Friday, March 14, 2014

Cathy Giessel to Alaskans: Shut Up and Go Away!

HB 77, the the unsuccessful pro-development, anti-public input legislation sponsored by Gov Parnell last year is back in revision this year. Cathy Giessel, who partially represents the northern Kenai Peninsula and the chairperson of the senate Finance Committee, cut off testimony on Wednesday and prevented other committee members from asking questions to those speaking for or against the bill. Well, there were only two who had anything to say in favor of the bill, both representatives of the mining industry.

Everyone else spoke against the bill, despite the revisions that have done little to placate fears that HB 77 would give the DNR broad and unchallenged powers and take away the public hearing process for green-lighted development.

Giessel did re-think restricting testimony and opened up another public testimony session today.

HB 77 has singularly united citizens of all political persuasions - not many of us would like to give bureaucrats in the state over-reach powers. Not many of us want to give away our right to be heard. Not many of us are fooled by the intent of this bill, which is to fast-track dams and destructive mining practices in critical salmon habitat areas. Representatives Kurt Olson and Mike Chenault have backed this legislation 100% since its inception last session.

Senator Peter Micciche wasn't convinced last year and his lack of support was helpful in keeping the bill from passing back then. However, in an email published by the Peninsula Clarion, Micciche stated “My goal is to work with folks and to give them the chance to digest the actual changes, as opposed to the incorrect and exaggerated effects claimed by extreme Anchorage environmental groups with an obvious anti-development-of-any-kind agenda.”

I wonder if Peter considers all environmental groups to be 'extreme'?  And because someone might disagree with Micciche, does that make them incorrect? In my experience, that's exactly his attitude.

Paul Zimmerman of Kenai had this question during his testimony:  "More and more legislation and proposals are coming up that are designed to take the public out of the process and this is another step,” he said. “Our state constitution was founded on ideals of public participation in their government. Whose interests is (Micciche) serving if he’s not serving the public? This is un-American."
The new version of HB 77 is as odious as the previous version, we shall soon see how the legislature votes on this.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Peter Micciche: Direct Deposit Bribery

It used to be when someone bribed or paid off a politician, money was stuffed in a paper sack and passed off in some back room.  But Alaska now operates a corporatocracy, a government run by corporations. If you work in the oil industry, and are elected to the Alaska Legislature, when you pass bills that benefit your company, you get a pay raise.

And that seems to be exactly what happened with State Senator Peter Micciche. When he ran for the senate seat, Micciche reported an income of somewhere between $100,000-200,000, not including stock options or perks. This year, just 10 months after passing Senate Bill 21 which gave the major oil companies an annual $2 Billion tax rebate, Micciche reports that his salary from ConocoPhillips now is somewhere between $200,000 and $500,000, not including stock options and perks. Read about it here.

Because of the state's very lax income-reporting laws, Micicche does not have to be more specific, so it could be that he got a one-buck raise, from $199,999 to $200,000. If that was the case, Peter, whose ego makes him the King of Grandstanding, would have flaunted the meager increase. Peter has promised all along to be completely transparent, because goodness knows as he says, there is no conflict of interest between him being an executive with an oil company and voting on bills that benefit his company. Well, why not be completely transparent? At least that would keep bloggers like me from saying his salary increase looks like legalized bribery.

It could be that he got the raise because he did some exemplary work as the superintendent of Kenai's C/P LNG plant, but that thing has been mothballed for a couple of years. That's certainly not making ConocoPhillips any money.

It's funny, but just this last week, Micciche accused Representative Les Gara of grandstanding because Les returned the unused portion of the $16,000/20,000 allocated to representatives/senators for office expenditures. No word on how much Peter actually spent on office expenses and how much he (legally) pocketed thanks to a law passed by Mike Chenault. Oh, yeah, Mike and Kurt Olson have been pocketing the full amount, $16,000 allotted for Representatives ever since the bill passed several years ago. No receipts were required to show that any of that money was spent on office supplies. The law has been tweaked for next year - legislatures will now have to provide receipts for actual expenses. Les was at least being honest, a quality lost on Micciche. Read more about it here.

If you are on Facebook, undoubtedly you saw the post by Micciche inviting constituents to take part in a survey - here's the link.

