Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dan Saddler on Kicking Crime in the District

BY DONN LISTON



ECHO Magazine

Legislative attempts to address increasing crime rates, the State budget, and voting to cap the Permanent Fund Dividend payment to Alaskans for the second time, were some of the topics District 13 (Chugiak/Birchwood) Rep. Dan Saddler welcomed talking about recently in an exclusive interview with The Echo News. All legislators will soon be heading back to Juneau for Gov. Bill Walker’s 4th Special Session during this, the 30th Session of the Alaska Legislature.

Buckle up, Kids, we are in for a ride.
The special session begins October 23 at 11 a.m. at the capitol. Discussed will be, first: “SB 54 – Crime and sentencing.” Second: “An act or acts enacting a tax on wages and net earnings from self-employment…”
We will see if establishment Republicans, like Rep. Saddler, will be rolled again. That’s been the story since the house is now run by Democrats.
When Republicans were in the majority during the 29th Legislature (2015-2016) Saddler served as Vice Chair of the House Finance Committee; Chair of the House Health & Social Services (Finance Subcommittee), and Chair of the House Law (Finance Subcommittee). Saddler was also a member of the House Armed Services Committee and served as a member of the House Conference Committee on SB 196 (having to do with the State’s Power Cost Equalization to subsidize living in the bush.)
But, but, but, blowback from the passage of SB 91 earlier this year created the political need to meet now; so the governor asks: why not use this opportunity to find a way to tax Alaskans, too?
“Representatives are simply representing the desires of their constituents, as they should, and there is not a general agreement in Alaska,” Saddler explained. “Some folks say we should tax those who have, (in order) to benefit those who have not. Others say we should all take the hit totally. So we have reached an impasse; I’m not going to support an income tax, the people of my district don’t want it. Bryce Edgmon’s people want to ‘tax those rich people in the city.’ So we’re doing our job, but it takes time to determine what we want to do.”
A rural Democrat, Rep. Edgmon is House Speaker.
It will take courage to buck the majority AND the governor. What elected legislators say through clenched teeth when they are home in their districts, and what they do when they are in our backwater capital in Southeast Alaska, might be hard to correlate, but actions can be verified. I know how it works from 20 years tracking these phenomena as a resident of Juneau. A former journalist himself, Rep. Saddler also knows this dynamic well.
The crime bill problem started with SB 91, which Rep. Saddler voted for.
He explains: “SB91 was an effort by the legislature to look at the resources we have–financial resources–and find ways to not spend irresponsibly. We have just gone through the drill of building the $350 million Goose Creek Prison, and realizing the recidivism rates—66 percent of people going back to jail within three years of their release—the revolving door that is not working; at great cost, it is not working.”
At the end of the last session, in which Saddler was vice-chair of the budget committee, SB 91 transcended from several committees. “I wasn’t on those committees, so it was kind of new to me,” he said. “I supported that bill with reservations. It now looks like there are places where there is evidence we should go back and fix things.”
A work in progress.
Alaska crime rates were rising before SB 91, and the causes of crime rates increasing may be more related to our economic downturn and the epidemic of opioid abuse. The fix is hopefully SB 54: An Act relating to crime and criminal law; relating to violation of condition of release; relating to sex trafficking; relating to sentencing; relating to imprisonment; relating to parole; relating to probation; relating to driving without a license; relating to the pretrial services program; and providing for an effective date.
SB 91 began as a 21-page omnibus bill that even McGruff the Crime Dog could love. Now everybody is kicking it.
“SB 54 is essential. It should have been addressed months ago,” said Saddler. “The title of SB 54 is broad enough that almost anything that was addressed in SB 91, in my opinion, can also be addressed in SB 54. It is sponsored by John Coghill in the Senate—as was SB 91. But the politics are so strong that it is difficult to anticipate what is going to happen.”
Some are saying cut it out root and branch. Saddler says it might be repairable.

