Opinion

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 Means Jobs

Ballot Measure 1, the Fair Share Act, amends the current production tax regime created under Senate Bill 21 to make it fairer and more transparent for Alaskans. The major Texas-based producers and their surrogates who fashioned SB21 will say anything to keep Alaskans from amending SB21 and getting a fair share for our oil. One thing they are saying is that if we get a fair share for our oil, it will hurt our economy. Common Sense. No one can seriously believe the Alaskan economy will be better off if we keep giving away our oil for less than it is worth. In the five years since SB21 has been in effect (2015-19), the major producers have taken $57.4 billion of our oil from Alaska. During this same period, we have paid and still owe them more in awarded credits ($2.1 billion) than they have paid us in production taxes ($2 billion). Yes, you understood that correctly, they have taken $57.4 billion of our oil, and we paid and owe them more in awarded credits than they paid us in production taxes. If we get a better deal for our oil, it will help keep more of our oil wealth in Alaska, saving and creating jobs for Alaskans. Fool us once They told us SB 21 would help our economy and create jobs when it passed. We believed them, and, after SB 21 and before the pandemic, they took our net production revenues to zero and then cut 5,500 jobs or one-third of the total oil and gas workforce in Alaska. Of the 9,000 oil and gas jobs left in Alaska before the pandemic, they filled 3,000 of those jobs with people living outside of Alaska. We know we can give away billions of dollars of our oil and not get a single job out of the deal because we just spent the last five years giving away billions of dollars of our oil without getting a single job for it. After SB 21 and before the pandemic, Alaska had the highest unemployment rate of any state while our sister oil state North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate of any state. The main reason North Dakota did so much better was because it kept more of its oil wealth in North Dakota, saving and creating jobs for North Dakotans. Great for jobs If Ballot Measure 1 would have been in effect instead of SB 21 for the last five years, Ballot Measure 1 would have brought in $1.1 billion per year or $5.5 billion in total more than SB 21. This is the economic equivalent of 11,000 new jobs at $100,000 per year outside the oil and gas industry. Importantly, Ballot Measure 1 will not cost Alaskans jobs inside the oil and gas industry. Ballot Measure 1 only applies to the three largest and most profitable oil fields in Alaska that can afford to pay a fair share without any harm to investment or jobs. In fact, before SB21, these major fields payed us more than Ballot Measure 1 for over 30 years and were able to attract investment and create jobs the entire time. Further, Ballot Measure 1 does not even apply to new and developing fields that may generate new jobs for Alaskans. Business Environment Alaska’s economy and business environment completely collapsed after SB 21 and well before the pandemic. We exhausted $18 billion in savings, cut our PFDs by two-thirds, and have been unable to properly educate our children, repair our roads, maintain our public buildings, provide for our elderly, operate an effective marine highway system, or provide jobs for Alaskans. The primary reason our economy and business environment collapsed after SB21 and before the pandemic is because we went from a five-year average of $3.8 billion a year in net production taxes to zero. This collapse in net production revenues was primarily because of SB 21 and not because of changes to the price of oil. Next year, 2021, we are expected to get only $122.3 million in production revenues under SB 21 while we still owe $728 million in unpaid awarded credits, i.e., we owe 6 times more in awarded credits than we will be paid in production revenues next year. With a fair share from our oil, we will be able to stabilize Alaska’s economy and business environment and add Alaskan jobs. Never enough While Alaskans were economically suffering after SB 21 and before the pandemic, ConocoPhillips raised dividends to their shareholders by 60 percent in the last two years, paid off billions in debt, and repurchased billions of its stock from shareholders with our money. Since SB 21, ConocoPhillips has made 68 percent of its world-wide net income from Alaska and only invested 15 percent of its world-wide capital in Alaska. Alaskans should not be intimidated out of a fair share for our oil. The Texas-based major producers say the same things every time Alaskans stand up for themselves and want a fair share. We gave up $1.1 billion per year and got nothing; we should give Ballot Measure 1 a chance. Frankly, there is no reasonable solution to addressing our State deficit without Ballot Measure 1. Vote yes For Ballot Measure 1. Robin Brena is a life-long Alaska and is an original sponsor of Ballot Measure 1, chair of the Oil and Gas Transition Committee for Gov. Bill Walker, and founder of Alaskan law firm Brena, Bell &Walker.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Getting our ‘Fair Share’ of a bigger pie

Meet the Fair Share Act: a ballot initiative that will be presented to Alaskans in November, marketed as a measure to make oil companies pay their fair share in taxes. I did a bit of research to bring some simple analysis forward and present it to concerned Alaskans, to help cut through the noise and disinformation. Starting with where we are currently, more than 70 percent of total Alaska state revenue from private business is provided by oil and gas: In addition, Alaskans benefit from the philanthropic activities by oil and gas companies every day. The University of Alaska Arctic Science and Engineering Endowment, Covenant House, the Alaska Performing Arts Center, and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art are just a few examples. The budget cuts that Alaskans are currently adjusting to would be modest compared to cuts stemming from a significant reduction in petroleum activity. The initiative calls for a rework of our current oil tax structure. It claims to have the potential to generate billions in additional taxes ($1.1 billion in in 2018). This increase amounts to at least 50% of the taxes that oil companies are currently paying on the majority of the barrels in the state, doubling or tripling it at higher oil prices. With BP leaving Alaska fresh in my mind, I asked myself if taxes really had the ability to incentivize development activities. Last time we thought about this was when our legacy tax regime (ACES) transitioned to the current SB-21 framework. The data is available to the public: Each year we were losing 40,000 barrels per day of production under ACES, a trend that was almost immediately arrested under SB-21. The trend line above indicates we are hundreds of thousands of barrels per day (hundreds of millions in royalties) better off than we would be if the decline had continued under ACES. To reverse the decline, BP flattened their decline curve, and ConocoPhillips and Hilcorp both grew production significantly. I think a similarly unfavorable tax regime like the Fair Share Act could cut our production in half within seven years. This will more than offset amounts gained in the very short term, and cripple any growth in the industry that employs the most Alaskans and is fundamental to our economy. So how are we going to bring in more state revenue under the current tax regime, and how much? Let’s look at the three biggest development projects on the horizon since SB-21 was passed: •Willow, ConocoPhillips: 130,000 barrels/day (Source: Willow Draft EIS) •Pikka, Oil Search: 120,000 barrels/day (Source: Oil Search Annual Report, 2018) • Greater Mooses Tooth 2, ConocoPhillips: 25,000 to 30,000 barrels/day (Source: ConocoPhillips GMT-2 Fact Sheet) These projects have the potential to add 280,000 barrels per day, or more half of Alaska’s current production. This could amount to $1.1 to $1.4 billion in additional royalties and taxes, a number we can expect to continue to grow as the recent flurry of exploration and development activity continues. Staying the course is the most financially sound decision. Fundamentally, I think people forget that oil companies have a choice about where to invest their money. In recent years, we have watched the major companies gravitate towards the Permian Basin. Texas is now at record production levels (a condition that Alaska has not enjoyed since the late 80’s). Oil companies make these decisions, in part, based on a predictable, business-friendly geopolitical environment. A stable environment creates jobs. As our partners in development continue to invest in Alaska, confident in their future here, Alaskans are enriched and our economy is built. Staying the course will put Alaskans back to work. When we passed SB 21, Alaskans made a commitment to host a responsible industry with a particular tax regime so we could maximize our benefit from developing our rich resources. Industry has responded by placing Alaska high within the global portfolios of ConocoPhillips, Oil Search, Hilcorp, and many others, through tough operating conditions and stringent environmental standards. Staying the course is, beyond being a good financial decision, the right thing to do. Alaskans who want to see our beautiful State’s revenues increase should support the continued health of Alaska’s oil industry, and vote no on the Fair Share Act. Do not move the goalposts for our children; vote no to keep Alaska’s future sustainable for our next generation. ^ Liam Zsolt is the Director of Technology for ASRC Energy Services LLC. His work in applying new technology to responsibly extract oil and gas in Alaska has been published multiple times by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and led to multiple patents.

