Thursday, December 29, 2011

No Time for Modesty

If you picked up the PC today, the lead story is a fluff piece praising the glories of Mike Chenault, the speaker of the AK House of Reps.  "I was the best fit for the job" explained the not-too-humble north-roader.  Jumping in with the alleluias was Kurt Olson, SOLdotna's representative to the state house.

Mike is proud to have brought home the bacon to the Kenai as the peninsula received a record amount of funding from the 2011 governor's budget.

Well, I guess that's what politicians are supposed to do - acquire the most money for their constituents.  Of course, if it was a democrat running up the government tab, everyone would be crying about those tax-and-spend liberals. Of course, if record amounts of money went to bush Alaska, most Kenai Peninsula folks would whine about the government handouts Natives were getting.  But it's a good thing when we benefit from republican legislators who spend state money like drunken sailors.

Not that money shouldn't be spent.  Roads, schools, solid waste facilities, prisons and ports are needed, aren't they?

It's kinda funny, when Mike and Kurt obtained money for peninsula roads, there were strings attached.  The money could only be used on central and north peninsula roads - not for roads in Homer or Seward.  Well, Gary Stevens, the senate rep from Kodiak, Homer and Seward, had the audacity to challenge Gov Parnell's proposal to roll back taxes on the oil company record-breaking profits.  Chenault and Olson are all about giving back a $billion a year to the oil companies and without requiring the companies to explore or drill or hire more than they already are.  It's easy to see that some of the bacon that Mike brings home is a reward for being Parnell's cheerleader.

And then there's the Goose Creek Prison in the MatSu Borough that was approved and built while Mike was in the House and the speaker.  The prison cost over $240 to build (and it is not quite finished yet).  It was built where there are no utilities, so another $20 million was spent getting power lines and septic. Oh, and it will cost $25 million a year more than it would cost to just leave the 1000 prisoners it would house in Colorado where they are currently serving their sentence.  This waste of state money happened under Mike's watch.

Then there's the port fiasco. Estimates now are exceeding a cool billion dollars as to the final cost of the expansion.  It's been one cost over run after another. All under Mike's watch. Just why wasn't this built here on the Kenai in Seward - with roads and rail in place and a true ice-free harbor, it was really the best location for the port.

Let's not get started on the Knik Arm Bridge or the Susitna Dam.

But some connected people are making a ton of money, so how do you say thanks to Mike for not being a good steward of the states money?  Money for Mike's constituents.

The state desperately needs to come up with a process that independently evaluates true need, cost-effectiveness and does so not as a reward to good old boys or corrupt bastards, but on what is really needed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Republican I Would Vote For

OK, if you are a regular reader of SOL, you know that my take on things is a bit left of center.  As such there's not too many Rs that my conscience will let me support.  But there are a few.  I've become a big fan of the Alaskan Senate President, Gary Stevens, who represents Kodiak, Homer and Seward.  He's not in anyone's pocket, he's practical, and his reasons for supporting something or not seem to come from what is in the best interests of people, not necessarily corporations. He just doesn't recite party-line dogma and that is refreshing. Since the last political session, he has been a very outspoken critic of Parnell's proposal  to give about a billion dollars a year back to the oil companies - despite the fact that we Alaskans own the oil that comes out of the ground, despite the fact that the companies are making record profits, and despite that fact that exploration, drilling and oil field employment are up since ACEs because the law.  Oh, and Parnell's plan doesn't actually require the oil companies to invest/drill/hire more.

Anyway, earlier this week, Gary was invited to speak to Commonwealth North, the pro-development lobbying group that gave grades of D or F to any Alaskan politician that was more concerned with people than corporations.  Gary blasted them.  You can read the contents of his speech here.  OK, I live in  Soldotna, so can't vote for Gary - but I would if I could!

And in surprising news, I heard Mike Chenault  on NPR this morning saying that before the state invests any more money in any natural gas pipelines, there needs to be buyers in place.  With so many natural gas wells coming online in the lower 48, Canada, Russia and around the world, North Slope gas just is not going to be competitive.

Atwater Out?

This just in - KPBSD Superintendent Steve Atwater is one of the two finalists for Carol Comeau's position in Anchorage. Read the ADN story here.

By most all accounts, Steve has done a good job here on the Kenai, and after years of the previous superintendent's divisive school leadership, one can only hope that if he does get the Anchorage job, his replacement will be as competent and professional as Steve has been.  It's a tough job, for sure, and with the declining enrollments here on the Kenai, there will be some difficult decisions that the school district will have to deal with. 

Friday, December 09, 2011

Stop Not Making Sense

I didn’t go to the last Borough Assembly meeting, but I listened to the KDLL news report about Debbie Brown’s and George Pierce’s testimonies against funding non-profits.  Neither of them has any of their facts straight, but what do you expect?  For what it is worth, Debbie was able to speak a few clearly understood sentences and that’s different, although what she said was…crazy, so nothing really has changed I suppose. 

George confused the Kenai Watershed Forum, the non-profit that the Borough Assembly is considering partially funding, with state and federal regulatory agencies that were “taking land away from people”.  Debbie talked to the assembly as if they were kindergarten kids, explaining in the most basic terms what a non-profit does.  “They benefit their members"was her conclusion.

Robert Ruffner, the director of the KWF, noted that they did a lot of work for the borough particularly spearheading replacing substandard culverts that were impeding salmon migration and such, and that they hired local contractors at market rates to do this.  The KWF has been able to obtain several matching grants to replace the culverts. Because of their familiarity with the process of coordinating with inter-government agencies, they have expedited these projects, and have already replaced some dozen of these culverts and at a fraction of the cost that the borough would have incurred on its own.

So, people like Debbie, George, the ACT people and Fred Sturman, try to come across as folksy, homespun, common sense citizens, but in fact, they are not anything more than self-serving, stingy grinches. 

There are a few homespun sayings that come in mind about them:

Penny wise and pound-foolish.  So, this crowd would rather avoid paying for a few things now that would then take so much more money in the future to correct.  And we’re talking about preserving one of the few healthy remaining salmon runs on the planet.  What they are really saying is that they’d rather save a few dollars on property taxes, which are already some of the lowest in the nation, and to hell with worrying about having our grandkids have fish in the Kenai River. 

They would cut off their nose to spite their face. These folks are so caught up in their no-tax dogma, that they would oppose things that would, without a doubt, benefit the economy, recreation and culture of the Kenai. I think they are just basically cheap bastards. Oh, and the kicker here is that the $100,000 that the KWF is asking for would come from what the state gets from the haul of commercial fishermen and passed back to the borough.  So, not a penny of property tax would actually be used and the money the state receives from the fishing industry would then be used to enhance and perpetuate the fishery – and benefit all of us.  A win, win, win situation. 

They fiddle while Rome burns: So, there are clear and undisputed problems and there are clear and undisputed solutions, but Debbie and company would rather engage in political theater rather than actually solve the problems.  Notice that neither of them offered alternatives that might actually solve anything.  

The KPB barely dodged letting the crazies run the asylum this last election. Just check out the comments to any PC story and see that we have some very, very scary neighbors. Check out the PC story on this here.

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