Sunday, April 29, 2012

Debbie Brown and the A-Pauling Republicans

So, Randy Ruedrich retired and the CBC Republicans have been ousted from leadership roles by a union of Paulbots and Teabaggers.   Russ Millette is now the Republican Party Chairman.

And now, please sit down and pour yourself a stiff drink, Kasilof's Debbie Brown is co-Chair.
Debbie, who makes former Gov Sarah Palin's word-salad rants seem erudite, somehow convinced the Ron Paul/Joe Miller/TeaBag coalition that she is leadership material.

Or maybe they were aware of the bard's warning:
“Dispute not with her: she is lunatic.” 
 William Shakespeare, Richard III

Anyway, it seems that Ruedrich drained the remaining $100,000 from the Repub's bank account before Russ or Debbie could put their names on the checkbook.

More details can be found here and here.

Debbie has appeared in SOL a few time before.  Check out what she did to earn that notoriety here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mike Chenault and Kurt Olson Get Spanked and Sent Home

This year's legislative special session has been very amusing.  The stunning news is that Gov. Parnell abandoned ship after the senate had the audacity to ask some tough questions of Bryan Butcher from the Dep't of Revenue about the Gov's oil tax plan (which was nearly identical to the plan that Chenault and the republicans of the house offered).  Well, Butcher was totally unprepared for almost all of the questions.  No kidding, Parnell said that the senate bullied Butcher when senators wondered what might actually happen if Parnell and the house had their way.

So, Parnell, sulking a bit like his predecessor was so apt to do, yanked the measure from the special session agenda.

The senate, and keep in mind that this body is made up of an across-the-aisle coalition headed by Republican Gary Stevens, responding to this unprecedented action by the governor, decided to gavel out and not even address HB9, Chenault's baby, that would sink about 10 billion state dollars into a natural gas bullet line from the north slope to some point in south central.

Wait a minute, you might wonder, the state is awash in money, shouldn't we help out Alaskan consumers and provide cheap natural gas to the masses?

Well, that's the line of bull that Mike and his peninsula partner in crime, Kurt Olson, would like for you to believe.  The Kenai is awash in voters who think that Joe Miller should be emperor, so Mike and Kurt can and have done whatever they've wanted under the guise of being conservative, pro-development republicans.

The bullet line that Mike and Kurt (and Mike Hawker from Anchorage) are hustling is just another boondoggle.  Mike, the conservative republican, is the boondoggle king of Alaska (Goose Creek Prison, Knik Arm Bridge, Port of Anchorage, the Susitna Dam are just a few of the multi-million and sometimes billion dollar fiascos that have come or are being developed under his watch as Speaker of the House).

Just how is the bullet line a disaster?  Let me count the ways:

1) It bypasses Fairbanks where arguably the need for natural gas is the greatest.  Funny, Parnell is now whining that because HB 9 won't be addressed this session, those in F'banks won't get the gas.  Well, to do so under HB 9, another line would have to be built, and a cleaning station would also have to be built as the gas from the slope is 'wet'. A good overview of the problem is offered here.

2) The state has been investing in natural gas exploration and production in Cook Inlet (Mike's and Kurt's home base).  It seems that the untapped reserves here could be huge.  Having the Fairbanks market would make local development more profitable and still beat the price consumers would have to pay for north slope gas. Oh, and Cook Inlet natural gas is 'dry' and doesn't need a cleansing station.

3) Even conservative estimates of how much consumers would have to be charged for north slope gas from HB 9 is considerably more than either a large diameter pipeline or a line from Cook Inlet to Fairbanks.

4) Mike and Kurt wanted to give the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation a blank check and no legislative oversight - basically an unlimited giveaway of state money.  During the regular session, the senate took its fiduciary responsibilities a bit more seriously and stripped the bill of that provision and others that would have prevented anyone from examining the records of AGDC. Seriously, Mike and Kurt were ready to give away billions and take away the ability of the state to even ask questions about where the money was going.

So, it's done for another year.  Sean, Mike and Kurt got spanked and sent home.

Thankfully there are some smart folks in the senate.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

May Day Vote Update

Addendum: The Redoubt Reporter article about the Hutchings Property and Chamber of Commerce Building is worth reading.

After talking to some folks in the know, I am less inclined to believe that a sweetheart deal was made between the City of Soldotna, the Chamber of Commerce and the Hutchings family for the purchase of the dealership building.

When the Hutchings property came up for sale and the Chamber decided that this might be a good place to expand, they approached the city of Soldotna with the idea of buying it.  The original asking price was beyond what the council and mayor could support.  The next step gets a little fuzzy, but from what I understand, the Hutchings family offered the property in the range of the $2.1 million that the city eventually agreed to accept with voter consent.