So explain your vote on capping the PFD…

“The vote on the budget required us to agree to a capital budget. We had to avail ourselves to the 9-to-1 match the Federal Government offers. So we put up $100 million, and they put up $900 million to maintain our roads, build ports, airports and all the stuff for our transportation infrastructure,” he explained. “It is difficult to take any one vote in isolation—especially in the budget—so we did compromise” to pass the capital budget. “In the operating budget we had to avoid a government shutdown, to avoid the negative impact on Alaskans, and we had to compromise on that,” Saddler continued. “When it came to a vote on the capital budget the Republicans in the house were responsible to compromise and vote for that budget. As part of that the Democrats set us up to cut half of the dividend the first time; the governor had vetoed half of the dividend payment the first time, and given the fact we have more than $4 billion in outgo (expenses) with about $1.7 billion of income, the question can be legitimately asked: “What is the function of government? Is it to provide services or is it to provide money for people?”
Saddler admits his answer to that question may impact his chances for re-election.

Representative Dan Saddler

Dan Saddler on kicking crime in the district
Email: Representative.Dan.Saddler@akleg.govDistrict: 13Party: RepublicanToll-Free: 877-460-3783
Session Contact
State Capitol Room 428Juneau AK, 99801Phone: 907-465-3783
Interim Contact
12641 Old Glenn Highway Suite 201Eagle River AK, 99577Phone: 907-622-3783Fax: 907-622-3784
Legislative Service
2011-2018 Representative
Residency in Alaska:
Juneau, 1979-80 (summers)Anchorage, 1988-92Eagle River, 1992-present
Family:
Wife: ChrisChildren: Danny, Peggy, Don, Sam
Education:
B.A. Journalism, Miami University, 1983M.A. Journalism, Ohio State University, 1987
Other Political and Government Positions:
Legislative Aide, Alaska House of Representatives, 3 yearsLegislative Aide, Alaska State Senate, 2 yearsHouse Majority Press Secretary, 2 yearsDeputy Press Secretary, Office of the Governor, 3 yearsSpecial Assistant, Department of Natural Resources, 1 yearDeputy Director, Governor’s Office of Boards and Commissions, 3 yearsRepublican Party District 18 Chairman, 6 years
Business and Professional Positions:
Former board member, Alaska Press ClubFormer member, Society of Professional Journalists
Service Organizations and Community Involvement:
Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce; National Rifle Association; Aircraft Owners and Pilots’ Association; Alaska Airmen’s Association; Air Force Association; Association of U.S. Army; Anchorage Republican Women’s Club; Governor’s Annual Picnic committee; Anchorage Folk Festival board; Juneau Folk Festival
Special Interests:
Family, flying, hiking, songwriting and performing, American history.
2017-2018 Committees:
For Sponsored Bills

Friday, October 20, 2017


Investing in our Community: Cliff Cook takes no chances with Eagle River

BY DONN LISTON (2017©donnliston.com)
October 20, 2017

Thursday, October 5, 2017

School Board Member Elisa Snelling Urges Parents to be a Part of the Process

BY DONN LISTON (2019©donnliston.com) 

ECHO Magazine: https://www.echoak.com/2017/10/elisa-snelli

School Board Member Elisa Snelling Urges Parents to be a Part of the ProcessDiscussions about closing any Eagle River/ Schools are no longer being conducted in the Anchorage School District although local parents may need to be active in consideration of ASD boundary changes, according to Elisa Snelling, School Board Treasurer.

“We can take a look at our enrollment out here and see that we are not getting smaller as a community,” explained Snelling. “All the reductions are in Anchorage. We’re about 95.4 percent of our anticipated enrollment, which is about where we were last year.”
The start of kindergarten Aug 28 will likely also increase ER/Chugiak enrollment.
“The only thing we are going to be looking at in ER/Chugiak is our boundaries,” continued Snelling. “We are in the very early stages of discussion about this right now, but I will be making sure that gets aired out comprehensively among our residents. We need lots of opportunities for parents to be part of that conversation.”
For Snelling it’s personal:  “I’ve got two children out there and I’m going to put on my parent hat for a night and weigh in. I see our Eagle River Valley schools at higher density—Eagle River High School is higher, too. We only have one phase of that building built but it is one of the highest performing schools in the district. Gruening MS is too.”
Boundary discussions will have an impact on northern ER/Chugiak schools:  “…Fire Lake Chugiak, Mirror Lake, the northern part of Eagle River is where they are lighter and that may be where some adjustments will be proposed to shift the pressure from down here,” Snelling added.
The idea of closing schools with the statewide economic decline due to falling oil prices came up in 2015 when West Anchorage School Board member, Eric Croft brought it up based on the three top schools being considered for improvements: Inlet View Elementary, Central MS, and Gruening MS. According to an Alaska Dispatch News report, “Croft’s amendment to the school district’s proposed bond package said the board intends to study and have public conversations about potentially closing Central Middle School, Gruening Middle School and Inlet View Elementary School, which could save the district $100 million.” www.adn.com/education/article/anchorage-school-bond-package-puts-rebuilding-facilities/2015/12/05/
By changing the formula for helping local districts pay for school construction, the Alaska Legislature has made any major reconstruction or replacement of schools prohibitively expensive. Croft pointed out in an ADN Commentary that ASD faces some challenges when it comes to expecting local taxpayers to pay for new or improved schools: “For many years, the state helped local Alaska cities construct schools by paying 60-70 percent of the cost of school construction bonds. Last year, the Legislature suspended this program until at least 2020. This means that for at least five years, the cost to the taxpayers of building and repairing schools has essentially tripled.” www.adn.com/commentary/article/anchorage-may-face-closure-some-schools-change-programs/2016/03/09/

