiver finished up her public hearing for the Marijuana Control Board appointment in front of the House Labor and Commerce on Monday, but not before three members (Reps. Hannan, Fields and Stutes) said they would be opposing her nomination. Stiver has faced stiff opposition from the marijuana industry because her interaction with the industry so far has been limited to voter initiatives that sought to ban the already-operating marijuana businesses from Fairbanks.

Stepping down

The co-chairs of the Senate Finance Committee talked with reporters on Monday about their proposed alternative to Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s plan to cut state spending to the bone all in one year. That step-down approach translates to smaller dividends to fund government over the next few years as reductions and other changes are made.

It’s been hard to ignore legislators comparing the $1.6 billion deficit—most of which is a function of Dunleavy’s plan to pay out a full dividend instead of the split envisioned by Gov. Bill Walker and the former Legislature—to the cost to pay out dividends, about $1.9 billion. And that’s not to mention the skepticism Dunleavy’s repayment plan has been met with.

“Generally, where we’re at will be a modification of what the governor submitted, to look at a more of a step-down approach over the next two or three years to allow private enterprise to adjust, the municipalities and the general populace, to the changes,” said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka and co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told the Anchorage Daily News.

“We’re going to be talking about potentially using the dividend as some sort of a shock absorber,” he said.

Clearly, last week’s economic impact analysis—both the less-than-satisfying analysis presented by the administration and the more data-driven approach by ISER—were weighing on legislators.

“We’re facing somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 jobs that would be vaporized from the workforce in Alaska, that’s 2 percent of our workforce,” Stedman said, according to the Juneau Empire, “and potentially extend our recession for several years. … I’m not interested in putting people out of work and out of their homes.”

The ISER analysis suggested the cuts to government spending would amount to a los of 16,924 jobs. It assumed the Legislature would pass both the full statutory dividend and the PFD repayment plan amounting to an addition of 9,777 jobs (both are increasingly unlikely given the politics).

The analysis also suggested that increases to the PFD were fleeting, lasting only a few months at most.

It also argued that if the additional job cuts hit Alaska residents, it could extend Alaska’s recession and potentially cause a wave of outmigration, which could extend to the housing market.

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