Understandably so, when a small town negotiates for property, it is difficult to maintain transparency but not tip off a potential seller what the maximum amount the buyer (in this case the city) is willing to spend.

What has been lost on the City (the council and the mayor) and the Chamber, is that in their zeal to acquire the Hutchings building, perhaps there were some missteps.

1) Should another appraisal have been done considering the price difference between the borough assessment and the only appraisal actually done (which was $2.8 million, pretty much exactly the original price that the Hutchings family wanted)?

2) The city engineer did an estimate of how much it would cost to bring the building up to code, but this wasn't finished until 3 weeks ago.  If the Hutchings building has been considered for at least a year and half, wouldn't this have been good info to have a while ago? Did this repair estimate come before the price of purchase was fixed?  I don't know.

3) I still have had no official explanation of why there is a need of a special election.  While the building may have been considered for a while, movement on it didn't happen until recently.  Is there a bank foreclosing? Not to be too callous, but if this is the case, the city might have been able to get the building for a lower price from either the Hutchings or from the bank.  Is there another potential buyer? Well, maybe having another business come to Soldotna is better than having some commercial property taken off of the market.  It does seem that the hurried special election makes for a low voter turnout and keeps people from getting all of the information needed to make an informed decision.

4) How serious have the city and the chamber really been to find a new site?  Didn't the chamber sell some land over by Good Time Charlie's not too long ago?  Heck, what about just buying Good Time Charlie's - it's the perfect location for the VC?  Not too long ago, the Mullins family was looking at selling the bookstore property  - that could be a good site and there's already a traffic light there. A little while ago, the former Nightwatch/Tides Restaurant was sold.  The building next to Beemans is vacant.  For that matter, why not figure out how to better use the Sports Center?  It is certainly big enough for a convention and visitor center, there's plenty of parking and it's in a nice setting. The 2.8 million that the city (and including the $250K the chamber has offered to kick in) is going to spend on the Hutchings building can buy and build/remodel a lot. At the very least, the city should have designed what it wanted, got some figures, and with that ballpark figure, see what could be bought and remodeled for an equivalent price.  If there was nothing, maybe put the plans before the voters and build something new.

While I am not convinced that the city has made the best deal, I am more comfortable with the knowledge that it wasn't a back-door deal.  After the financial fiasco of the Sports Center (that costs the city around $1000 a day in lost revenues), we should be careful how we spend our money.

So, for me, the decision on how to vote comes down to weighing the benefits of what we will get: a spiffy hall that can double as the visitor center and as a cultural/meeting center vs, well, not having a cultural/meeting center at this time.

By the way, if there are CoC folks reading this, your newsletter describing fallout for a NO vote are all kind of lame.  Not one fact at all and maybe a bit of misinformation:

No change..?  Well, sometimes no change is good.
No future expansion of a community conference center..? Really,  if we don't buy this now, like never in a million years will be able to buy, remodel or build something?
No revitalization of the proposed property..? Again, like never in a million years?
No additional parking and infrastructure at the Soldotna Creek Park? Well, shuttle buses and legs still are an option.  When the traffic light is put in, that will open up parking on Birch St. What more infrastructure is needed at the park?

Actually,  a No vote just means 
1) That the city doesn't spend upwards of $2.8 million at this time.
2) The CoC deals with the small space and access issues (did anyone ask DOT to take the VC into consideration when it redid that intersection?  A traffic circle might have been the best option). 
3) If the city and CoC wants a convention/cultural center, that it goes through a more rigorous public process.

Monday, April 16, 2012

May Day, May Day - Corporate Welfare in SOLdotna Day?

There's a special election on May 1.  We SOLdotnans get to vote to give the city permission to buy the Hutchings' dealership on the Sterling Hwy for $2.1 million.  If we vote to buy the property, the SOldotna Visitor center will be moved from the cabin on south side of the bridge to the dealership.

Above and beyond the price of purchase, the city engineer did an analysis of estimated costs to bring the building up to code, to fix some things that are needing repaired, and to ready the building for occupancy.  That figure comes in around $570K for the upper estimate just to bring the building up to code. That does not include up to $170K more to put in a sprinkler system and to cover unknown problems that might come up.  The total price could be in the neighborhood $2.8 million.  The Chamber of Commerce says that they will pay up to $250K for repairs needed for occupancy.

Some things to consider.

1) The borough assessment for the property is $1.4 million.  Should we be paying almost a million dollars more than assessment for a building that could need $3/4 million dollars in repairs?  To be fair, a private company appraised the value of the property to be close to the selling price.  Does that mean that I should expect to sell my house in Soldotna for 50% more than the borough assesment? Maybe we need another couple of opinions.  Are there are other interested buyers?  Hutchings is a failed business, we are essentially bailing them out of that business.  If we wanted this property, wouldn't it be a better business practice to offer something below borough appraisal and see what happens?