Snelling is an accountant by trade; she is cognizant of these financial realities and their potential impact on Eagle River/Chugiak.


“Insofar as I have been on the board for just over two years now, that has given me a new opportunity to look over these numbers, examine these numbers, dig into these numbers and develop questions most people don’t go into,” she said. “It’s challenging right now because I’m having to work with a budget that boards before me have passed and put into play. We are trying to direct much more money into the classrooms for the students.”
Of course, a big driver of the costs are employee contracts; four have expired June 30. “We did just approve the Principal Association’s contract. They have some 150 or so members including assistant principals. Charter School principals are not part of that association.”
“My predecessor, Natasha Van Imhoff offered this advice to me: “This is a very big ship, and if you try to make it turn at the drop of a dime it will not do it.” Making little course corrections over the years will result in gains one or two degrees leading to 10 degrees in five years!

On the campaign trail it was easy to say “I’m going to do this,” or “I’m going to do that” and when you are elected you ask “why can’t I do this,” or “why can’t I do that?” I have to work to make good changes as it is possible, and so far my most favorite vote has been to hire Dr. Deena Bishop as Superintendent!”

To her constituents in Eagle River/Chugiak, Snelling has this comment: “Our graduation rate did go up a couple of points, but this will be our first time of having the Peak Testing results of September from the testing in April. We are going to be doing Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing on grades 3-8. We don’t want to over-test our children but we do want to know where we are and where we are going.”
“The other thing I would continue to ask our community—and I will beat this drum all day long—is to urge participation in the process,” she continued. “I’ve seen decisions made at a board meeting because 20 parents rallied together and made a point to the board. Sometimes there are things we don’t see and emails or presentations at board meetings bring to light.  Be a part of the process—elections do have consequences—people need to vote!”

Open Discussion Concerning Chugiak-Eagle River Growth

Open Discussion Concerning Chugiak-Eagle River Growth

BY DONN LISTON

ECHO Magazine: https://www.echoak.com/2017/10/community-council-cer-growth/

“Los Anchorage,” Alaska, has a problem.

Like Los Angeles, California, Anchorage is located in a geological bowl surrounded by mountains and ocean. Los Angeles County is in a large bowl of sand with sandy hills–the largest flat basin opening onto the Pacific Ocean. Anchorage is in a smaller bowl of clay and silt, surrounded by rugged mountains.
Land suitable for building homes in Anchorage is therefore limited.

A Town Hall meeting on September 14, held in lieu of the regular monthly Birchwood Community Council meeting, was at the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center to accommodate the crowd.

Thus began the conversation about Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU) water transmission and sewage trunk lines being installed to the site of a proposed development in North Eagle River. Called Powder Reserve, the development needs for water and sewer drew plenty of people to hear AWWU manager, Brett Jokela and staff experts, explain how the construction of trunk lines will happen and who will pay for this major infrastructure investment.
Curtis McQueen, CEO of Eklutna Native Corporation (ENC) also provided insight at that meeting into why this particular land was made available for development at this time: “I can’t predict what is going to happen here, but when you hear the number 1,400 homes going in there we don’t know; it might take 30 years. It depends upon what the market does. Instead of a shot here and a shot there we are trying to do it better by anticipating where the city is growing and where demand is likely to develop.”