Mr Ego (the guy who said Les Gara was grandstanding) has his handsome mug on the page - let's not forget that this is all about him. He asks us for our opinions about what should be legislative priorities, but the survey is nothing but a republican push poll. All of the questions only give the constituent answers that support a very narrow point of view. Or worse, the question itself only offers a limited point of view.

Question 1 - It has yet to be shown that if Alaska invests in a natural gas pipeline, energy costs to consumers would go down. Certainly, his company stands to make billions.
Question 2 - It's already a done deal. Of course, Alaska should honor a commitment to state workers. (I am a semi-retired recipient of state retirement benefits)
Question 3 - Another loaded question and impossible to answer with a yes/no response.
Question 4 - If Peter wants to improve education, breaking things down to sound bites that feed into the governor's and legislature's desire to fund private schools will not improve education.
Question 5 - Why is this question even on this - Change the AK constitution to fund religious schools? If this is the direction citizens want to go, it should be grassroots driven. Circulate a petition and get it on the ballot.
Question 6 - The worst of the lot. Peter would love to fast-track the Chuitna and Pebble Mines, and to hell with clean water and air. By the way, his company, ConocoPhillips is the #3 polluter in the US. Imagine the pay raise he would get if they could turn Alaska into a toxic waste dump.
Questions 7-12 all offer limited and agenda-promoting options.

My priority would be to tighten up government conflict of interest laws. Let's at least pretend that our state government is not tainted by corruption.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Prince Peter's Game of Thrones

So, who cares that the state operating budget will have over a $2Billion deficit next year? Who cares if we will have to start tapping our savings to balance that budget? Who cares if SB 21 will not spur oil production? Who cares if the state is looking at cutting the education budget?

Not Prince Peter Micciche. As part of the legislative council, Peter voted for the renovation of the LIO building in Anchorage that will now cost the state of Alaska some $280,000/month for rent, five times what we're paying now.

And you can't have a fancy new office without some brand new furniture. Peter also voted to spend $100,000 on designing new thrones desks and chairs for the Princes and Princesses of state. The final cost of the new furniture will run between $1,000,000 -  $2,000,000. Read more about it here.

Peter did say that it would be "a badge of honor" to use hand-me-down furniture. He also said "The idea that we have brand new shiny furniture in each office is something that we should guard against, in my opinion." But of course, in typical Micciche fashion, he voted for the expenditure anyway. 

So quick, it's photo-op time for the Prince. Let's do a quickie feel-good, aw-shucks, good-guy, save-the-world publicity stunt. Save Freedom, the rescue dog!

Yeah, and Al Capone donated a lot of money to orphanages, but I don't really think that it made up for the other stuff he did.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pay Raids for Parnell and Co

He was for it before he was against it, but Gov Sean Parnell and cronies, despite huge budget deficits and declining oil productions, will get a nice pay raise for 2014 unless the legislature acts to prevent it. Representatives Gara from Anchorage and Kawasaki of Fairbanks have promised to do just that, but unless the bill they propose to write can be fast-tracked and pass both houses, the raises will be automatic.

I have an idea, let's tie executive salaries to performance.

Start with $0

If test scores for all of Alaskan children go up significantly, give him $25,000. Tack on an additional $25 K if dropout rates decline.

If there is a significant reduction in domestic violence, give him another $25K. If sexual assaults in villages can be reduced, throw in another $25K.

For every village that adds windmills to their power grid, that would be $5K.

For every village that gets water and sewage, give him another $5K.

For balancing the budget without tapping into savings, give him $25K.

For increasing production in the oil pipeline, that would be worth another $25K.

If he were to be paid for his accomplishments, he could earn well over $200K and it would be well-worth the money. But just how much would he be paid if his pay was tied to what he has actually accomplished so far? Well, $0.  And that's about what this Captain deserves. Each commissioner should also have their pay tied to benchmarks set for their departments too.

There has been one pleasant surprise when it comes to sneaky pay schemes our politicians manage to provide for themselves, legislatures will no longer be allowed to pocket their unspent office supply money. Mike Chenault was behind this back-door pay raise and he and our other central peninsula representative, Kurt Olson, have mysteriously had no office expense money for the past few years.  So the two just cashed these checks meant for pencils, staples and etc.  Oh, and it's not pocket change we're talking about. Both Chenault and Olson claimed all of $16,000 house members have been allotted - and have pocketed all of their 'office expenses' ever since Chenault and company allowed themselves to do so.