2) Why are we voting on this so soon?  Shouldn't there be some public question and answer sessions town hall style meetings so the public can become more informed?  We have some other elections coming up soon (maybe you've heard that there's a presidential race this fall), why not schedule the vote during an already scheduled voting session?  Just how much is it going to cost to hold the special election? Having a special election in early May guarantees a low voter turnout and with a handful of folks going to the polls, it's much easier to sway the results.

3) What is the plan for the existing Visitor Center property?  It's prime river-front/highway property and the borough assessment is about $390K.  Will that property be sold (for a million dollars more than the borough assessment?) and the funds used to offset the purchase price of the Hutchings property? Is there already a potential buyer?

4)There are advantages to relocating the Visitor Center to the center of town - more visibility and proximity to the Soldotna Creek Park, but the Hutchings site poses just as many access problems as the current site.  Those exiting the site and wishing to turn south will have difficulties crossing the northbound traffic lanes in the summer.

5)The Hutchings building does offer some potential benefits aside from an expanded visitors' center. It's large enough to double as an arts and cultural showcase.

The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, the beneficiaries of the move,  will offer an overview of this proposal tomorrow (Tuesday April 17) at noon at Frosos.  Work prevents me from showing up, but if you are at all concerned, consider attending.

The Chamber has an info sheet about the purchase buried on their website.  You can get see it by clicking here.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Click To Enlarge Mike Chenault's Ego

I think I need the click to reduce option

It's the end of another legislative session and there's another showdown between the Alaska Senate and the House on ACES reform.  House Speaker, Mike Chenault, had the bill his branch of the legislature passed,  re-worked by the senate.  The house bill was the $2 billion/year giveaway to the major oil companies; the senate throwback to him just addressed giving credits to companies that would increase production but the senate version kept most of the rest of ACES intact.

Armstrong Oil & Gas Inc., one of Alaska’s new independent oil producers was in favor of the Senate version.  Mike didn't even allow the house to vote on the bill the senate sent over, but rather used a procedural ruse that prevented it from even getting out of the Rules Committee. Soldotna's representative in the house, Kurt Olson, was Chenault's partner in this latest attempt to give away state money to the richest corporations in the world.

A few years back, Mike proudly wore his CBC  (Corrupt Bastards' Club) cap.  He's presided over the House during some of the most stunning financial fiascoes in state history (Goose Creek Prison, the Port of Anchorage, the Knik Arm bridge, etc).  He gave himself a back-door raise with a bill that let legislatures pocket the money that was allocated for office expenses, and has gone golfing in the lower 48 on the state dime.

Just what are his qualifications to have such a powerful position in the state?  Well, he's got a high school diploma.

He has no background in finances, in petroleum engineering, or economics.  Well, he does represent Nikiski and I guess that might explain it all. 

Mike is simply a tool for Conoco Phillips.  The version of tax reform he is trying to push through comes with no strings attached.  The majors have pledged to do some development if the House version passes, but aside from loose figures far below the credit they would be given, there is no language requiring them to invest the money back in Alaska.

And Chenault (and Olson and Gov Parnell) think this is reform?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ray Southwell: I Need Big Government to Help Fight Big Government

AP photo
So, Alaska Citizens' Militias second-in-command, Ray Southwell, and sworn enemy of Big Government and anything not in the Constitution, got his ass fired a while ago from CPGH. He was a constant cry-baby according to SOLdotnans working there.

What's a whacked conspiracy nut to do?

Well, go to the National Labor Relations Board, a branch of the despised Big Government that Ray wants to take down, and ask them to take up your cause. Read about it here.

WTF?!? So, Ray, you need big government protection so you can take down big government?  Stand tall, Patriot.  You don't need no stinking federal regulations. No, Sir.  Let the market decide.

Well, unless the market decides that you make a lousy employee.  Then it's time to thank your camo bible that the Supreme Commander in the Sky works in mysterious ways. Oh, or maybe it's just your way of infiltrating the commie pinko, tree-hugging NLRB.  Do you wear your strap-on device (aka peace maker), when you meet with your advocate?  Do you want to plug him as he plugs for you?

It's not unlike the ACT folks who decry every penny of tax, yet are the first to call up Soundoff to whine when their roads aren't plowed.  Or like Mrs Ted Spraker who publicly denounces Obamacare while she is covered by socialized medical insurance.

Folks here on the Kenai are against government until they need it.

Then they are against it when someone else might legitimately need it.

Or in Ray's case, he wants to destroy it.

But first, he needs it.

Large Visitor Globe