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?

Large Visitor Globe