BROWN'S CLOSE: Birthday Battle Royale

Back at a time in the distant past of October 2019, my friend’s son turned eight. He and I share a special bond; I once spent an afternoon helping him fold paper airplanes. At his instruction, I then threw said airplanes at him; he wanted to practice his ducking skills. We’ve been friends ever since. During that time, the citizens of Anchorage could mark such an occasion with a celebration. Thus, my friend threw him a “Harry Potter” themed birthday party, held at The Dome; she magnanimously offered me my pick of activities. I could make pizza, make butterbeer, make a pinata, make a cake, or referee Quidditch. Refereeing was most in line with my life goal of bullying humanity. I volunteered for this, under the condition that I could use a loud, high-pitched whistle. On the day of the party, I set out for The Dome for the first time in the history of my Anchorage residency. I drove around the neighborhood three times looking for the entrance, consistently getting pulled into that vortex known as the Changepoint parking lot. Once inside, it was obvious which section of The Dome was designated for the Harry Potter party. One of the soccer fields was cordoned off, with three Quidditch goal rings erected on either side. I walked over to my friend, easily spotted as a tall thin woman dressed as the Golden Snitch in a glittery jacket. “Can you round up the kids and start Quidditch?” she squawked by way of, “Hello.” “They need to burn off some energy,” she continued. “I’ve got a dad refereeing with you.” I bristled at relinquishing any portion of my power, and grumpily walked flat-footed over to The Dad. He smiled at me bemusedly. “Uh, you know the rules?” “Nope,” he grinned. “No idea!” My mood lifted. Now I had an adult to push around, in addition to thirty children. We strolled to the middle of the Quidditch pitch, where I picked up a white volleyball, and blew my whistle. Children looked up from wrestling matches, punching matches, and other rudely energetic forms of aggression. “Anyone who wants to play Quidditch, come to the middle of the field NOW!” I barked. Twenty-nine small people scampered to my side. “I need you to break into two teams!” Instead, everyone went back to wrestling a neighbor. I blew my whistle again. “Hey! Two teams! NOW! Let’s go!” A handful of obliging children splintered off into a second team. Everyone else stayed put, looking at me expectantly. “Uh, the teams need to be even. We need more of you to move.” All 29 children ran over to one side. The Dad walked over. “I think we should just count off, ‘One, two, one, two,’” he offered knowledgeably. I bowed to his wisdom; reasoning with children is a perpetual struggle for me. We counted off, and yet two-thirds of the kids were still magically on one team. I pointed. “You five over here. The rest of you, stay put!” Birthday Boy sidled up to me. “Can my mom play?” “No kiddo, she’s doing other things.” Birthday Boy’s lip quivered. “Can Zed be on my team?” No, we’ve only just got the teams even. “No, Zed has to stay where he is.” Birthday Boy looked completely crushed. “Can we be Gryffindor?” A blond boy with large eyeglasses blinked at me. “Uh, sure,” I agreed distractedly. “Wait, we want to be Gryffindor!” a tall gangly boy cried out, asserting his side’s rights. “Sure, you can be Gryffindor too.” I blew my whistle. “Alright, listen up! I need you to pick one person to be the Beater per side.” In Harry Potter, the Beaters have the enviable power of throwing balls at their fellow players. And, as in the books, this position proved popular amongst my 29 charges. Two boys from one team both declared themselves Beaters. “Uh, you’ll be a Beater first, and then you’ll switch,” I pronounced. Again, I made the mistake of ascribing utter reasonableness to school children. Beater No. Two turned an impressive shade of crimson in an even more impressively short period of time. “BUT I WANT TO BE A BEATER!” He threw himself onto the ground and began to pull out his hair. I looked at him, nonplussed. Even I had to admit, I was unequipped to deal with this total meltdown. I chose to ignore him, and turned away to blow my beloved whistle. “The rest of you, throw this volleyball through one of the rings on the other side. If a Beater hits you with one of their red balls, drop the volleyball and run back to your team’s rings. “On my whistle. One, two –” I blew the whistle and tossed the volleyball directly above my head. The outcome of the match was immediately certain. The big gangly kid scored twice in under a minute. Both sides’ Beaters watched their fellow teammates running joyfully around the field. Seemingly regretting their positions, each started tossing their red balls through the rings. “Goal! Goal!” they screamed helpfully. “No goal! No goal!” I waved my arms around maniacally. “Beaters, you have to throw your red balls at the other team!” Both Beaters ignored me, and continued to throw their balls through the rings, and not violently at their fellow players as J.K. Rowling intended. Gangly Kid scored four more times. My friend, the glittery Golden Snitch appeared, holding the hand of a very tiny girl dressed as Tinkerbell. “We have another player. Can she join the melee?” I puffed my chest out authoritatively and waved my hand dismissively. I had more important things to concern myself with than some small child dressed as a character from the wrong story. My friend directed Tinkerbell to join the game. Alas, she appeared to have very little actual interest in playing. Instead, Tinkerbell sauntered off and began hitting a punching bag. The volleyball fell to the ground, and was snatched up by Big Eyeglasses, who was promptly tackled by four other players. I contemplated breaking up the fight, but decided against it. It was high time these children learned the law of natural consequences. Gangly Kid yanked the ball away and scored three more times. I waved to my friend. As the Golden Snitch, she was the most desirable object in Quidditch; per standard rules, the first team to catch her won 150 points. I decided to simplify the scoring; I did not want to do complex addition. “We have now come to the final portion of the game!” I bellowed, blowing my whistle. “I need everyone to line up over here to my left. “This,” I gestured to my friend, who was now wiggling to and froe at the other end of the field, “is the Golden Snitch. The first player to tag her wins his team 10 points.” “She’s worth 150 points!” Birthday Boy corrected. Outsmarted again. “On my whistle. One, two—” On the whistle, 30 children ran forward. The Snitch was tagged by Gangly Kid within seconds. I trotted over to him. “You! Kid! Yeah, you kid! Which team were you on?” He looked momentarily confused. “Uh, that team!” he decided. “The team going that way!” He pointed. I blew my whistle. “The team going that way wins!” One of the moms walked up to me. “Wow, you really had those kids in line. You really made them hop-to!” My chest swelled with pride; kinder words were never said to me. “It’s all in the whistle,” I mumbled humbly. “All in the whistle.” Sarah Brown is training to be a world-class drill sergeant. In the meantime, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

OPINION: I award you no points

Anyone who has ever wanted to see a Facebook argument come to life got their wish on Sept. 29 in Cleveland. For the less masochistic among us, you were probably covering your eyes, ears or both barely 15 minutes into the first presidential debate as former Vice President Joe Biden dropped quite likely the first “Shut up, man” in American political history. We’re far from Lincoln-Douglas or Kennedy-Nixon. The Sept. 29 spectacle didn’t even rise to the level of decorum seen in the heated Tastes Great-Less Filling debates of the 1980s. Interruptions of interruptions, insults and an overall pathetic performance by moderator Chris Wallace made for a painful 90 minutes that felt twice as long. The first topic on the Supreme Court quickly devolved as Wallace repeatedly pressed President Donald Trump on his lack of a comprehensive plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, leading Trump to drop a line about “I guess I’m debating you, not him” that he obviously had prepared but may not have expected to use so early. The debate really went off the rails a few minutes later after Biden outright refused to answer Wallace’s question about whether he supports packing the Supreme Court with additional justices or ending the legislative filibuster. Without waiting to see if Wallace would accept Biden’s refusal, Trump jumped in by pestering Biden to answer the question and asking where is his list of possible nominees to the Supreme Court. That led the beleaguered Biden to plead for Trump to shut up and then Wallace to shut the topic down without ever getting Biden to answer the question. It didn’t get any better from there. Trump continued to throw barbs at Biden, who countered by claiming Trump told people to inject bleach and is lying about progress toward a COVID-19 vaccine. Wallace repeatedly cut off Trump and many of his questions consisted of Democrat talking points, but his most outrageous moment of the night was repeating the false “very fine people” canard about Charlottesville that allowed Biden to then cite the same lie and dredge up the constant calls for Trump to denounce white supremacists. Wallace demanded Trump recite his fealty to “racial sensitivity training” and “climate change” while making the ridiculous assertion that Republican-led cities have just as much trouble as riot-filled Democrat ones by bringing up Fort Worth, Texas, and Tulsa. While tarring Trump with white supremacist associations, Wallace allowed Biden to get away with the claim that “antifa is an idea, not an organization.” Nor did Wallace fact check Biden when he brought up the anonymous claims that Trump called fallen soldiers “suckers and losers” but instead chuckled along with Biden rather than have him address the video of the former VP telling troops to “clap, you stupid bastards” after Trump brought it up. If anything, far fewer viewers can be expected to sit through another two of these and “Idiocracy” appears to be 450 years ahead of schedule. In the meantime we’re left with the academic decathlon scene from “Billy Madison.” May God have mercy on our souls. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Small manufacturing firms continue to drive Alaska economy

