Out There

“100% of the communities in the state of Alaska have state highways”

Posted in politics by Pete on August 11, 2017

This brilliant quote is from Peter Micciche, the republican senator from Soldotna and I believe the current senate chair.  I try not to dwell on politics too much, but this one was so classic I had to put it down for posterity.  It was lifted from this podcast, at the 23:16 mark.  The context was as follows.  The show was about what further cuts could be made to the budget, and how we will fill the deficit going forward (the Senate favors taking from the permanent fund, and the house favors a smaller hit to the PFD coupled with an income tax).

On the topic of further savings/cuts to be made, fellow Republican Senator Cathy Giessel spoke about how over 50% of the costs of the state ferry system was subsidized by the state, and how that needed to change – implying that ferry riders would have to pay more and/or ferry services would need to be cut.  This is a common view from legislators from all parts of the state other than southeast AK, where most of the ferry service happens.  A teacher from Juneau called in shortly after and criticized this view, and made the point that people driving the Glenn Hwy from Palmer/Wasilla (Giessel’s stomping grounds) to Anchorage every day aren’t paying a toll.  Their transportation is subsidized entirely by the state, so isn’t it fair that the Alaska Marine Highway System, the de facto road system of southeast Alaska, be subsidized at it’s current levels?  So then Micciche responded with:

The fact is, the reason why we’re not charging a toll right now, is that a hundred percent of the communities in Alaska have state highways.

Uhhh…no.  Kasigluk where I live has no state highway.  Mekoryuk has no state highway.  Nelson Island has no state highway.  There are approximately 200 villages in Alaska.  The vast majority have no state highway.  I’m pretty confident that actually less than half of the communities in Alaska have a state highway.  Not 100%.  Later he repeated “State roads are in every community.” That is either a huge brain fart or deliberate obfuscation from the Senate chair.  Insert joke here about why I should be surprised about this, but actually I was liking much of what they were saying and how he thought most of the cuts to be made had already happened and they were agreeing that we need to increase revenue (FINALLY!)…but he lost me with that ridiculous statement.  I will post a link to this post on his facebook page and give him a chance to respond.  He knows more about state highway funding than I will ever know, but I can’t see how it could be construed that we have a state highway.

The “Make Everyone Mad” Fiscal Plan

Posted in politics by Pete on March 19, 2015

The state of Alaska is currently in an economic free fall due to a precipitous drop in the price of oil.  This seems to happen every 15 years or so and the symptoms are becoming a little familiar.  Right now we’re at this part of the ride:


To take the metaphor a little further – the folks who can see what is ahead are FREAKED, while a bunch of other people are still just “enjoying the ride” without a clue about what lies ahead.  I got this pic from here:  https://bettiesparties.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/roller-coaster-scared.jpg

Or if you prefer:

Anyway the Alaska Dispatch has produced a 3-part take on the current fiscal situation that gives a good overview of the historical context of our situation, and the difficult political realities that surround any of the actual solutions.  The piece by Dermot Cole includes these quotes:

Legislators and the Parnell administration signed off on the 2015 the budget last spring, portraying it as a model of conservatism, fully confident oil would stay near $100 a barrel.

While they ran for office last summer and fall, no one warned of oil prices in the $55 range or that a collapse was coming.

The state budget analysis did not include oil price predictions below $90, which seemed reasonable at the time. It’s apparent now they were not.

It’s no surprise some lawmakers have invested more time in marijuana regulations and ending daylight saving time than in preparing for the likelihood that, if oil prices don’t rise, the next step will be a giant one off the fiscal cliff.

It’s easier to fume about federal overreach or hope the problem will just go away than fill a budget hole that amounts to about $5,000 per Alaskan per year.

$5,000 per Alaskan per year!!  The actual total figure is $3.5 billion.  To put that in some context, a state income tax would raise something like $350 million.  And no amount of cuts gets the state anywhere near a balanced budget.  At this point, really nothing is being done other than lots of small cuts that probably are penny-wise and pound foolish in the long run (from that last link, cutting the parents as teachers program seems the dumbest given that the program costs well under $1m per year to operate).