Tom Wagoner, our senator before Peter Micciche, claimed $10,000 of the $20,000 allotted to that branch. The figures for 2013 and the amount Micciche might have taken home, are not yet available.

And yet teachers have to dip into their pay to make up for supplies. Legislatures will still get reimbursed for expenses, but now must provide receipts that they actually spent the money on office supplies. I wonder if cigarettes, booze and big macs will be counted as office expenses.

Legislature creature comforts are still on tap. There's the newly renovated LIO office in Anchorage that will cost us over $280,000/month compared to the old offices which cost about a fifth of that, around $57,000/month.

And don't forget about Chenault's spiffy new outdoor smoking lounge he had installed in Juneau.

Why do we keep electing these guys?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Oily Politics - Breaking the Bank in Alaska

I don't think that anyone with a shred of integrity is at all surprised by the recent budget fiasco Alaska's republicans have brought about.

Let's start with Gov Parnell's oil tax giveaway spearheaded by our own state senator, Peter Micciche. According to the latest report by the Department of Revenue, the state will see a 38% decline of oil production for at least the next 10 years. So much for the oil tax giveaway spurring production.  And then the lower tax rate that the major oil companies were given have led to a near $2 Billion reduction in revenues just this year alone. Sure, the price of oil dipped a little, but not nearly to the extent to cause such a massive revenue hit. Read more here and here. Parnell got a little tripped up at a press conference last week when someone asked him to explain his statement that the new tax bill would bring about the same as ACES when oil is at the price it is now, over a hundred a barrel. The Department of Revenue said that the price would have to fall below $80. Parnell said someone showed him the figures, but he couldn't explain the math. Right.

Then there's the budget. The latest one for 2014 is operating at $3 Billion deficit. For 2013, Parnell had promised a $3.7 surplus. Wrong. Right now it's almost $400 Million in the red and all the bills are not in. How to make up for the difference? Well, tap the savings, of course. Gee, pretty much everyone who was opposed to the oil tax give-away figured out that busting the bank was what the Parnell's, Chenault's and Micciche's wanted to do. Lo, and behold. How long will it be before the PFD is tapped and a state tax is re-instated?

Still in the budget is seed money for some of Parnell's pet projects - $36 million for roads to the resources (the tab for these projects to proceed will be in the billions) and $10 million for the Susitina Dam (and that will be another billion+ dollar project if that goes through).

Cutting the University of Alaska system will be a priority. Can't be having educated people hanging around the state.

On the positive side, Parnell did say he wanted to begin paying down the state unfunded retirement obligation. But that too will come from savings.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

HB 77 - Fast Tracking the Destruction of a Salmon Stream

I'm willing to accept that reasonable people can disagree about most things and I think it's a good to be open to divergent ideas. On Monday evening, state senator Peter Micciche held a town-hall meeting at the borough building in Soldotna and brought along Ed Fogels, a deputy commissioner at the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and Cora Campbell, the commissioner of the department of Fish and Game to present the state's argument for trying to have HB 77 become state law.

But from the get-go, it was obvious that the concept of Integrity does not compute with many of our elected and appointed officials. 

Mr Fogels, stated that the bill came from the regular folks in the DNR in an attempt to streamline the permitting process to 'advance the public interest'. He talked about how backlogged the DNR was in granting permits, but almost in the next second, he admitted that they've been able to reduce the wait time quite a bit. What he didn't mention was that the court, responding to Gov. Parnell and the state's argument that it didn't have the personnel to deal with permitting was BS. I think that Mr. Fogel was hoping he was dealing with an ill-informed crowd as he glossed over the scary parts of HB 77. But every person who came forth to testify about 77, called him on the intent and the language of the bill. 

For her part, Cora Campbell, who does not have a background in fish or wildlife research or management, assured the crowd that just because HB 77 would allow for private citizens to be ignored and salmon streams to be raped, Fish and Game would at least do their part to review any permit that might allow that. 

