Saturday, July 27, 2013

Short Takes| Working on my fiscal policy stump speech ...

Full version available here.
As readers of these pages realize, increasingly over the past couple of years I have focused time and attention on understanding, writing about and identifying solutions to Alaska's coming fiscal crisis.

While some have and likely will continue to argue over the coming year that the crisis is the result of the recent passage of SB 21, it is not. The crisis substantially predates that event.

In January 2013 -- before SB 21 was even introduced and based on data which assumed the continuation of ACES -- the University of Alaska-Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research had this to say about the state's fiscal situation:
"Reasonable assumptions about potential new revenue sources suggest we do not have enough cash in reserves to avoid a severe fiscal crunch soon after 2023, and with that fiscal crisis will come an economic crash.”
At the other extreme, some have and likely will continue to argue that, by creating the environment for additional oil investment and production, SB 21 somehow has averted the fiscal crisis.  They also are manifestly wrong.

As I explain in a recent piece in the July 2013 edition of Alaska Business Monthly, the (ultimate) increase in revenues attributed to SB 21 isn't nearly enough to maintain current levels of state spending over the long term.  Instead, as I explained further yesterday, continued spending at current (FY 2014) rates will continue to lead to the reenactment of the Alaska state income tax and ultimately, the draw down of the Permanent Fund, despite the passage of SB 21.  It may come a little later than under ACES, but at current spending levels the state remains on track for those events.

Over the past few months I have been asked to talk about state fiscal issues several times and the frequency is increasing.  As a result, today I put together the first draft of a baseline "stump speech" on the topic.  The complete draft is available here.

I post it here for whatever interest it may hold for others; as always, comments are welcome.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Short Takes| UAA, the NCAA and me ...

A couple of years ago I helped support a trip by the UAA Women’s basketball team to Washington, D.C. and Virginia, as part of their season opening exhibition tour.  Among other things they played the University of Virginia, where I graduated from Law School and someplace I know quite a bit about. 

I viewed that opportunity as a way to help support one of the reasons why I think UAA Athletics is important.  As I have said repeatedly, I have supported UAA Athletics in the past because I think it plays an important role in building Alaska leaders.  I viewed the potential for the women on that team to experience the history, traditions and institutions of both DC and Virginia as a great opportunity in that process.

My involvement was not a surprise.   I talked about it – and UAA wrote about it – in an “I Love UAA” column in the “Green & Gold News.”  The team also blogged about it publicly during the trip. 

As the Green & Gold story notes, at the time I was a major contributor to the Athletic Department.  (Interestingly enough, it seems I still am.  Despite the fact that I have not had an extended discussion with anyone in the Athletics Department, or UAA for that matter, for over a year as the situation with Dr. Cobb deteriorated, UAA continues regularly to charge my credit card in fulfillment of my previous pledges.)  Because I thought it was an important opportunity in the effort to develop leadership for the state, I also contributed additionally toward the costs of the Virginia trip. 

The efforts proved successful.  In one logistically challenging, but accomplishable day, the team toured the White House, had a reception and met with all three members of the Alaska Congressional delegation, was given a tour of the Capitol personally by Senator Murkowski and toured the Jefferson and Martin Luther King Memorials, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Holocaust Museum.  I arranged and paid for a shuttle bus so the team wouldn't waste time and potentially miss appointments driving in DC traffic and looking for parking spaces (which don't exist).

In subsequent days the team toured the University of Virginia, toured and had dinner in Mr. Jefferson’s Rotunda and toured Monticello.  I paid for dinner in the Rotunda because I have a very strong connection to the University and felt that I was hosting them in my house.  Where I grew up, you don't invite someone to your house for dinner and then have them pay for it.  It is something I wish all Alaskans could do, but I only was positioned to affect this subset.

Then, a few weeks ago, the NCAA called and wanted to talk about it.  I hadn't heard anything from UAA about the potential for such a call, and still haven’t.  But I understand they knew about it in advance.

We talked, I was open and had a good conversation.  At one point in the conversation one of the NCAA representatives on the call raised the potential that some of the actions related to the trip were inconsistent with the NCAA rules.  I was more than a little surprised by that because I was careful continually to clear any arrangements I made in advance and during the trip with UAA.  Certainly, it was the team’s schedule; I didn't want to do anything to interfere with that, only enhance it if it was consistent with the team’s other plans.

Last Friday I received an email, following up on my request at the end of the call to let me know if they found any such inconsistencies.  Their view:

It was determined that the expenses you paid during the team’s trip to the Virginia area were impermissible and inconsistent with NCAA legislation.  In order for such expenses to be permissible, a monetary donation deposited directly with the institution was necessary, and that did not happen in this case.