Local manufacturing businesses and jobs have experienced a resurgence in recent years that needs to continue for our state’s livelihood and connection to the global economy. Before the pandemic, the manufacturing sector employed 11.6 million workers in the United States. During the past three years, approximately 500,000 manufacturing jobs were added to the economy. In 2018 alone, 264,000 manufacturing jobs were added, the most created in any single year in more than two decades. Locally in Alaska, there were more than 12,000 manufacturing jobs. Of those, 33 percent were employed by small firms. While manufacturers have not been immune to the hit we’ve seen many sectors take during 2020 due to the pandemic, we’re already seeing the manufacturing sector start to rebound. In fact, 29,000 manufacturing jobs were added in August 2020 alone. This is both encouraging and necessary for our region as consumers worldwide are increasingly seeking “Made in the USA” products and services. On a macro level during the past couple decades, U.S.-manufactured goods that are exported to other countries have quadrupled. Plus, nearly six in 10 U.S. export dollars come from manufacturers, establishing them as a crucial component to our role in the international marketplace. In North America specifically, the passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement earlier this year has and will continue to drive job creation and strengthen manufacturing in Alaska. And since the USMCA establishes a committee on small business issues for the first time in any U.S. trade agreement, it will ensure small manufacturing voices are heard. As local manufacturers are pivoting and innovating to operate in a new environment — and in some cases, switching production to support critical needs of medical equipment and personal protective equipment — it takes public and private entities working together for small manufacturing firms to succeed. The federal government is clearing red tape out of the way for small manufacturing firms by reducing regulations. During the past few years, federal agencies have issued multiple deregulatory actions for every new significant regulatory action, saving businesses billions in regulatory costs. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, many federal regulations have been temporarily lifted; and, regional advocates from the SBA Office of Advocacy are talking to businesses to explore opportunities to permanently clear some of these regulations if they have been burdensome to small firms. In the span of a week this past spring, the SBA rolled out one of the largest economic recovery programs the country has ever seen. Financing programs like the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, and traditional SBA loan programs have preserved Alaska jobs and infused approximately $1.8 billion into Alaska small businesses in 2020. With federal programs, local government, and industry and business organizations working together — combined with the ingenuity of Alaska small businesses — the manufacturing industry will prevail and ultimately thrive. Jeremy Field is the Regional Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration Pacific Northwest Region which serves Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 will hurt Alaska’s struggling nonprofits

COVID-19 has done a number on Alaska’s non-profit community. Most of the major fundraising events were either cancelled outright, or scaled down and conducted virtually. Millions in revenues have been lost. Every nonprofit in this state is nervous about the future. If we are going to recover, we will need more community support than ever. That means we need to defeat Ballot Measure 1. The nonprofit sector makes up a critical component of the state economy. In fact, Alaska nonprofits play a vital role in the state’s other major industries including seafood, finance, healthcare, and tourism. The nonprofit sector is woven into the fabric of Alaska in every way conceivable, delivering essential services like housing, education, and environmental protection to residents statewide. Outside of charitable individuals, Alaska’s nonprofits are funded by the oil and gas industry. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a nonprofit partner list in Alaska that doesn’t include an oil and gas company. In the nonprofit world, we look for long-term solutions to problems. Ballot Measure 1 is a shortsighted approach to a long-term problem, and will hurt more than it is intended to help. The nonprofit I am proud to represent provides young Alaskans the tools and knowledge they need to make smart academic and economic choices as they grow into financially savvy adults. Our top corporate donors work in the oil and gas industry, and their support has helped us educate youth for decades. Ballot Measure 1 puts that support in jeopardy by increasing taxes on a struggling industry by between 150 to 300 percent. COVID-19 has already wreaked havoc on the entire statewide economy, and targeting one industry for a massive new tax will only make the situation worse. Should Ballot Measure 1 pass, not only would our economy and jobs be at risk, but Alaska’s thriving nonprofits would suffer the consequences, too. Many nonprofits are clinging to life during the ongoing pandemic. Now is not the time to create barriers for growth our state’s largest economic force. Oil and gas sets the pace in Alaska. The industry alone generates 38 percent of all wages in Alaska, and a quarter of all jobs. But those jobs are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the full social and economic impact of oil and gas in Alaska. From the arts, to youth and social service organizations, nonprofits across Alaska benefit from healthy, sustained oil and gas spending. The industry has funded STEM programs, food pantries, animal rescue agencies, women’s shelters — the list goes on — for decades. I’m voting No on Ballot Measure 1 this November, and I encourage my nonprofit partners to do the same. Together, we can rebuild and strengthen Alaska alongside the oil and gas industry, protecting our jobs, families, economy, and essential nonprofits. Flora Teo is the president of Junior Achievement of Alaska.

OPINION: A dish served cold

“When you see Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them that Lindsey said hello.” That was South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham to then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh back in 2018 as he wrapped up an epic rant as chair of the Judiciary Committee excoriating Democrats for their disgusting smear campaign intended to derail Kavanaugh’s ascent from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The unforgivable attacks on Kavanaugh were the culmination of more than 30 years of Democrats shredding the judicial appointment process beginning with the assault on Robert Bork in 1987 so notorious that “Borking” became a verb when it was turned against Clarence Thomas just four years later. Thomas, vilified by the left to this day in the worst racial terms, called it a “high tech lynching” to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee back then who just happened to be current Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden. Once they found themselves in the Senate minority under President George W. Bush in 2001, Democrats broke new ground on upending Senate traditions by filibustering D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Miguel Estrada. No appellate court nominee had ever been successfully filibustered before and Estrada eventually withdrew his name after years of failed cloture votes that drew as many as 55 votes, five shy of the 60 needed. Leaked memos revealed that one of the reasons certain Democrat groups opposed Estrada was to prevent a conservative from being the first Hispanic to make the Supreme Court. Minority Democrats would go on to filibuster nine more Bush nominees, leading to the first talk of employing the “nuclear option” to eliminate the tactic in favor of a simple majority vote. That was averted with the “Gang of 14” deal, but because the Democrats had successfully blocked so many Bush nominees to the D.C. court, President Barack Obama took the step in 2013 of nominating three judges at once to what by all measures was the least-worked panel in the country and while other courts had what were classified as “emergency” vacancies to which he hadn’t nominated anyone. The Republicans’ attempts to block Obama’s power move using the same tactics pioneered by the Democrats led then-Senate President Harry Reid to nuke the filibuster for all judicial nominees below the Supreme Court level in a vote that then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted the Democrats would regret “a lot sooner than you think.” There can be no question that Democrats regret it now, whether they will admit it or not. Republicans took over the Senate in 2014 and were therefore able to thwart Obama’s pick to flip the court with Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia in 2016. McConnell kept his promise to make the Democrats rue their 2013 actions after Donald Trump won the presidential election by eliminating the filibuster to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Democrats protested, but replacing Scalia with Gorsuch did not change the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court. That was not the case with Kavanaugh when he was tapped to replace the long-tenured “swing vote” Anthony Kennedy and what followed was the most shameless attempt at character assassination in the history of judicial nominees even when compared against what was done to Thomas. It worked on Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who cited Kavanaugh’s temperament in voting “present” after his righteous display of anger at being labeled a gang rapist by Murkowski’s Democrat colleagues. Murkowski has unsurprisingly come out against the idea of replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the November election, but that doesn’t mean she has committed to actually voting against the eventual nominee. Although she may appear bulletproof after winning as a write-in candidate in 2010 and cruising in 2016, even the proudly independent Murkowski may have to consider the fallout from siding against two consecutive conservative nominees to the Supreme Court. The Democrats retook the House in 2018, but saw their numbers in the Senate shrink after the self-destructive Kavanaugh display as they marched red state Democrats off the cliff in North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri and Florida. They made the Supreme Court a focus of the midterm campaign, and American voters responded by preventing them from taking over the Senate and denying them the power to stop Trump from replacing RBG in 2020. The Democrats’ willingness to spare no tactic in their quest for power has stiffened the spines of even once squishy Republicans like Graham and now Sen. Mitt Romney to respond in kind and yet within the confines of the powers defined in the Constitution. Contrast that with the summer we’ve just seen of Democrat voters — egged on, excused and enabled by their elected leaders — destroying American cities and causing losses totaling billions of dollars in human and economic costs. “Boy, y’all want power,” Graham told Democrats in 2018. “God, I hope you never get it.” From Bork to Kavanaugh and from Portland to New York, and from threats to add Supreme Court justices, add states and kill the legislative filibuster, the Democrats have shown and told us everything we need to know about how they wield power, and why we should hope they have no more. So to Trump’s eventual nominee: Say hello to Kavanaugh for me. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans should be honest with each other