Rep. Dan Sadler summarized what resident's concerns were midway through the meeting. Assembly woman Amy Demboski facilitated the discussion. Photo by Donn Liston
Rep. Dan Sadler summarized what resident’s concerns were midway through the meeting. Assembly woman Amy Demboski facilitated the discussion. Photo by Donn Liston
Because Anchorage population is trending toward Eagle River-Chugiak, the area’s largest landowner feels obliged to provide land for development where people on modest incomes want to live, according to McQueen. Powder Reserve is located on some 404 acres of sloping land–with wetlands at the base–north and west of the north Eagle River exit of the Glenn Highway, south of Chugiak High School. This is beyond the 360 building sites of Powder Ridge subdivision, which was also established on land owned by Eklutna.
Single-family homes and condominiums will be constructed by reputable builders, with some 100 acres of green space to protect animal habitat. According to McQueen some 30 percent of residents at the Powder Ridge are military families and his corporation supports the mission of JBER in allowing more housing for these families.
On the other hand, some residents of Chugiak-Birchwood say they like living on large lots–with independent water and sewer systems–because they don’t want their quality of life diminished by having to pay for large-scale development leading to ever more Anchorage urban sprawl. They have fought off efforts to bring water and sewer into this area because once the expense is incurred they know who will likely be expected to pay for it.

But the AWWU spokesman said current residents need not worry.



Brett Jokela is General Manager of AWWU. Photo by Frank E. Baker
Brett Jokela is General Manager of AWWU. Photo by Frank E. Baker
“To bring water and sewer services to development of that scale takes a lot of infrastructure not limited to 8-in pipes; we need water transmission lines to bring a lot of water into the area” Jokela said. “We need pump stations and pump servers to take the wastewater to treatment. As it happens, the upfront financing of infrastructure is a major impediment to large-scale development. This is a cash-flow concern for development interests…for the past two years we have been trying to figure out how to address this need that has been identified.”
Apparently, they have found a way to limit exposure to current residents through cleaning up the language of some tariff requirements so that funding for the project will come only from residents served by the major pipes and system necessary to serve new construction. The estimated hook-up fee per property will only apply if a property owner chooses to hook up, once the costs are approved.
“The Municipal Assembly authorizes creation of utility districts by resolution. The utility determines the cost for improvements and the preliminary allocation of costs to be accessed to each property for the improvements,” Jokela continued. “When the allocated costs are determined we would establish a ballot for affected property owners to determine either ‘yes, that is an amount I would be willing to pay,’ or ‘No, I don’t want to pay that amount.’ It takes 50 percent or better of property owners in the affected area to include the prospective assessment.”
At one point in the discussion, it was revealed ENC owns some 48 percent of the land that might be subject to assessment for systems necessary to bring their water from Eklutna Lake to homes and then cycle it back to a Muni treatment plant.

Some old timers from the Birchwood Community Council expressed skepticism about how long homes with wells and septic system would be able to maintain their integrity with expensive Muni infrastructure and feeder lines all around them.

“At this point, we have not taken a formal position on this particular project, however, Birchwood Community Council has been on record several times in the past opposing bringing city water and sewer services to our community,” said Birchwood Community Council President, Kevin McNamara. “The current phase, Powder Reserve, has been approved and is currently in a building phase. It has been slowed by the need for improved infrastructure–water and sewer. We will be discussing this project at our October Community Council Meeting on October 11th and perhaps will vote on an official position at that time.”
The plot thickens, but don’t put your money on under-financed individuals living independently on large lots, when it is time for development to move in.
Everybody in Anchorage can’t move to the Valley, can they?

Lee Jordan
Your observation about the impact of "under-financed individuals living independently on large lots" is key in consideration of expansion of water/sewer lines. Frontage of 330 feet on two sides of a 2-1/2 acre tract means assessments in six-figure amounts to pay for extension of lines, possibly doubling mortgage payments. Small tracts developed half a century ago are becoming saturated to the point of being unsuitable for on-site wastewater disposal and wells are threatened by shrinking aquiifers as well as contamination. Public water indeed is in the future, but how to lessen the impact on those "under-financed individuals" is a question demanding both humane and moral solution.

