Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials:
Nov. 2, 2017
Ketchikan Daily News: Alaska’s Real ID deadline extended
Alaska — once again — is saved by the bell.
Or, in this case, an extension.
Alaska’s deadline for complying with REAL ID has been extended by the federal government to Oct. 10, 2018. The previous extension expired Oct. 10 of this year.
Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005, which enacted the 9/11 Commission’s suggestion that the federal government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.”
This required states to comply with standards designed to better verify identities of applicants for driver’s licenses and identification cards.
If Alaska hadn’t received an extension, Alaskans would have had to use another federally accepted form of identification when traveling or visiting a variety of federal facilities. For example, a passport would have sufficed for airline travel.
While Alaskans may continue to use state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards for an additional 12 months, the act requires that all states be REAL ID compliant by Oct. 1, 2020.
Alaska is scheduled to be able to provide REAL ID-compliant cards by January 2019. Of course, a passport suffices, and it qualifies as appropriate identification before and after REAL ID takes effect in the state.
The pressure is off Alaskans when it comes to complying with REAL ID — at least for a while.
Nov. 5, 2017
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Walker tries to deal with both the economy and climate, but should lean toward fiscal demands
These two items at first seem incompatible: establishing a climate change strategy and task force in the office of the Alaska governor on Tuesday, and the Alaska governor lobbying Congress two days later to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil production.
And yet that is what Gov. Bill Walker did this past week.
His challenge with this two-headed approach of climate consciousness and seeking oil production from ANWR and elsewhere in the state will be to accomplish the former without harming the latter.
It won’t be easy.
The near- and long-term future of Alaska’s economy — and of the pocketbooks and stability of Alaska workers, of the businesses that employ them, and of Alaska families — require that the governor lean toward efforts that will grow the oil and gas industry in the state.
This isn’t to say that efforts to cope with climate change shouldn’t occur. They should. But those efforts can’t be of such an extent that they hogtie the industry on which the state government and numerous businesses rely.
It’s well-known, or should be, that the state government had insufficient revenue to cover its expenses for the current fiscal year and had to take a few billion from its reserves to balance the budget. That problem is going to persist unless a few things change, one of which is the level of oil production in Alaska.
The governor hints at this fiscal reality several times in the text of his order establishing the Alaska Climate Change Strategy and the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team.
The order states that solutions for coping with climate change “require creating a vision for Alaska’s future that incorporates long-term climate goals, yet recognizes the need for non-renewable resources to meet current economic and energy requirements during a transition to a renewable energy based future.”
It states that Alaska “may also engage with national and international partners to seek collaborative solutions to climate change that support the goals of the United Nations 2015 Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No. 13, ‘Climate Action,’ while also pursuing new opportunities to keep Alaska’s economy competitive in the transition to a sustainable future.”
It adds that the governor’s new climate strategy “provides a framework for developing innovative solutions to the challenges of a rapidly changing climate, informed by the best available science and technology, integration of indigenous and local knowledge, and consideration of Alaska’s economic interests.”
The effects of climate change in Alaska can’t be denied.
A climate change assessment released Friday by the administration of President Donald Trump, and required by law, clearly states that “Residents of Alaska are on the front lines of climate change. Crumbling buildings, roads, and bridges and eroding shorelines are commonplace.”
It states that “The incidence of large forest fires in the western United States and Alaska has increased since the early 1980s (high confidence) and is projected to further increase in those regions as the climate warms, with profound changes to certain ecosystems (medium confidence).”
It adds that “Rising Alaskan permafrost temperatures are causing permafrost to thaw and become more discontinuous; this process releases additional carbon dioxide and methane resulting in additional warming (high confidence)” and that “…it is clear that these emissions have the potential to compromise the ability to limit global temperature increases.”
It goes on.
The opening of that federal climate assessment states clearly that humans have been a key factor in the warming: “This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”
Climate change is real, as evidenced by the report released by the Trump administration.
The task for Gov. Walker and his eventual successors is to successfully deal with the effects of that climate change while also growing the state economy.
Nov. 5, 2017
Juneau Empire: Alaska’s fiscal cliff is here
Unless the Alaska Legislature acts, the state of Alaska will run out of money at some point in the next fiscal year.
The state’s deficit is forecast to be $2.7 billion. Its principal savings account, the Constitutional Budget Reserve, has less than $2.1 billion remaining.
After years in the red, the state has run out of time. The fiscal cliff is here, and we’re about to go over the edge.
The Legislature (and we as state residents) have options. We can spend from the Permanent Fund, we can cut state services, or we can tax ourselves.
We’ve already done the second option. This year, the state’s budget is $10.7 billion. Five years ago, the budget was $13.5 billion. Both of those figures include the Permanent Fund Dividend.
The state isn’t building big projects anymore: Gone are new museums, new schools, dams, bridges and roads. We’ve seen cuts to the ferry system, we’ve seen the University of Alaska cut to pieces, and we’ve seen our local schools flatlined. If the state continues to cut services, we’re likely to see lawsuits alleging the state is failing its constitutional obligations.
At some point, we need to start paying for what we need.
That point is now.
We need a progressive, statewide income tax, and here’s why:
— Oil isn’t paying the bills anymore. While production is up, prices are down, and the state’s long-term forecasts show they won’t rebound any time soon. Solar and wind energy are too cheap, people are buying electric cars, and while there will always be demand for oil (to make plastics and fertilizers, for example), Alaska oil is expensive when compared to other options.
— The Permanent Fund can’t cover the entire deficit. It isn’t big enough. Furthermore, turning to the Permanent Fund will slash the Permanent Fund Dividend. That’s effectively a regressive income tax. If you’re a child or a low-income Alaskan, a $2,000 dividend is much more of your income than if you’re a rich Alaskan making $100,000 a year. Cutting the dividend, as the Legislature did this year and Gov. Bill Walker did last year, is the equivalent of a tax that hits the poor hardest.
— A statewide sales tax harms local communities, taxes the poor more than the rich, and doesn’t collect money from out-of-state workers. Imagine paying a 5 percent state sales tax on top of your local Juneau tax. How many more things will you buy online instead of at a local store? Imagine a worker from Oregon at a logging camp or aboard a fishing boat. If she flies into the state for work, then flies home, she’s not paying sales taxes. She would pay with an income tax. Think of a poor Alaskan living paycheck to paycheck, spending only for food, clothing, rent and necessities. All of those things will be subject to a sales tax. A rich Alaskan might spend more on those necessities, but he’ll be putting plenty of his money into savings, investments or Outside travel, things not covered by a state sales tax. Under a state sales tax, the rich get a break.
No, a properly progressive state income tax with a full Permanent Fund Dividend is the way to go. It’s what former Gov. Jay Hammond (the father of the PFD) argued for, and it still makes sense today. Structured appropriately, it can ensure that all Alaskans pay a fair share for the services they need.
Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed income tax doesn’t work. It taxes the poor more than the rich. A better plan was offered by the coalition House Majority last year, but the Senate voted it down. That plan is still a good idea and should return.
Spending from the Permanent Fund can reduce the deficit, but it can’t eliminate it entirely. Just look at a presentation this week given to the Senate Finance Committee, the biggest opponent of a state income tax. That presentation showed even if senators got their way, the state’s deficit would last for more than a decade — and that’s if the stock market stayed on a steady, unbroken rise for 10 years.
We’re running out of runway here, and the Alaska Legislature will soon have to make a tough choice. It’s up to you to make sure that lawmakers choose the right option.