As Alaskans, let’s be honest with each other this election cycle. Under current law, we face a state budget deficit of about $2.3 billion this next fiscal year — the one legislators we elect this November will face when they head to Juneau next January. That’s roughly half of projected spending. Let that sink in. Under current law, next year we are projected to receive only half the revenue we need to cover projected spending. That’s not a temporary situation. According to the Department of Revenue’s Spring 2020 Forecast, it doesn’t get any better the remainder of the decade. And we are facing it without savings. After continuously siphoning from various savings accounts to maintain spending this past decade, the remaining available to the 2021 legislature won’t cover even one-quarter of next year’s deficit. Some suggest we can balance the budget entirely with spending cuts. But again, let’s be honest with each other. Due to the intervening drop in oil prices, even immediately enacting the $600 million in spending cuts Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed at the beginning of his term in 2019 would cover less than a third of next year’s deficit. Diverting $400 million in local property taxes to the state — another proposal made by the governor in 2019 — would increase that to about 40 percent. Even after enacting both, the state would still face an annual deficit of around $1.3 billion. The legislature wouldn’t pass the governor’s combined $1 billion proposal in 2019. While additional cuts, changes in formula-driven programs and a tightened spending cap are inevitable, it is not being honest with each other to claim that the next legislature will adopt a cuts-led approach nearly two-and-a-half times that amount. Others suggest we balance the budget largely through PFD cuts. Using that approach, however, would effectively eliminate the PFD, at great cost to both most Alaska families and the Alaska economy. Next year’s PFD is projected at $1.9 billion. The deficit is $2.3 billion. Even entirely eliminating the PFD would not cover the deficit. More importantly, relying largely on PFD cuts would cause substantial harm to the 80 percent of Alaska families falling in the state’s middle &lower income income brackets, who would bear a hugely disproportionate share of the burden as a percent of family income. Those in the top 20 percent income bracket would experience a trivial impact and non-residents, nothing. In 2016, the University of Alaska-Anchorage’s Institute of Social &Economic Research warned relying on such a massively imbalanced approach among Alaska families would have the “largest adverse impact on the economy” of the revenue options it considered. In 2017, another ISER report concluded “a cut in PFDs would be by far the costliest measure for Alaska families.” While the top 20 percent push PFD cuts relentlessly and some PFD restructuring is inevitable, especially in these times Alaskans should avoid the very alternative that hurts Alaska families and the Alaska economy most. So, being honest with each other, the reality is the time has come to adopt some additional revenue approaches that are more equitable and have a lower impact on the overall economy — in short, are more balanced — to help close the gap. One such approach is Ballot Measure 1, the oil tax initiative. At current and projected oil prices, however, that only raises about $250 million annually. While that’s a contribution, it only covers a tenth of the deficit. Additional, more personal, broader based revenue measures will be required. Being honest with each other, it will take a significant contribution from all three pieces: spending cuts (along with a tightened spending cap), PFD restructuring and additional sources of revenue to meet the state’s yawning fiscal challenge. In the Office of Management and Budget’s 2019 10-Year Plan, the Dunleavy Administration appropriately referred to that as the “balanced approach.” Listen closely. Those candidates that are being honest with Alaskans this coming cycle will talk about that approach most. Brad Keithley is Managing Director of Alaskans for Sustainable Budgets, a project focused on increasing awareness of key fiscal challenges facing Alaskans at both the state and federal levels, and developing and offering reasoned approaches in response. For more information, go to AKforSB.com.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 proponents are making wild claims. The numbers prove them wrong.

When I served in Alaska’s Legislature, I relied on data and analysis to inform decisions. As most Alaskans know, the numbers have been tough in our state for a few years, and the resulting budget decisions painful as a result. The thing to remember about numbers is even when we don’t want to make hard choices, they persist in guiding us. If we strip away the emotion and anxiety of the moment and focus instead on what the numbers show, Alaskans should vote to reject Ballot Measure 1. Not only do the numbers demonstrate why voting no is in Alaskans’ best financial interest, but they prove how the ballot measure’s supporters are distorting the facts. Let’s examine a few examples, and clarify something. I no longer serve in the Legislature, but work full-time in the non-profit sector. I do not have a dog in this fight other than loving this state and wanting it to succeed. I am speaking up for that reason and that reason alone. No one is paying me to advocate one way or the other. For starters, it is downright false to say that Alaska has received no oil production tax revenue during the last few years. These numbers are plain to see and published by the state’s Department of Revenue. North Slope oil companies have paid state taxes every year since oil was first produced in this state decades ago. For the time period in question, Alaska received over $8.7 billion in taxes, and $13.8 billion in total revenue from oil companies since 2014. Those payments account for approximately 90 percent of Alaska’s tax revenue from business during the time period. Ballot Measure 1’s proponents also claim that during the past five years, tax credits have exceeded revenues. This is an especially gross mischaracterization. To reach this inaccurate number, they are simply subtracting the roughly $2 billion in cash credits paid or owed to companies that wouldn’t even be impacted by this tax. It’s bizarre that Ballot Measure 1’s supporters would mix up these numbers, but perhaps they are doing it intentionally. Either way, it’s inaccurate. Ballot Measure 1’s supporters falsely claim the current oil tax structure, Senate Bill 21, has failed. Again, this is proved untrue using real, publicly available numbers. Our current oil tax structure has resulted in more oil production and more revenue for the state than was projected under the old tax structure, even with the massive drop in oil price that began in 2015. In 2013, the state’s Department of Revenue projected that 2019 North Slope oil production would clock in at 425,000 barrels per day, even with oil prices over $100 per barrel. Instead, we saw production levels reach nearly 500,000 barrels per day in 2019. Doing some quick calculations, the state is more than $1.5 billion dollars to the good in total revenue versus riding the 6 percent oil production decline rate down with the old tax structure. Perhaps the most concerning and misleading argument being made by Ballot Measure 1 supporters is the notion that voting yes is some kind of silver bullet that will solve the state’s fiscal crisis. In short, it won’t come anywhere close to filling the gap, and will make the state’s finances even worse. The COVID-19 pandemic and painfully low oil prices caused North Slope producers to shut down almost all drilling on the North Slope, and significantly cut back on planned investments. That alone should put a chill down the spines of Alaskans, but the question now becomes: when does drilling and investment come back? Does it? Oil price and the ballot initiative will both drive those decisions. Even if oil prices recover, passage of Ballot Measure 1 will slow down Alaska’s North Slope recovery, and with it, the recovery of the state economy. I know we remain in a tough spot here in Alaska. We dealt with many of these same issues when I served, and the challenges just keep coming. Alaskans remain anxious about the future, for good reason. In times like this though, we must, as always, rely on the numbers to guide us, even when our hearts may nudge us in a different direction. A brave, unflinching examination of the facts proves Ballot Measure 1 is a bad idea that should be rejected by voters. Our collective recovery depends on it. Jason Grenn is a former state representative from Anchorage.

OPINION: Don’t call them Democrats

The Alaska Democratic Party is calling “bullshit” on winners of the Democratic primary being affiliated with the Democratic Party on the November ballot. Apparently the party’s brand in Alaska is so bad that its leadership doesn’t want its candidates to actually be associated with it. The latest outrageous outrage involves a simple change on the general election ballot that has removed the official party affiliation, or lack thereof, of all candidates and instead shows their name and whether they made the ballot through the Republican or Democratic primary or through the petition process. Republicans aren’t complaining about the change because candidates over the years have often adopted the “R” designation in order to have a better chance to win. That’s why the party’s elected representatives range across the ideological spectrum from Sen. Gary Stevens to Rep. David Eastman while Democrats range from Sen. Bill Wielechowsi to, well, Bill Wielechowski. Democratic Party Executive Director Lindsay Kavanaugh pitched a fit over the change revealed Sept. 14 on the Division of Elections website, calling it “unconscionable.” “I am increasingly concerned about the ability of the Lt. Governor to make informed, unbiased, decisions about the election, and of the integrity of those running the DOE,” Kavanaugh told the Anchorage Daily News. “Alaska voters, especially the majority of those voters who are undeclared and non-partisan, need to call bullshit.” Kavanaugh shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for an uprising from those undeclared voters. Yes, Alaska’s voters are famously averse to aligning with either political party. They are also among the most consistent Republican voters in the country. The state hasn’t chosen a Democrat for president since LBJ in 1964 and has only sent two Democrats to Congress in the last 50 years with both of them named Begich. While many state Democrats are pro-resource development and favor gun rights, the national party is rabidly anti-Alaska and anti-Second Amendment. Alaska voters have long since figured this out and vote for national offices accordingly regardless of how they choose to register their party status. Defeat after defeat for national office has led the state Democrats to adopt a recent strategy of claiming “independent” status and our two congressional races this year reflect that with Al Gross and Alyse Galvin taking on incumbents Sen. Dan Sullivan and Dean of the House Rep. Don Young. Despite clearly favoring the politics of the Democrats and soliciting their financial support, the Democratic Party wants Gross and Galvin to have a “U” or an “N” next to their names in a transparent attempt to convince voters they aren’t filling the oval with a choice that will keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and/or hand over the Senate to Chuck Schumer. The House under Pelosi has already voted to overturn development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, and Democrats are talking about ending the filibuster should they retake the Senate. That means Galvin and Gross would help enact disastrous policies for Alaska no matter how they classify their political status. Republicans, especially in the Senate, routinely break ranks to vote independently (look no further than Sens. Mitt Romney, our own Lisa Murkowski or Rand Paul for examples), but there is no such freedom on the Democrat side where even their most endangered member Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama never dares to cross Schumer. To think that Galvin will vote against Pelosi as the 435th-ranked member of the House or that Gross will take the Democrats’ money and then vote to uphold the filibuster are huge gambles Alaskans will be rightly hesitant to take no matter what letter follows their names. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 2 replaces fair elections with political trickery