Thank you again for your assistance in these matters.  It does not appear as though we need anything additional from you at this time.  Thank you.

So, it seems it was fine for me to contribute toward the costs of the trip, but it was done in the wrong way. Lesson learned, I suppose, but this seems a little bit form over substance and it’s not like UAA didn't know – and retain control over – what I was doing. If they had told me to handle it another way, I would have. 

In any event, at least as measured by the team’s “wow” reaction, the trip achieved its objectives – and I think the team, University and state are better for having made the effort. Once the current storm with UAA passes, I might do it again … but next time, I suppose I will deposit the related “monetary donation .. directly with the institution” and ask UAA three or four additional times, and three or four different ways, whether there are any other NCAA rules applicable to the efforts.  I've had all of this fun I can stand.

A man in a booth talking to himself, an author and about music ...

Last Friday I took my second turn at guest hosting The Dave Stieren Show, while the person whose show it is went camping with his family.  The first hour and a half was me alone in monologue.  While I failed to give credit on the air, the theme for the segment came from a quote in a 2010 Wall Street Journal story on the return of Republicans to power in the U.S. House.  The quote was describing what had happened the last time the R's had been in charge of the body:
"... the number of earmarks multiplied from nearly 1,500 in 1994 to a little under 14,000 in 2005—before voters ousted what had become the Grand Old Pork Party. It isn't easy to spend so much money so egregiously that even Nancy Pelosi could campaign as a relative fiscal conservative, but the Tom DeLay Republicans managed the feat in 2006."
If I had to give a title to the segment it would be "Alaska's Tom DeLay Republicans."

The second half of the second hour was an interview with Tom Kizzia, the former Anchorage Daily News reporter turned author. Tom recently has written a book on Alaska's Pilgrim family, Pilgrim's Wilderness:  A True Story of Faith and Madness in the Alaska Frontier.  In my opinion, it joins John Krakauer's book, Into the Wild, as a must read on the type of people that Alaska sometimes attracts, and what it does to them once they come.  The interview with Tom was fun and hopefully informative.

The first segment of the third hour was my take on UAA's recently announced effort to find a new Athletic Director, to succeed the recently terminated Dr. Steve Cobb.  Those familiar with my previous commentaries on the subject could have predicted my take.  In short, my view is that UAA needs to hire an AD who is as, if not more, skilled in connecting to constituencies outside a university as inside.  I will continue to follow UAA's process with interest.

The remaining portion of the final hour was spent talking to Mike McCormick, the owner -- along with his wife -- of Whistling Swan Productions, a production company which is one of the true gems of the Alaska music scene, about WS's past and upcoming seasons.  Among others, Mike is bringing up Leon Russell in September to perform.  I don't recall if I said it on air or off, but Leon's music was one of my steady companions during law school.  I think the hi-lite, to the dismay of my roommates, was playing "Home Sweet Oklahoma" ten times in a row one day (with special emphasis on the line, "I'm going back to Tulsa one more time") -- and yes, I am playing it again now as I write this.

Anyway, it was fun -- but again, it made me realize how difficult doing the job must be when done day in and out.  I barely scraped by coming up with enough material with a week to prepare; Dave does it daily.

In the event anyone is interested in listening to any of the segments -- and as a placeholder for me (and those doing opposition research in the months ahead, wink) -- I attach links to the segments here:

Hour 1:
   Guest: Me, in monologue
   Subject: Alaska's Tom DeLay Republicans

Hour 2:
   Guest: First half hour, me, in monologue; Second half hour, Tom Kizzia
   Subject: Second half hourPilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier

Hour 3:
   Guest: Mike McCormick, Whistling Swan Productions
   Subject: WS's past and upcoming season

Friday, July 19, 2013

Second Career| Pre-read for the 7.19.2013 Dave Stieren Show (updated 10am)

As I noted in a post on these pages yesterday, I am guest hosting The Dave Stieren Show this afternoon as Dave takes the family camping.

While a few more may slip in as I read the morning news, I thought I would include links here to a few things that I likely will refer to during this afternoon's discussion:

2:00 - 3:30p 
3:30 - 4:00p
4:15 - 4:45p
Tune in at AM 750/FM 103.7 KFQD locally, or on the web here. Call in locally at 522-0750, or outside of Anchorage dial 1-888-909-0750.  This should be fun.

Read more here:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Guest hosting the Dave Stieren Show tomorrow (Friday) ...

While Dave takes the family camping, I will be sitting in as guest host on The Dave Stieren Show tomorrow (Friday).