Conspicuous by their absence were representatives Mike Chenault and Kurt Olson, who both voted for the bill. Neither really have the stones to face a crowd that might disagree with them - and that would be 100% of the folks in the audience. And it just wasn't tree-huggers out there. Yeah, both of them can be dismissive of people who disagree, but they both know that they can't support their views with logic or truth, so of course neither of them nor their spokespersons were there.

Paul Seaton, the representative from the southern peninsula did attend and spoke out about all the problems he had with 77. When a republican has problems with a proposal that fast-tracks development, you know the bill has flaws. Paul used up his allotted two minutes pointing out the nefarious language of the bill and he was just getting warmed up. I don't always agree with Paul, but he makes the short list of Alaskan Republicans who have integrity. 

Anyway - here's a list of the items in 77 that are particularly evil.

1) It's Racist. It does not recognize that tribal governments are governmental agencies and prohibits them from filing water reservation rights. 
2) It Takes away Individual Rights. Citizens will no longer be able to challenge government decisions. Marge Hayes made a good point at the meeting. Democracy is messy, but it's the foundation of our country. Dictatorships are efficient. Do we really want to give up our personal rights and let those with money and influence be in total control?
3)It lets the State Operate in Secret. Public meetings would be held concerning broad regional plans, but when a specific area plan is developed, there would be no public input.
4)It fast-tracks one of the most hideous business plans that exists on the planet. This is what the state wants to happen: put a surface strip coal mine on Chuitna River watershed, an anadromous salmon stream, mine a low-quality coal and sell it to China. China will use the coal to power their factories and take away jobs from the US. And of course, the additional pollution from burning this low-grade coal gets blown eastward, over the Pacific Ocean and would contribute to acid rain, global warming, mercury in fish, and all sorts of environmental damage.  The last I talked to Peter Micciche, he supported this plan. 
5) It grants too much power to political appointees. The director of DNR, who is appointed by the governor might not have any background in natural resources. Oh, someone like the current acting commissioner, Joe Balish, who has a degree in political science. Their decision on development would be final. 

HB 77 is simply state overreach. It takes away the rights of local communities and individuals to have a voice in how their regions will be developed.

The bill is before the senate and Mr Micciche may very well cast the deciding vote on 77. Anyone want to take any bets on what he'll do?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Pimp My Ride: Micciche's (Fairly) New Rig

Micciche's New Ride
The ink is barely dry on SB 21, the Oil Tax restructuring bill passed by the slimmest margins this last legislative session and someone has been driving around all Soldotna in his big rig celebrating the victory for Big Oil. That slim margin was thanks to Peter Micciche, who despite his obvious conflict-of-interest (he is a mid-level manager for Conoco-Phillips), not only voted to pass the bill, but served on the committee that re-wrote the legislation.  Mr Micciche drives the largest SUV on the market, a GMC Yukon XL, with a MSRP of around $65,000.

Peter, doesn't quite connect the dots here.  As a senate candidate, he reported the required estimated wages he earned from Conoco Phillips, but did not disclose his stock holdings (not required).  But of course, Peter promised to be completely transparent, whatever that means to him.   I wonder how much his stock dividends were after the generous package he arranged for his bosses?

ADDENDUM:  It was pointed out to me that Mr Micciche acquired the Yukon XL BEFORE he became the Alaskan Senator representing the Kenai.  The only thing brand-spanking new about the rig are the custom AK Senate license plates.  I apologize for that inaccuracy in my first post.

Everything else in the post is accurate.  The conflict of interest, not reporting stock holdings (as mentioned, this was not required - but Micciche did promise to be completely transparent).  I still wonder how much his net worth went up after the new tax scheme passed. Peter still doesn't connect the dots here.  Most folks struggle to pay the over $4 for a gallon of gas - most everyone I know is cutting back and that's a good thing.  Not Micciche - he's doing his part to keep up the demand for more oil development (does he have to pay to fill that beast up, or is free gasoline a perk of his job?). Of course, not much happened in the legislature this session for schools, domestic violence problems, public safety, health care, affordable energy in the bush and etc., but we now are moving ahead with two gas pipelines and with the billion dollar give-away to the oil companies, I'm not going to hold my breath that the republican controlled house, senate and governorship will do anything for any of those other issues.

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