You’ve likely heard the saying that politicians are like diapers: they should be changed often, and for the same reason. All joking aside, if we Alaskans want to change public policy, we have to change the people who control it. Voters of all political stripes understand this simple concept. We Alaskans use a time-honored process for “changing diapers,” and it’s easy to understand: each person gets one vote, and the candidate who earns the most votes wins. But this November, Alaskans will be asked to vote on Ballot Measure 2, which would throw our election system into chaos. First, nearly all the money behind Ballot Measure 2 comes from out-of-state billionaires and special interest groups unknown to most Alaskans. I know from experience that outsiders rarely have Alaskans’ best interests at heart. That’s why I fought the federal government at the US Supreme Court twice when they wrongly tried to assert control over Alaska’s waterways. So naturally, I became worried when I learned that 99 percent of the $1.1 million spent in support of Ballot Measure 2 comes from outside our state. This alone should ring alarm bells in voters’ minds. Perhaps the most sweeping change proposed in Ballot Measure 2 is to toss aside our “one Alaskan, one vote” system and replace it with a scheme known as ranked choice voting. It’s so complicated, it’s hard to explain, but here’s the gist: voters would be forced to rank every candidate on the ballot, regardless if they wanted that particular candidate to win. Fail to do that, and that vote is at risk of being thrown out if no candidate receives over 50 percent of votes cast. In this situation, a computer system (yes, you read that correctly) would calculate the winner using an algorithm that takes many pages to explain to voters. Under this nightmare scenario, the candidate who is declared the “winner” of an election could be someone who received far fewer votes than the first-place candidate, but instead received a significant number of second, third, or even fourth-choice rankings. Confusing? Yes. And that’s the intent. Backers of Ballot Measure 2 claim this will ensure that each election produces a victor who has the support of a “majority” of voters. But they fail to explain how a tortured majority that was Frankensteined together by adding everyone’s third or fourth-place preferences is really what voters want. Bottom line, this new system is unnecessary; our time-tested system of the candidate with the most vote wins works just fine. Former Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and former Democrat Sen. Mark Begich agree on this issue, admitting it’s a mess. They wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial that ranked choice voting “encourages political trickery.” Special interests with political savvy will run wild, free to unleash unsavory candidate and ranking strategies aimed at forcing a computerized runoff and manipulating the final outcome. The political elite will benefit from these rigged elections while average Alaskan voters will lose their voice. The swamp is the only winner in this scenario. Stick with me, as there’s even more to attempt to explain. Another massive change proposed by Ballot Measure 2 is to completely throw out Alaska’s traditional primary elections and impose California’s “jungle primary” system. Candidates from all political parties, as well as nonpartisan candidates, would all appear on the same primary ballot. The top four vote-getters from this process would then advance to the general election. Once again, voters would be disenfranchised, because this process eliminates their right to select a political party nominee for the general election. In areas that are dominated by a single political party, multiple candidates from the same party would appear on the ballot, while smaller minority parties could lose their ability to advance a candidate to the general election. This could leave many voters with no desired candidate on the ballot. While I can’t speak to the motives of the New York and California billionaires funding Ballot Measure 2, I can tell you that the sweeping changes proposed by this initiative would disenfranchise Alaskan voters, invite voter manipulation and political trickery, and further erode trust in our democratic process. It’s our responsibility to step up, speak out, and inform our neighbors about everything they stand to lose if Ballot Measure 2 becomes law. Sure, we may not have a ton of cash from out-of-state billionaires, but we still have something they don’t: the right to cast a vote in Alaska. Together, let’s protect the integrity of our elections and our votes by voting no on Ballot Measure 2. ^ John Sturgeon is chairman of Defend Alaska Elections-Vote No on 2. He previously spent 12 years fighting to reverse federal intrusion on Alaska’s public lands, achieving victory at the U.S. Supreme Court twice.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaska State Parks offers open space to meet COVID challenges

Those looking for a silver lining in the “summer of COVID” might find one in a variation on the old “good news/bad news” story. The bad news is, the tourist industry shutdown has kept most visitors away during our peak outdoor recreation season. The good news is that Alaskans have had the whole place to ourselves! Many Alaskans finding themselves isolated, indoors, or unable to travel this year have found welcome relief in heading outdoors for safe, socially distant recreation in our great outdoors. They’ve been fortunate to discover, or rediscover, the common treasure we have in Alaska State Parks. Alaska State Parks is a division of the Department of Natural Resources also known as the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. As stated by those who created the system 50 years ago, our mission is “to provide outdoor recreation opportunities and conserve and interpret natural, cultural, and historic resources for the use, enjoyment, and welfare of the people.” Our 122 employees manage the nation’s largest state park system, which includes the nation’s biggest single state park (Wood-Tikchik State Park in Southwest Alaska); Denali State Park (which borders and complements the U.S. Park Service’s Denali National Park and Preserve); Chugach State Park (Anchorage’s backyard playground) and many smaller but no less-loved parks in every corner of the state. It encompasses hundreds of miles of trails, scores of campgrounds, boat launches and river boardwalks, and many other elements that make Alaska accessible to all. This system has faced many challenges this year, some originating in COVID-19 and associated impacts, others rooted in ongoing longer-term issues such as earthquakes, flooding, coastal erosion, bark beetle infestation and excessive wildland fires. The division has also responded to the state’s fiscal challenges, by reducing its operating budget by 10 percent and enhancing revenues over the last five years to stabilize our finances. As an agency that directly serves Alaskans, Alaska State Parks works hard to seek out, listen for and respond to suggestions and criticism, and works hard to be transparent about our challenges and how we strive to meet them. The pandemic has disrupted life for many, and Alaska State Parks is no exception. The summer’s combination of more visitors and fewer staff has led some to some people experiencing limited or unavailable space at popular campgrounds, higher traffic on trails, or short-term overflowing of bathroom facilities and dumpsters. Some on editorial pages or social media have recently complained that not every state park unit is in prime condition. A few have even insinuated that we’ve neglected remote spots favored by Alaskans in favor of others oriented toward commercial tourists. We have also heard thanks for quickly reopening some parks after removing beetle-killed tree hazards, and for opening others we feared might have to stay closed all summer. When it comes to campground operations, we’ve faced national travel restrictions that kept away the visiting campground hosts and temporary workers who typically help us manage and monitor our parks each summer. We have responded by prioritizing the most popular sites, imposing temporary closures on others, and enlisting much-appreciated help from willing volunteers. While it may have been easy in the past to blame “those darn Outsiders,” this summer has shown that sometimes those abusing or trashing our parks are Alaskans themselves. We invite all who love our parks to help maintain them, either by joining organized volunteer maintenance and cleanup crews, or just carrying trash bags and picking up trash — including pet waste — while hiking or camping. When it comes to maintaining park facilities, Alaska State Parks has for years tracked what’s become significant backlog of deferred maintenance needs, mostly attributable to aging infrastructure, years of constrained budgets and ever-increasing use. We’ve responded by prioritizing the most significant public health and safety issues, e.g. clean toilets, safe water and critical maintenance. We’ve also been creative in soliciting federal agencies, philanthropic organizations and volunteers for the money, resources and manpower necessary to provide park services at the highest level possible. Park management has also reached out to both established and emerging user groups, to help us integrate their thoughts and concerns into our short- and long-term management plans through full public processes. And we have been brainstorming to seek innovative ways to help all Alaskans who benefit from parks, whether directly and indirectly, share the responsibility for supporting them. Ask any Alaskan why they’re here, and one of their top reasons is probably the chance to live and play in our beautiful, clean natural environment. We at Alaska State Parks share this love for outdoor recreation; many of us have made it our life’s work. Our team will continue to work with the resources available to meet COVID-19 and all other challenges, and manage our parks for the use, enjoyment and welfare of all Alaskans. Ricky Gease is Director of Alaska State Parks.