Topics so far are Tom Kizzia's new book on Papa Pilgrim, Pilgrim's Wilderness (Tom will be on), UAA's search for a new Athletic Director, what the upcoming battle over SB 21 should be about and why that is a bad issue for Governor Parnell, Sen. Lesil McGuire and Mayor Dan Sullivan, a little bit about Maine political history (and why Alaska should care), the latest way in which North Dakota -- North Dakota!! -- has surpassed Alaska, perhaps most importantly the latest on the upcoming Anchorage music season (Mike McCormick from Whistling Swan Productions will be joining in the last hour) ... and other things that may come to mind as we near the broadcast.

Prereads will be available Friday on these pages, at "Thoughts on Alaska Oil & Gas" on Facebook and maybe at the Show's FB page, if Silent Will agrees to post them.

Tune in at AM 750/FM 103.7 KFQD locally, or on the web here. Call in locally at 522-0750, or outside of Anchorage dial 1-888-909-0750.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Short Takes| The split personality of Alaska R's ...

Yesterday afternoon I posted the July 2013 edition of my, now, monthly commentary in the Anchorage Business Monthly. The July piece is entitled "Missing the Point" and focuses on the claims by both the pro- and anti- SB21 sides that their approach saves Alaska's fiscal future and the other side's destroys it.  The piece explains that both sides are wrong, that what controls Alaska's fiscal future are spending, not revenue levels, and that neither side has addressed that point.

Despite the fact it was July 4th -- and this is the July 4th weekend -- by the afternoon I had received several emails and a few posts from Republicans supportive of SB 21 suggesting that I am wrong, and that Republicans do have a plan also for reducing spending which addresses Alaska's future.  A few more notes to me at my blog arrived this morning.

My response consistently has been that, if there is such a plan, it is deeply hidden and largely unfulfilled.

As I point out in the article, early in January, before the start of this year's legislative session, the University of Alaska-Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) published a study which started with the following sentence:  "In fiscal year 2014, Alaska’s state government can afford to spend about $5.5 billion."  That and previous pieces went on to explain that if approved spending continued to exceed that level, the impact would be felt by future generations of Alaskans, as oil production or prices decline below the levels required to sustain the costs of state government, through significantly reduced levels of government services, the need for state sales, property and income taxes or likely, a combination of both.

Despite that clear warning, in April the state's "Republican in Chief," Governor Sean Parnell, announced agreement with -- also Republican -- legislative leadership on a FY 2014 spending level of $6.8 billion, roughly 25% above the level identified by ISER.  More stunningly, in the same discussion the state's Republican in Chief also announced an agreed "fiscal plan" to maintain spending at that level for the next five years.  By that time Alaskans will be in the hole at least another $6.5 billion and, again as the January ISER study points out, well on their way to "a severe fiscal crunch soon after 2023, and with that fiscal crisis ... an  economic crash."

Certainly, Republicans talk a good game.  As one reader pointed out, in their "exit interviews" (the final press availabilities following adjournment) both the Senate and House leadership (Republicans all) talked vaguely about reduced spending.  The reader relied on that as "evidence" that the R's are on the right side of the issue.  

But that is just talk.  The reality is that the four largest budgets in Alaska's history have come during the four fiscal years controlled by the Parnell Administration.  And if the legislature goes along, Parnell's "fiscal plan" ensures that string will continue.  Unfortunately, it will come at the expense of future Alaska generations.

In 2012, some incumbent legislators lost and others came close to losing because voters perceived that they had lost touch with the best interests of Alaskans.  If my email is any indication, as voters become aware this coming election of the reality of the Republicans' actions -- in other words, of the "other side" of the Alaska R's personality -- it is likely to happen again.  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

On the Tom Anderson Show this afternoon, with Dave Weatherholt

Dave Weatherholt, host of Saturday morning's KOAN 95.5 FM /1020 AM radio show "Getting Down to Business" and publisher of the related eNewsletter and Blog, is the guest host of the second half (5 - 6p) of Tom Anderson's radio show this afternoon.  I am going to join Dave in studio as his guest for that stint.

On a recent show Dave talked with Dennis McMillian, President of the Foraker Group, about developing non-profit sustainability.  I anticipate the focus of my discussion with Dave will be a corollary to that, developing a sustainable fiscal structure for the ultimate non-profit, state government.  

I am looking forward to the discussion.  If interested, tune in for the 5 - 6p segment locally at KOAN 95.5 FM /1020 AM, on the web here, and on TuneIn Radio here or on the TuneIn Android or iTunes app.  We'll see how it goes.