“Some suggest elected officials will wait until the state falls over the cliff into the ‘fiscal gap’ because only then will enough elected officials believe they have constituent support to access previously unused revenue sources such as the Permanent Fund earnings or to reinstate a personal income tax,” Commonwealth North said in a 2007 report, reflecting a sentiment shared by any number of Alaskans over the years.

And I believe that those elected officials will NOT pursue the income tax very seriously, instead just taking money from the permanent fund, which amounts a massively regressive tax on the poor.

The UPSET plan

Sometimes the only fair plan is the one that makes EVERYONE mad. While it is true that taking from the PFD is regressive and hurts the poor the most, others will argue that an income tax is unfair to the rich and hardly affects the poor at all. Which is why we need BOTH.  And more.

  • Understand that we all have to pitch in to work toward a better future for our state.
  • Personal income tax – The income tax as it existed before I believe was a simple 10% of whatever you paid the feds that year so it takes about 30 seconds to figure out.  I believe this would be about $350M, and even more importantly would get people more invested in state government instead of just viewing everything as an automatic benefit without cost.
  • Sales Tax – Add a 5% tax statewide on everything other than food.  No idea what this would raise – probably something similar to the income tax.
  • Earnings from the permanent fund.  Use say 20% of the fund earnings for current year spending (40% to the fund, 40% used as payouts).  This amounts to more than $1B most years.
  • Take 15% from the budget of every state department/program, rather than picking and choosing which to eliminate and which to leave unscathed.  I know some programs can’t be cut for legal reasons so not sure what this would save – probably something just under a billion.

The only really fair way is to hit all of us at once rather than trying to get it all from one source that affects one population disproportionately more than the others.  This is all just “back of the napkin” stuff but probably makes our 3.5B deficit something more like a $1b deficit.  Of course you are free to quibble with the particular numbers but you get the general idea.  Obviously we all hope the price of oil goes back up, but until then something should be done.  Now.

Alaska Politics as Usual

Posted in politics by Pete on March 19, 2015

Sigh.  This isn’t that big of a deal, but wasn’t it just a few years ago that the FBI did it’s big sting operation in our state capitol?  How quickly we forget.  The Alaska state legislature is apparently about to change the deadline for filing annual financial disclosure reports from March 15 to May 15.  Allegedly so that the date lines up better with tax day.  Note that the legislative session runs from Jan 20 to April 19, so that the new date is almost a month after everyone has left Juneau.  Les Gara has it right:

“The public is entitled to know what potential conflicts we have, what business interests we own, during session when the bills are pending — not after session, after it’s too late,” said Gara.

If the concern really has to do with tax day, why not change to April 15, when they’re at least still (barely) in session?  And the truth is that most people have done their taxes by March 15 anyway.  Most people have all the financial information needed to do it by the end of January – March 15th was not an impractical burden.  So it’s tough not to be cynical here.  It seems that the politicians don’t like having people going through their reports and identifying conflicts of interest during the session.  Real-time accountability and transparency are good, but this reduces both.  Maybe we should just get rid of the filing requirement altogether?  Or require a filing 10 years after they quit the legislature?  Sigh.

Kindergarten Truancy

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on February 18, 2015

This is meant as an open letter to the Alaska legislature, Governor Walker, parents, and educational leaders across the state.  Alaska law currently makes school attendance mandatory for kids between the ages of 7 and 16.

Here is the statute:

(a) Every child between seven and 16 years of age shall attend school at the public school in the district in which the child resides during each school term. Every parent, guardian or other person having the responsibility for or control of a child between seven and 16 years of age shall maintain the child in attendance at a public school in the district in which the child resides during the entire school term, except as provided in (b) of this section.

I’ve come to think this is a problem.

