Friday in the Sun (Sept. 6): The Amateur Hour edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Thanks for bearing with us during the hiatus this last week, I’ve was out of Alaska for my college newspaper’s reunion. I thought August was supposed to be a quiet time for news, but here we are. There’s plenty to catch up on and more to look forward to.

As always, political gossip and rumor are best enjoyed as a recreational activity.

More cuts incoming

What was swirling as rumor earlier this week became confirmed reality today with the latest report by the Anchorage Daily News’ James Brooks on a memo being circulated by the Office of Management and Budget calling for more cuts over the next year.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that OMB Director Donna Arduin/Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy are gunning for more cuts even though they paid the price for proposing the latest round of cuts. The ADN report aligns with the rumors of a 15 percent cut, but what’s interesting is that the memo obtained by the paper states that the 15 percent reduction is planned between FY2019 (which is already over) through FY2021 (next year’s budget).

That means that the cuts that have already taken place this year are, I guess, supposed to be counted toward those cuts. So, the University of Alaska is ostensibly safe from further cuts, but again who knows? Who knows how much more needs to be cut according to this memo?

And, as the article points out, the state and the Legislature’s finance division are on completely different pages of what has been cut. Arduin and company say 10 percent has already been cut while the Legislature’s finance folks say it’s been closer to about 8.3 percent.

Arduin and the OMB reach that number because they compare the actual spending of last year to this year’s approved budget. Legislative finance correctly points out that this is an apples and oranges kind of comparison. One’s actual spending and the other is a spending plan.

Hell, there’s a whole lot of ways to twist numbers to make them look however you want. Might as well start throwing in the audited budgets of prior years, which is a particularly “fun” budget trick. That’s because, as you might recall, budgets are just budgets. Not everything that you budget gets spent and sometimes unexpected costs come up.

Honestly, the whole thing seems like amateur hour over in the administration.

The ol’ comparing one total budget to another incomplete budget is the oldest, most boring trick in the books, but it takes time and some understanding of the system to cut through the smokescreen. Comparing one complete budget to an approved budget overstates your saving and that doesn’t even factor in the fact that the Dunleavy administration’s budgeting includes a whole bunch of unattainable cuts to Medicaid, an additional quarter of unbudgeted Medicaid dental coverage and a whole bunch of fire-fighting costs.

The Legislature is already bracing for a huge supplemental request in the spring and that’s not to mention the whole hope of a supplemental dividend. For a budget process that was pledged an “Honest Budget: Sustainable, Predictable, Affordable,” we’re not seeing much of any of that.

‘Mocking laughter’

In a “possible” homage to former Senate President Pete Kelly’s “mocking laughter” response to anyone wanting taxes, backers of the Recall Dunleavy campaign had plenty of mocking laughter to a reporter’s question asking whether they would consider forgiving Dunleavy for his actions now that he didn’t veto for a second time/“restored” several state programs.

The recall is still on, in case you were wondering.

60 is better than indefinite

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson and the Division of Elections are saying they’ll get the review of the Recall Dunleavy application done in the next 60 days, which is twice the length that the campaign has requested, but far better than the indefinite deadline allowed by state law.

With the campaign already preparing to go to blows in court over what everyone presumes will be a rejection by Clarkson (who’s already said the Planned Parenthood vetoes are A-OK), it’s unclear whether the 30 day vs. 60 day deadline will also be litigated and, if so, on what grounds it would be.

Recall reviews have ranged from 30 days to about 50 days in the past.

The main thing to keep in mind is that only one of the four points raised in the recall application need to stand up for the recall to move forward, so probably look to Dunleavy’s refusal to appoint a judge by the 45 days set in state law as the bedrock of this application.

Also, it’s not thought that reversing course on the vetoes would defend the governor, either. Which isn’t likely to be much of a point because the accidental veto of Medicaid federal authority that was grounds of the recall was repeated in the second round of vetoes.

Recall finances

Because the Recall Dunleavy campaign isn’t technically a political campaign in the eyes of the state, the group doesn’t have to disclose any of its finances currently. If the application is approved, the group will need to begin disclosing its finances and will likely have to retroactively disclose its activity if it rolls over any funding. Asked if they would consider reporting things ahead of time, the answer outside of the Division of Elections on Thursday was a steadfast, “We’ll follow the law.”

Other notes about the recall

The Recall Dunleavy campaign continues to bulk up, this time with the addition of Campaign Manager Claire Pywell. Pywell has a communications background and formerly worked for Strategies360. She’s a much-needed addition to a campaign that has had its fair share of growing pain.

The only legislator we spotted at the event was Rep. Harriet Drummond.

There was no counter demonstration.

‘This is great news’

As Vic Fischer and fellow supporters of the recall were turning in signatures, the governor’s office released “An Update on Alaska’s Economy” that highlighted a whole bunch of economy activity and came at the same time as an editorial by Department of Commerce Commissioner Julie Anderson penned an editorial extolling the economic powerhouse that is tourism.

Also, the further downgrade of Alaska’s bond rating by Fitch, announced today, throws some cold water on that enthusiasm.

Suffice it to say, some critics aren’t swayed.