OPINION: Tax credit chickens come home to roost

KFC could probably hire Tom Cruise as its next celebrity Colonel Sanders with the number of chickens coming home to roost in Alaska. A long-awaited and inexplicably delayed decision from the Alaska Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a bill passed in 2018 to pay off the state’s oil tax credit debt. House Bill 331 would have created a shell company within the Department of Revenue to sell up to $1 billion worth of “subject to appropriation” bonds to settle with the independent oil and gas explorers who took the shaft from $630 million in budget vetoes by former Gov. Bill Walker in 2015 and 2016 amid multi-billion dollar deficits. The fallout of the vetoes was massive. Banks now burned twice by Walker stopped lending into the state’s independent oil and gas sector. Caelus Energy was forced to sell North Slope assets to the major ConocoPhillips. Furie Operating Alaska, which had other cash flow problems, declared bankruptcy last year. The state was compelled to modify its loan agreements with Blue Crest in Cook Inlet and Brooks Range Petroleum on the Slope. The Legislature shuttered the tax credit program in 2017 without a plan to clear the books, leaving it up to Walker’s administration to concoct a dubious idea to pay debt with more debt by taking advantage of the interest spread between the cost of the bonds and inducing companies to take haircuts of up to 10 percent on what they were owed in order to get paid faster than waiting on minimum statutory appropriations. A public interest lawsuit by Eric Forrer of Juneau immediately halted the effort, which was initially upheld in Superior Court before being unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court and leaving the state once again on the hook for more than $700 million with no means in sight to pay now that savings accounts have been drained and the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve balance reduced by some $5 billion after transfers to the principal account in the past two years. Walker’s chickens came home to roost in 2018 as he was already headed toward defeat in a three-way race with former Sen. Mark Begich and eventual winner Gov. Mike Dunleavy before the abrupt resignation of running mate Byron Mallott amid a sexual misconduct scandal sealed his fate. For prominent members of the Legislature, the reckoning was delayed but no less decisive after the Aug. 18 primary as Senate President Cathy Giessel and Sen. John Coghill were ousted along with fellow Republican legislators Reps. Jennifer Johnston, Chuck Kopp and Gabrielle LeDoux who chose to form a majority with Democrats after the 2018 election. Candidates who favor paying out a Permanent Fund dividend according to the formula that is still on the books could upend the current majority caucuses after the November general election is settled, but they may well find that math is a stubborn thing and chasing the car is far more fun than sinking their teeth into the tires. Now exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that has cratered oil prices, North Slope jobs and delayed promising exploration and development projects, the state’s budget situation will resist the ability to pay a full PFD and the economic situation is beyond being rescued by such simplistic promises even if they could be kept. The oil tax credit issue would largely be moot had Walker not vetoed $630 million in credit payments after they were approved by the Legislature, but his 2016 plan — that was endorsed in this space — to use a portion of Permanent Fund earnings and set a fixed dividend amount for the ensuing three years would have put us on a much better footing than we find ourselves today. For that the blame lies with the Republican-led House Majority that chose instead to drain more than $4 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve after the Senate had approved the bill by a decisive vote. Four years later, some of the prospective new Republican legislators heading to Juneau have the same attitude of those who rejected a sensible path toward fiscal stability but this time they don’t have billions in savings to spend as an alternative and they are still stuck with the tax credit bill that Walker left the state through his vetoes. They’ll be lucky if the toughest choice they have is grilled or fried, but a debate resembling whether the egg came first is more likely. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

BROWN'S CLOSE: Love in the Time of Corona

Dating behavior has changed due to the coronavirus. Singles are now encouraged to pursue socially distanced dating, be that virtually, or through wholesome, six foot spaced walks.  This phenomenon has been a boon to online dating platforms. Bumble, the dating app with the second highest userbase in the United States, saw more than a 20 percent increase in usage during the early days of the pandemic, and hit the 100 million user mark in July. The app is geared towards women, with females bearing the brunt of messaging matches first. Men have twenty-four hours to respond, or not. I am a veteran online dater, and have used Bumble specifically. The field of candidates on the app is endlessly fascinating, and the details men choose to put in their profiles is telling. Over the years, I’ve honed a fool proof vetting method for profiles, based on several cardinal offenses. For example, you must have all of your clothes on in all of your pictures. Possible exceptions can be made for beach pictures, but in that case, you cannot have more than one beach picture.             And then there are the Selfie Sins: One must never post selfies in bed; One must never post selfies in the bathroom; One must never post selfies in the car; If all of the photos in your profile are selfies, I am forced to assume you have no friends, or anyone else in your life who could take your picture. Bumble does appeal to female empowerment enthusiasts, and in keeping with this theme, users are encouraged to post information on their profile that traditionally would not be discussed in mixed company. Bumble asks users to disclose their political and religious affiliations, and whether or not the user votes. Singles can then filter out matches who do not conform to their preferred affiliations. You can also filter by the most important quality of all: the astrological sign. I’ve had dating success on Bumble, with “success” defined as dating people long term whom I met through the app. Those aren’t the fun stories, however. People just want to hear about the disasters. Not to disappoint, some dates were resoundingly painful. For example, I went out with a college educated, 6-foot-7 math major. He was a self-proclaimed Catholic opera lover and cello player, who now worked as a commercial fisherman. Reading all of these specifics in his profile piqued my curiosity; he sure seemed to have a lot going on. We had coffee at Starbucks for the requisite 47 minutes. I asked questions, and he took full 30 second pauses before he would answer each. He would drag on his drink, look off ponderously at some destination just above my right shoulder, and sigh, “You know, I never thought about that.” A few days after the date, he texted: “My brain hurts from your questioning. Are you always that intense?” To be fair, I did ask him a lot of questions. Those questions, however, were about deep topics like, “What’s your favorite movie?” After he sat silently for a time, and then announced he’d never thought about it, I downgraded to an easier level: “What’s your favorite color?” That too was a head scratcher. Among a few other life lessons, Bumble’s most persistent impact on me is to be skeptical of people I find on the Internet: People on the Internet may not be all there. I stopped seeing one man after he screamed about how much his genitalia hurt while we were at the Anchorage Symphony. People on the Internet do not waste time. Multiple men over the years have asked me to move in with them on the third date. One even asked me to move across state lines. And yet — People on the Internet are flaky. I once had a guy miss our date at 11 in the morning on a Saturday because he did not set his alarm. Willing to give him a second chance, I agreed to meet him for lunch the following week. He texted to confirm lunch plans that morning, and then later that he was on his way. The trouble was that he texted to say he was leaving his house in the suburbs 10 minutes after the date had already started, and it would take him another 27 minutes to arrive. Honestly, waiting around for another half-hour would have been the death knell to my dignity. People on the Internet are weird. One man’s profile had a photo of him completely nude, submerged in a bathtub full of royal blue paint. No other explanation or notation. Sure, online dating can be fun. It can also be the source of a stellar headache. Good luck to all the Single Ladies. Sarah Brown is the Love Doctor. Write to her at [email protected], and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Complicated tax policy should not be decided at the ballot box