All too often I see kids who are enrolled in kindergarten who attend extremely sporadically and are then retained.  Today in one of the rural school districts I work in I was asking the kindergarten teacher about one of the students on my caseload, trying to get a feel for the student’s standing relative to their classmates, their progress this year, and any teacher concerns.  The teacher reported that the child can perform about as well as their classmates when they are paying attention and physically in school.  She mentioned that three kids were retained from last year’s kindergarten class (including my student), and she wants to retain 4 more from this year’s class, and she believes the reason for why all those kids are behind is truancy, with some of her kids attending about 2/3 of the time (40 absences by mid Feb).  I asked if the school has filed truancy reports or anything and she reminded me that until the child is 7 there is nothing the teacher or school can do.  I’ve been involved in education in the bush for over 10 years and I’ve seen this happen with kindergartners time after time.  But today it just struck me as illogical and silly that we go after parents who let their 4th grader or 8th grader stay home, but we allow it with kindergartners.  Truancy is a huge, chronic issue in the bush.  If we allow it to be a habitual thing for the first 2 years of school with no penalty, should we be surprised that it remains an issue for the rest of that child’s life in school?

I believe the intent of the law is to allow parents to decide when their child is ready to start kindergarten, so the state isn’t forcing 5 year-olds to begin school.  I don’t take issue with that.  However, I do take issue when the parents decide it IS time to start school, but then the child shows up half the time.  If it is obvious that it isn’t working for whatever reason, the parents should withdraw the child and try again the following year.  Or at least have a conversation with the teacher where it is acknowledged that they aren’t really trying to go to first grade in the next year and that the school shouldn’t be trying to move heaven and earth to get the child the extra help required to make it happen.

The law in section (b) makes exceptions to mandatory attendance, for things like illness, private school, living far from the nearest school, etc.  Then way at the end there is this:

(c) If a parent, legal guardian, or other person having the responsibility for or control of the child elects to enroll a child who is six years of age in first grade at a public school, after enrollment, the child is subject to the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section. If the parent or guardian of a child who is six years of age and is enrolled in first grade at a public school determines, within 60 days after the child is enrolled, that the best interests of the child are not being served by enrollment in the first grade, the child may be withdrawn from school, and the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section do not apply to the child until the child is seven years of age.

I think it should be changed to this:

(c) If a parent, legal guardian, or other person having the responsibility for or control of the child elects to enroll a child who is FIVE OR six years of age in KINDERGARTEN OR first grade at a public school, after enrollment, the child is subject to the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section. If the parent or guardian of a child who is FIVE OR six years of age and is enrolled in KINDERGARTEN OR first grade at a public school determines, within 60 days after the child is enrolled, that the best interests of the child are not being served by enrollment in the first grade, the child may be withdrawn from school, and the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section do not apply to the child until the child is seven years of age.

This is a small change but would help to combat runaway truancy, while not taking away from the spirit of the law which allows parents the freedom to determine when their child begins kindergarten.

my gen-x response to uncle ted and politics in general

Posted in politics by Pete on October 31, 2008

Let me start by saying I’m an independent voter.  I’ve voted for Republican, Democratic, and independent candidates, although prior to moving to Alaska I considered myself somewhat right of center.  Upon moving here I realized I hadn’t moved, but my political environment had.

Ever since the FBI investigation into corruption in Alaska politics burst into view, Alaskans have been waiting to see what would transpire with the big boys: Don Young and Ted Stevens.  Alaskans generally hold Stevens in higher regard than Young in terms of his character and especially his accomplishments.  So I sort of thought Stevens would be the last guy to go down.  He helped bring about enormous change in Alaska, and his influence on the young state is hard to overstate.  Even now at age 84 and convicted on 7 felony counts, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, the “lion of the senate,” “Uncle Ted,” “The king of pork,” “senator for life,” and self-proclaimed “meanest SOB in Washington” isn’t going quietly.

Leaders from across the political spectrum are calling on him to resign, but he is unbowed, unrepentant, and defiantly proclaims that his conviction will be overturned on appeal.  This quote from that last link I find particularly revealing:

The Republican Party of Alaska is urging voters to support Stevens anyway as he returns to Alaska today to make a final push before Tuesday’s election. The message: If Stevens wins and then resigns or is expelled from the Senate, there would be a special election giving Republicans another opportunity to keep the seat out of Democratic hands.

