Political News

Alaska editorials

Posted November 21

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Nov. 19, 2016

Peninsula Clarion: Sockeye forecast adds concern to fish board process

Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishery stakeholders should be concerned with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's 2017 sockeye forecast for many reasons — not the least of which is that the predicted low harvest will inject even more economic and allocation concerns into the debate when the Board of Fisheries meets in February.

This past week, the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported that Fish and Game is forecasting a return of 4 million sockeye salmon, with an expected commercial harvest of 1.7 million — about 1.2 million fish less than the 20-year average harvest.

Based on 2016 prices, a harvest of 1.7 million sockeye would be worth $10.4 million to Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishermen, which is roughly half the value of this year's harvest of 2.4 million fish.

Fish and Game biologists point to the potential for numerous factors to be impacting sockeye salmon returns, from ocean conditions to high escapements over the past several years.

For the fish board, which sets fishery regulations, seeing a low sockeye forecast ahead of an Upper Cook Inlet meeting is akin to the economy taking a dive right before a presidential election. Each side will have its own theory as to who or what has caused the decline — and that certainly will color the debate at the Board of Fisheries meeting.

Indeed, Andy Hall, a sockeye setnetter and president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Coalition, told the Journal as much.

"I had a couple fishermen write to me and say they're alarmed. It's going to color how we respond to some of the proposals that go to the Board of Fisheries this year," Hall said.

Even when salmon returns are expected to be strong, divvying up fish between commercial, sport and personal-use fishermen is a contentious process. With a low return, expect it to be even more so, especially with the growing political clout of personal-use fishermen and a fair amount of uncertainty following the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on state salmon management.

And with millions of dollars at stake, fish board members will have their work cut out for them in balancing economic and allocation issues with fishery conservation.

We hope that all involved in the upcoming debate remember this: the Kenai Peninsula thrives when all user groups are accounted for in a fair and balanced manner when it comes to management policy decisions. For too long, influence on the fish board has belonged to one user group or another — commercial fishing 20 or 30 years ago, sport fishing in more recent regulatory cycles — without balance between the two.

However, the fish board enters the current cycle with new members and, hopefully, a better sense of what it will take to balance competing stakeholder interests with what should be the top priority — conservation of a fishery crucial to the economic and social well being of the Kenai Peninsula.

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Nov. 20, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Newly elected Legislature should prepare for work on state revenues

Don't start spending the "other half" of your 2016 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend check yet. A judge last week ruled in favor of the state, finding that Gov. Bill Walker was acting within his authority when he vetoed part of the allocation for the annual disbursement to qualifying state residents. Undeterred, Alaska Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, says he will pursue an appeal. But regardless of how the case is ultimately resolved, the state's budget situation is untenable, and the new Legislature should waste no time in rectifying it.

The question of whether Gov. Walker has the legal authority to partially veto the dividend allocation is a good one, and resolving it is in the state's best interest. While it's hard to imagine the governor taking the step except in extreme circumstances, as happened this year, the dividend constitutes a massive outflow from state coffers. Knowing whether that sum is subject to the governor's approval will affect future budget negotiations and could prompt an attempt by legislators to restrict or remove the governor's ability to veto it.

If the state is ultimately forced to pay out the roughly $667 million the governor vetoed from this year's dividend distribution, it would make quite a few Alaskans happy while at the same time worsening the state's fiscal crisis by further depleting shrinking savings accounts. That's why it's imperative that the new Legislature end the failure of the prior Legislature during the past two years to make great progress toward a balanced budget. The obfuscation, foot-dragging and delay have already cost the state in jobs and in its credit rating. And while revenue measures such as restructuring the permanent fund's earnings may not be especially popular, their necessity is obvious to anyone who takes a serious look at the state budget situation.

Gov. Walker and the Legislature have done what they can with cuts during the past two years, in keeping with the widely held notion that government is too big and needs to trim the fat. But after two years of cuts alone, there's precious little fat to be cut that won't affect essential state services such as education, transportation and public safety — and the budget gap is still gaping wide, with a deficit of more than $3 billion per year. Closing the gap through cuts alone is impossible. Closing it through revenue measures will be difficult but possible, and that's why the new Legislature should act quickly. The first item on its list should be restructuring of permanent fund earnings to provide a steady stream of income to pay for services in the wake of declining oil revenues. This won't solve the deficit on its own, but it will do more than any other single measure and will go far to preserve a dividend for residents. Absent such a change, the dividend will be mathematically eliminated in about two years.

The path to a balanced budget won't be easy. One way or another it will involve Alaska residents paying our way as we haven't had to before. But running a $3 billion deficit while residents receive $2,000 apiece per year and pay no personal state taxes would be considered lunacy by any government in the world. Our free ride has been over for two years, though the last Legislature didn't acknowledge it through meaningful revenue action. The new Legislature, when it gavels in for session in January, should acquiesce to that reality.

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