The issue of what to do with oil taxes is once again before us. The question will be presented in the form of Ballot Measure One in November. While Alaskans have proven to be smart and savvy voters, I confess to a well-developed skepticism about putting complicated fiscal issues on the ballot for a simple up or down vote. For that reason, I intend to vote no – not because of the merits or because I have more insight into this issue than other Alaskans – but because the initiative process in this instance leaves too many questions unanswered. In my opinion, the paramount importance of oil taxation to the future of this state calls for a measure like this to go through the scrutiny of the legislative process. For sure, that process is messy; we’ve all heard the quip about the comparison to making sausage (perhaps an insult to sausage makers!). But in a democracy, it is the only way I know to ensure a rigorous analysis of important and complex policy choices. I have the privilege to know, and have worked with, several of the ballot measure’s sponsors, and I hold them in the highest regard. However, I do not believe they should replace the legislature as the primary crafters of state tax policy, and I respectfully disagree with their decision to skip the legislative process and to toss this issue straight to voters. Ideally, if Ballot Measure One were introduced as a bill – and I suspect there are legislators who support the measure – it would endure many hours, if not days, of hearings before several committees in both bodies of the legislature. There would be input from all stakeholders: representatives from the oil industry would state on the record how the initiative would impact their Alaska business; independent economists and experts would model the tax proposal to provide a third-party view of what the measure would actually do; proponents of higher taxes would explain and justify their reasons and clarify their intent; and members of the public would testify as to its pros and cons. It is admittedly a long and tedious process, but the give-and-take among stakeholders, and the additional analysis that accompanies such measures, invariably leads to a balancing of interests – including the public interest — resulting in a bill that is informed of the facts and capable of garnering the necessary support for passage. Some knowledgeable observers have criticized Ballot Measure One’s language as ambiguous and confusing. This, too, can be addressed through the legislative process with amendments to clarify or cure deficiencies and ambiguities in the text. If Ballot Measure One is passed, those issues will be left for the courts to decide, post-enactment – and without the benefit of any legislative record to assist in their analysis. The biggest elephant in the room today is the historic collapse of oil prices and the widespread economic hardship caused by COVID-19. In fairness to Ballot Measure One’s sponsors, I don’t believe this could have been predicted. Nonetheless, reasonable Alaskans must wonder about how the ballot measure will impact the oil industry in our state in light of these unprecedented events. Again, it may be my personal bias, but I have serious reservations about leaving an incredibly complicated and nuanced issue like oil taxation to the persuasion of sloganeering and sound bites. The legislative process is not pretty and it can be very frustrating, but that is how our system is supposed to work in my humble opinion—particularly when dealing with issues so important to the financial stability of our state. Given all these factors, I intend to vote no on Ballot Measure One. ^ Michael Geraghty served as Attorney General for the state of Alaska during 2012–14.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Perfect storm hitting Alaska Marine Highway System

Over the past 18 months, Alaska’s ferry system faced unprecedented challenges: a reduced budget, a strike, unanticipated mechanical and structural issues with five aging ships, and a global pandemic. This spring, as the pandemic hit, the Alaska Marine Highway System had four of those ships scheduled to enter service, a workable budget in place and expected sufficient revenue to provide reliable ferry service throughout the year. Due to the dramatic decline in revenue as commerce all but stopped, the financial impacts on AMHS have been severe. Because ticket sales support the AMHS operating budget, we’re now facing a shortfall of almost $45 million. This shortfall, caused by the pandemic, equates to a budget cut of the same amount. The resulting winter schedule is not what we expected to provide. It’s not what Alaska’s coastal communities consider to be a satisfactory level of ferry service. Last winter, the system was hit hard with unexpected mechanical issues. Now, our ships are in good shape, but there are not enough funds to operate them. When our draft winter operating schedule came out, there were some complaints that we didn’t provide enough time for comment. The reality is we accept comments year-round, and we frequently adjust our schedules to accommodate requests from communities. One point to keep in mind is that most of this year’s community and school events we build our schedule around have already been canceled. Right now, AMHS needs to finalize its winter schedule so travelers can begin making reservations for our October through April travel season. In addition to the budget issues we’re facing, pandemic conditions have added a whole new level of complexity to running our ships and keeping passengers and crew safe from another outbreak. I applaud AMHS for its outstanding response to the challenges created by COVID-19. It’s been incredibly complicated to coordinate everything, but we’ve managed to run the mainline route since late June without an outbreak. With the insidious menace of COVID-19, it’s not a matter of if, but when an outbreak will occur on an AMHS vessel, so we count every week of successful operation a blessing in these very challenging times. Our crew has done an exceptional job following protocol, and that’s been the key to continuing operations. A recent incident occurred aboard the M/V Matanuska when a group of passengers learned en route that they had been in close contact with a COVID-19 positive person before they boarded the ship. Matanuska’s crew followed protocol — the affected passengers were quarantined in their cabins with meals delivered for the duration of the voyage. When several of those passengers later tested positive for the virus, we promptly tested the entire crew. Thankfully, all 47 crew received negative results and Matanuska returned to service, but not without a one-week delay, considerable cost and lost revenue. What could have easily resulted in a shipboard outbreak and weeks of the entire ship in quarantine was averted by a quick and reasoned response from a well-trained crew. This pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives and will continue to do so for some time. The incident on the Matanuska is just one example of the commendable job AMHS is doing — they continued providing ferry service when it didn’t seem feasible. But in the midst of the pandemic, we have to accept the fact that fewer travelers mean less revenue, and reductions in service are required to keep the system afloat. At the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, we take our responsibilities seriously for all of Alaska’s communities – those on the road system, the 35 serviced by AMHS, and the 140+ that are neither on the road system nor on the ferry routes. The AMHS Reshaping Work Group has met regularly over the last six months, receiving input from a diverse group of stakeholders who either compete with, operate, or rely on our ferry system. I look forward to the work group’s final report, and to implementing fundamental changes to keep reliable ferry service running in Alaska for the long term. John MacKinnon is Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 is not a family affair: Vote no

I respect my brother Joe. Please don’t listen to him. My family has deep roots in Fairbanks, going to back to the mining days of the early 1900s. I worked on the pipeline starting in 1975, and know what boom and bust looks like. Trust me, we Alaskans should aim for boom. My brother Joe is going for bust. Like any family, we disagree on what is the best path forward for our state. My brother Joe is a retired legislator and attorney. He often appears in news articles talking about the need for Alaska to get more money for its oil. What he neglects to say is that he is really a “keep it in the ground” environmentalist who would like to see oil’s days in Alaska end sooner rather than later. When that viewpoint is understood, his support of Ballot Measure 1 makes more sense, because its passage would speed up that process. It won’t be pretty, folks. I stand with the majority of Alaskans who support our oil and gas industry and want to see it prosper and grow. And with all due respect to the oil companies and their CEOs, that support is not rooted in fondness for them, but rather their impact on us. Alaska would not be Alaska without decades of oil industry investment and economic activity they brought to the state, and continue to bring. As a safety specialist and laborer, I have had a front row seat in seeing how Alaska changes for the better when oil is discovered and produced. While the initial pipeline boom may be history, we have more bright days ahead if we get our act together and vote no on Ballot Measure 1. Our state is still in the grips of an economic crisis made worse by COVID-19. How anyone can think this is an ideal time to raise any industry’s taxes by 150 percent to 300 percent is crazy to me. Oil prices are still low, and there are fewer rigs working on the North Slope that at any time in our state’s history. This is a bad place to be, because we need those jobs and investment to boost Alaskans’ employment and opportunity. Chasing away our best chance for economic recovery with a punitive new tax is quite possibly the worst thing Alaska could do at this critical moment. The next time you see an editorial written by my brother Joe, please take it with a giant grain of salt. He committed his career to waging a strange, misguided war against the oil and gas industry, both as an attorney and legislator. He lost his seat because if it, thankfully. Don’t let his Green New Deal, anti-ANWR view of the world make Alaska’s economic situation even worse. If you want to see Alaska pull itself out of the economic ditch, and think more oil flowing through that beautiful pipeline of ours is a good thing, join me and vote no on Ballot Measure 1. Charlie Paskvan worked in Alaska’s oil industry for decades, including work on the Trans Alaska Pipeline and in Prudhoe Bay. He lives in Fairbanks. Family dinner conversations about oil and gas policy are part of the Paskvan tradition.