“If it’s not Sen. Stevens, we need the choice to have someone else,” said McHugh Pierre, the Alaska party spokesman. “But right now Sen. Stevens is our candidate, we’re behind him 100 percent, he says he’s innocent, he’s going to fight these charges, I believe he’s innocent and we’re going to make sure that our membership and other conservative Alaskans can find it in them to vote for him and prolong their options.” Both the Stevens campaign and the state GOP suggested that Palin, who characterizes herself as a reformer as she campaigns for vice president, is saying what she needs to say to get votes in the Lower 48 and Alaska voters should not listen.

I hate politics.  It combines people-pleasing with an obsession with appearances, together with an unhealthy-dose of inevitably corrupting power and wealth.  The grease that enables the wheels of democracy to turn is said to be compromise.  Is that the compromising of hard-line positions for the greater good, or the compromise of integrity and honesty? If you had to name Gen-X values, antipathy toward dishonesty (especially hypocrisy) and the abuse of leadership/power would surely be toward the top of the list.  And concern over image consciousness would follow not far behind.

The clincher is I think Uncle Ted truly believes that he is innocent.  He stands alone as a giant of Alaska history, but he has been blinded by his power, his legacy undone, his fortune lost and birthright squandered on a bowl of soup.  Or a massage chair.

I have far less sympathy for the fools pursuing power for power’s sake, such as McHugh Pierre and Randy Ruedrich (state GOP bigwigs).  “…Vote for him and prolong (our) options?”  Yuck.  How about voting for the best candidate?  If the state GOP wants to tie their fortunes to Stevens, then they will rise or fall with him.  Saying “We’re with him, unless he loses and then we’ll take anyone else with an “R” after their name over his opponent,” lame lame lame.  Culture wars and partisanship sucks.  Can we have a real discussion, and have our leaders serve?  Yeah, call me Pollyanna.  The GOP could have just endorsed someone other than Uncle Ted before the primaries.  It’s cynical, but probably true, that just about any decent Alaskan who pledged to vote as Ted would have could have beaten Begich (a democratshiver!).

Quoting the ADN, which is quoting the National Review:

“The party’s future may ultimately depend as much on regaining its ethical bearings as it does on retaining 41 seats in the Senate. Had Republicans urged Stevens to step aside months ago, those two goals would not be in conflict. Should Stevens’ conviction be instrumental in handing Senate Democrats a filibuster-proof majority, Republicans will have reaped what they have sown.” — National Review editorial

I couldn’t have said it better.  I used to regard the GOP as the party of integrity, but upon moving to AK in July of 2001 it took about 3 months to figure out that wasn’t the case here.

Final quotes from the article quoted earlier:

Other prominent Republicans, including Anchorage Baptist Temple pastor Jerry Prevo, said they are sticking with Stevens, who has represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate since 1968.

“Based on all that he’s done and being a pastor, pastors are a little bit, their tendency is to extend forgiveness and preach forgiveness, so that would just be a natural thing,” Prevo said.

State House Speaker John Harris, a Republican from Valdez, said he’s supporting Stevens, but only because there isn’t enough time to get another Republican on the ballot.

“Had this trial taken place significantly before the election, I’d say he ought to step down. Now, there isn’t enough time,” Harris said. “I hope he wins, and we’ll see what happens after that.”

I long to live as Christ did, and I’m all for forgiveness.  I am.  Ted’s sins are no worse than my own, and I believe they separate him from God just as everyone’s do.  I believe we all should forgive him.  But that doesn’t mean we show the poor judgement to reelect him.  Did Prevo have the same stance toward Bill Clinton when he finally owned up to his scandalous behavior?  I…kind of doubt it.  That is the kind of hypocrisy that just turns my stomach.  I’ve avoided taking shots at the Anchorage Baptist Temple, and I’ll try and continue to resist now, but it’s hard sometimes.

And Harris just comes across as such a spineless partisan.  What about doing what is right?  I’ll say it again.  Let’s vote for the best candidate. Now I’ve written way too much, and I haven’t even started on Don Young.  Oh well, I’m done.