$102 million

What is was less great news is that $102 million in military spending planned for Alaska will go to build President Donald Trump’s border wall. According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, on the chopping block deferment list are four projects in Alaska: “Two repair projects for central heat and power at Eielson Air Force Base, slated for January 2020 and February 2021; a project to improve the Eielson Combat Arms Training and Maintenance Range for small arms training set for January; and an effort to expand Missile Field 1 at Fort Greely, which was set to receive funding in January 2021.”

The response from U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, whose support for Trump seems to only be eclipsed by that of the governor, blamed the Democrats. It’s their fault that Trump did what he did. Neat.

“While I do not agree with the decision to defer any military construction in Alaska, it should be noted that the Democrats’ obstruction to fund much needed border security has forced the Trump administration to undertake these measures,” Sullivan told the paper.


There’s no public word out this week about progress from Senate Republicans on the appointment of Rep. Laddie Shaw to the seat vacated by Sen. Chris Birch’s death. It doesn’t sound like there’s a lot progress expected anytime soon, either.

The Senate is in a tough spot after the brouhaha raised over the appointment process last year, especially considering the incredibly problematic process of used by local Republicans to fill the seat. As the Alaska Landmine’s Jeff Landfield first reported, the committee was stacked in favor of the establishment and much of the process happened behind closed doors.

It’s such a messy process—and especially considering that the whole thing seems to be designed to boost Dunleavy’s agenda—that one party member felt so bothered that he exited the party (temporarily) in protest and penned an editorial about it.

As a lifelong Republican, I could not believe the process that was used, and frankly, am seriously ashamed of my own party,” wrote Kenneth Jacobus. “The candidates on the committee and their wives were allowed to vote for themselves. Chairman Glenn Clary tried to justify this by comparison to an election where you can vote for yourself. That’s not an appropriate comparison. There’s a huge difference between casting one vote for yourself out of several thousand, and casting 10% or more of the votes for yourself and/or your spouse in a small committee. One or two votes were a large factor here.”

Dunleavy ultimately picked Shaw from the field, who’s probably the safest bet for the appointment considering legislators’ general inclination to play nice with each other—especially with Shaw being one of the more well-liked members of the freshman class of legislators. On the other hand, Shaw certainly marks a political shift from Birch, who was on the small-to-no-PFD side of things. Currently that issue is dividing the Senate Republicans 6-6.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more at play here with this appointment than just the PFD. The Senate majority began to fracture near the end of the session with conservative, pro-Dunleavy Republicans revolting against Senate President Cathy Giessel and in most cases getting the boot for it.

So far, Giessel has kept the majority together amid rumors and speculation that a new caucus might form, potentially bringing in some of the moderate Democrats to bolster numbers. The makeup of that caucus, though, could have even bigger impacts because whoever’s holding the gavel next year will get to appoint someone to the Alaska Redistricting Board.

It’s all complicated with far-ranging impacts. No surprise that they’re taking their time with the decision. Expect the looming PFD special session to force the decision. We’re hearing sometime in November.

Also, there had been talk that Dave Donley, one of the other picks, had been looking for legislative hires. Given everything, perhaps he already has an idea about how the replacement process for Shaw’s seat will go. Democracy!

Have a nice weekend everyone… well everyone except who was in on that bogus selection process.

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1 Comment on "Friday in the Sun (Sept. 6): The Amateur Hour edition"

  1. As someone who watches regularly the Legislature at work and having been associated with the Oil and Gas industry for over forty years, please do be extremely careful in what decisions are taken both in the House and Senate relating to the Taxation and cost base to be applied to the Oil and Gas Industries. These global organisations will have no hesitation in closing down or mothballing their current operations and stop any further exploration where they believe its better to relocate. In such circumstances this will include the front end designs and as you know employment would drop down a blackhole.
    If there is another area of the World that is seen to potentially provide better returns to the Companies and for Shareholders then change plans are devloped over a very short time frame. Any country that offers significant reduction of costs for exploration acreage with the higher prospect of finding product and the development of projects in a much less challenging environment are serious issues that are always considered. Any shorter distances to market with the concomitant reduction in transport carbon footprints are some of the main drivers to change direction decisions being taken in Boardrooms.
    The Oil and Gas industries are also coming under huge global pressures to wind down and stop exploration activities because of the impact of hydrocarbons has on global warming.
    Although Oil and Gas will still be needed for years to come a serious drop in Tax revenues from oil and gas can be anticipated over a relatively short period of time.
    The wind of change is blowing hard around the world to make the global energy Companies change their business to one of energy renewables and Carbon Capture. Many of the big players and their Research and Development Units are seriously engaged in evaluating Biomass – including wood and wood waste. Municipal solid waste. Landfill gas and biogas. Ethanol. Biodiesel, Hydrogen, Hydropower, Geothermal, Wind and Solar Energies.
    It will be a very different financial tapestry over the coming years regarding oil and gas taxation and the available finance to support economic devlopment when these new technologies and energy sources are introduced.
    If there is anything that turns off the oil and gas companies it’s having to work with a Country who has ever changing Tax regimes and cost bases.
    Its now time for any Country who has oil and gas exploration and production as part of it’s economy to seriously consider putting in place dynamic but stable fiscal and financial plans based on the future changes that are coming and in what is regarded as a very short time frame.
    Although obviously I am not an Alaskan citizen I feel it’s worth making the points. I have no desire to fingerpoke in the government of Alaska.

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