OPINION: Fahrenheit 99501

The crux of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451 is his simple yet brilliant inversion of the traditional fireman from a protector to a destroyer. Firemen in Bradbury’s dystopian American future don’t put out fires or save property and lives. They burn down houses and the books within. Those who resist setting the fires or the government prohibitions against preserving written knowledge are now criminals targeted by a police state aided by supine citizens content to engross themselves in television and report on their neighbors. As it goes in Anchorage, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and his pals on the Assembly are treating diners and dive bars as if they are secret stashes of ink and paper that must be scorched to save society. Those who protested by opening for indoor service were summarily felled by a flamethrower of fines, injunctions and threats of contempt of court should they risk their livelihoods to keep up the fight. Much like Bradbury’s firemen, Berkowitz and his uncaring cohort have turned the job description of a public servant on its head with their dismissal of public opinion, open derision for their critics, and disregard for the consequences of their actions or lack thereof. Should that sound hyperbolic, it is difficult to fathom what the mayor and Assembly would do differently if their goal was to destroy small businesses while concurrently creating despair and dependence on government. Look no further than the way the mayor and Assembly plan to distribute more than $156 million in CARES Act funds intended to be prioritized for economic relief and not progressive pet projects. Just a bit more than $14 million, less than 10 percent, has been scraped together for the hospitality industry that was already reeling before Berkowitz’s Aug. 3 “reset” order that reset to zero many of its members’ revenue and their employees’ paychecks for another four weeks. Meanwhile, $8 million, or more than half of what is set aside for the hospitality industry, is going to temporary government make-work jobs to line union pockets for recreation trails, “green” jobs and an “Indigenous Wayfinding” project. Rather than preserving permanent jobs by ensuring shuttered businesses can break even on expenses and provide for their employees, the Assembly is sidetracked with building singletrack bike trails. Winter is coming, which will mark the end of these seasonal jobs as well as the ability for restaurants to comply with the mayor’s mandates for outdoor service. Even the ones with enclosed heated tents. But for every day between now and Dec. 30, and every day since March 1, the municipality will use $21 million in CARES funds to cover the previously budgeted payroll for police and firefighters by exploiting a perceived loophole in the Treasury Department guidance to claim all of those expenses are related to the coronavirus response despite the fact they plainly are not. The beak-wetting union jobs and payroll backfilling alone total $29 million that could go to economic relief, and we’re not done yet. We haven’t gotten to their plan to divert $12.5 million in CARES funds to address long-standing homeless service issues that should be paid for with municipal revenue such as the recently-approved retail alcohol tax that is specifically dedicated to funding first responders and “substance misuse treatment, prevention programs, detoxification or long-term addiction recovery facilities, mental and behavioral health programs and resources to prevent and address Anchorage’s homelessness crisis.” They are going to use $3 million in CARES funds to start up their mental health first responder program that is also supposed to be paid for with the alcohol tax. For those keeping track at home, that’s another $15.5 million on top of the above $29 million to total $44.5 million not going to economic relief. A new health clinic in Girdwood is included for some reason at $5 million to bring a partial price tag for funding this Nero fiddling to nearly $50 million in non-economic relief. All of this is bad enough, but worse is that there is still no way to access the meager economic relief funds that have been appropriated. The Assembly website simply says “This page will be updated with more information on programs as they roll out, with links to resources specific to each program. For example, if an application becomes available for Small Business and Nonprofit Relief grants, it will appear within the Small Business and Nonprofit Relief program section.” When you check that line item on the page, it helpfully notes this money was appropriated in May and June. As of Aug. 24, there was no link to a grant application on the page. Same goes for the rental and mortgage assistance page that is supposed to have $20 million available. The Mat-Su Borough had a grant application online Aug. 10 after approving a $13 million business relief program using its CARES funds in July. No matter how much the mayor’s eyes well up with his crocodile tears or his voice quavers with contrived emotion, it matters little to the people he is hurting for their own good. His concern is belied as counterfeit when compared against his lack of urgency to help businesses as he helps himself to federal economic relief money to pay for his political agenda while proclaiming he is above petty partisanship. Berkowitz and his Assembly allies are no more public servants than Guy Montag was a real fireman, but at least Montag stopped lighting matches. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure One will hurt investment in our state

The Alaska Chamber serves as the statewide voice of Alaska business, a job we take seriously. Our membership ranges from small, mom-and-pop businesses to large, multinational corporations. The shutdowns and mandates related to COVID-19 have dealt a devastating blow to all of them, with no end in sight. To say it’s tough for anyone to do business in Alaska right now is an understatement. Ballot Measure One will make it worse. Starting a business or making new investments involves taking on risk, a factor that must be managed before any potential investor pulls the trigger on a new venture. Even in a roaring economy, investment is risky. Seemingly solid business plans fail for reasons few could anticipate: market disruptions, trade agreements, and shifting consumer demands are a few examples. Many of these risks fall outside of an individual’s control. The chamber’s focus is on promoting practices that Alaska can control. Public policy is one such area of emphasis. That is precisely why our membership is so strongly opposed to Ballot Measure One. To willingly impose this kind of tax increase on any industry or business at this point would be a devastating choice. Ballot Measure One will set our economy back. We have a long, hard road ahead of us to achieve economic recovery under the best circumstances, and we should not be asked to impose punitive new taxes on Alaska’s largest economic driver. Such a move is foolish, and will hurt everyday Alaskans in the form of lost jobs and decreased business investments in our state. For all the bumper sticker talking points about “fair share” and “our oil,” Ballot Measure One proponents cannot hide from the basic fact that businesses invest where the rules are fair and predictable. Investors have choices, and punitive new taxes will persuade investors to look to more stable areas to deploy their capital. It is not a gamble we will win. Not in good economic times, and especially not now. Additionally, the ballot box is perhaps the worst place to decide complex tax policy. Voters are presented with two, overly simplistic options on Ballot Measure One: Yes, or no. There is no “yes, with amendments” or “no, but maybe once the pandemic is over.” It is an all-or-nothing proposition. The Alaska Legislature is the appropriate venue to take up complex public policy. Recently, the state changed tax regimes with respect to the oil industry; if we wish to once again change the rules, our elected leaders can tackle the issue of oil taxes with all the analysis and data they need to make an informed decision. Alaskans can and should hold them accountable, and participate in the well-defined public process. Ballot Measure One is the wrong idea at the wrong time. It will slow Alaska’s economic recovery, meaning fewer jobs for Alaskans across the state. As an organization focused on creating opportunities for Alaska businesses to succeed, we urge Alaskans to vote no on Ballot Measure One in November. Allen Hippler is the chair of the Alaska Chamber.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 2 will amplify the voices of all voters

Last year, I launched a campaign for the Republican nomination for president. I knew the odds were long, but I believed Republican and independent voters deserved a conservative, credible option. From the beginning, I knew my success depended on the support of independent voters. Unfortunately, with so many states limiting independents’ ability to participate in primaries, taking on an incumbent in a primary system controlled by the two major party organizations proved almost impossible. I have few regrets about our campaign, though. The one I do have is that we couldn’t carry the fight far enough to compete in Alaska’s primary. It has always been one of my favorite states. I believe we would have done well here as Alaska has the highest percentage of registered voters — more than 60 percent — who choose to remain independent from the dominant two-party system. The experience of running for president last year renewed my interest in electoral reform. I have long felt that all voters deserve to have their voices heard in both primary and general elections. That is why I believe Alaska’s Ballot Measure 2 deserves your support this November, whether you are a Republican, Democrat, a member of one of the smaller parties, or an independent. To begin with, Ballot Measure 2 would establish unified, open primaries, in which all voters are eligible to participate. More than two-thirds of Alaskans polled support opening primaries to independent voters and giving an equal voice to Alaskans of all political affiliations. Alaska previously had an open-style primary system that worked well, but due to a lawsuit in the early 2000s, the state was forced to abandon it. Currently, political parties are allowed to decide which Alaskans can participate in their primaries even though those elections are subsidized with public funds. With an open primary, you would not have separate Republican and Democratic ballots. All candidates would appear on a single unified ballot with their political affiliations next to their name. If you prefer, you would be able to vote for a Republican for U.S. Senate, a Libertarian for the U.S. House, and a Democrat for state representative, all from the same ballot. That would give voters a real choice and better reflect the independent nature of the state. A nonpartisan primary would also simplify the process and is proven to increase voter turnout. And despite the misleading claims that opponents of the measure have made, party affiliations can still be clearly listed next to each candidate’s name. It merely provides voters with more choices and avoids the need for a write-in campaign like U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski won in 2010. Ballot Measure 2 would also allow the use of ranked choice voting in general elections. The top four vote-getters for each office from the primary election would qualify for the general election ballot, and voters could vote for their top choice as usual. But they would also have the option to rank their second and third preferences if they choose. Ranking candidates takes the power away from the parties and the special interests that control them and gives it back to the people. After all, elections are for voters, not politicians. Rank choice voting allows voters to express their preferences more clearly and ensures the final winner has the support of the majority of the voters. Under the existing system, candidates often win elections in Alaska with the backing of far less than a majority of the electorate. In fact, no U.S. Senate candidate has captured more than 50 percent of the vote in the general election since 2002. Ballot Measure 2 will go a long way toward empowering Alaskans to choose leaders who are as independent as they are. It also increases transparency in Alaska’s elections by requiring campaigns and donors to disclose the true source of large contributions. Ballot Measure 2 won’t make elections perfect, but it will be a huge step forward that will amplify all voters’ voices. I have long believed that more voices are always better for a healthy democracy. Measure 2 would encourage more people to run for office and seek political consensus, and it would provide more choices for voters and increase participation. This is a commonsense initiative that deserves your support this fall. Bill Weld is the former governor of Massachusetts and an attorney, businessman and author.

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