Constitutional Protections for your PFD

BY DONN LISTON (2018@DonnListon.com)

October 5, 2017 ECHO Magazine

Constitutional Protections for your PFD


Some newer Alaskans may not understand why they will be receiving a check from the Permanent Fund after only one year of living here.

They might wonder why the government is handing out money instead of forcibly taking it with an income tax.
For the benefit of new and old Alaskans, let’s look at the evolution of this bounty distributed annually to those who have lived here at least one year.
The first Permanent Fund Dividend check for $1,000 was issued in 1982, following a bruising court battle, in which the initial plan for a distribution of dividends–with amounts given on a graduated scale based on length of residency–was ruled unconstitutional by the Alaska Supreme Court. The formula for determining how much would be given out was changed and has been used now for over three decades.
That first dividend check was signed by Commissioner of Administration, Carole Burger, because Republican Gov. Jay Hammond feared there might be a political backlash from Alaskans known for disdaining government handouts. I personally worked for Ms. Burger in Juneau two years and she told me the story herself.
Upon statehood the greatest hope for Alaska’s future was seen to be in oil development. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had stated his support for Alaska statehood early in his administration but also expressed concerns that needed to be overcome before that could occur. The greatest concern was the issue of national security; this was during the height of the Cold War and Alaska was on the border of the Soviet Union. Another concern was the amount of public land in the territory; 99% was owned by the Federal government and a suitable compromise had to be arranged to transfer unreserved lands to the new state government if it was to be viable.

With a large landmass and a small population, Alaska has always depended upon natural resource development to support government.

The mere fact Prudhoe Bay was located on land chosen by the state under the Statehood Act, instead of on federal land, has meant economic bounty for Alaska.
In response to passage of Alaska Statehood Bill H.R. 7999 in the U.S. House of Representatives, which ultimately led to statehood, various public officials offered information into the public record about the potential good and likely challenges of Alaska statehood. One of those, Fred Seaton, Secretary of the Interior, on June 24, 1958 offered an overview of Alaska’s potential viability with a report citing the following:
  • Population of Alaska: 220,000 of which approximately 50,000 are military.
  • Gross Product from Alaska resources: (1957) $161,846,000, an increase of 18 percent over 1956. Of this amount, approximately $92.9 million was from fisheries; $34.3 million from timber; $24.6 million from minerals; and $1.5 from the fur industry, “exclusive of the Pribilof fur seal production. The Pribilof production amounted to $5.2 million.”
  • Federal Taxation: Alaska residents paid some $45 million in federal taxes that year with an additional $20 million coming from nonresidents who did business in the state.
  • Cost of Statehood: As a political strategy of gaining statehood, (The Tennessee Plan www.alaska.edu/creatingalaska/statehood-files/tennessee-plan/admission-of-the-bold/) the Alaska Founders set up a constitution and state government. The federal government under the Organic Act, had retained jurisdiction over administration of justice, the Governor’s Office, and partially supported the legislature and other miscellaneous functions of government. Alaska had some 58 different departments, boards, commissions and other governmental agencies supported by Territorial appropriations. The cost of statehood was estimated to be about $6,350,000 for assuming governmental functions previously performed by the Federal Government.
Specifically, in this report Secretary Seaton predicted: “Alaska’s growing oil and gas lease income should offset this cost.”eisenhower.archives.gov/research/online_documents/alaska_statehood/1958_06_24_Seaton_to_DDE.pdf
The reason this is important in a discussion of why we have a Permanent Fund, is because of what our state constitution declares: The legislature shall provide for the utilization, development, and conservation of all natural resources belonging to the State, including land and waters, for the maximum benefit of its people. (Article VIII Sect. 1) Former Alaska Gov. Walter Hickel, who was also Secretary of Interior for a short time, believed every Alaskan was an owner of the state through this resource development endowment; he called this the “Owner State.”
One argument for the Permanent Fund at the time was based on the reality that a hypothetical “Little old lady in Chicago” who owned stock in an oil company extracting Alaska resources would receive dividends from her ownership. Since all Alaskans–through our constitution–also own the resource, why shouldn’t we also receive regular dividends? A majority of Alaskans knew our state needed to invest in infrastructure, but the last thing we wanted was to replace a Federal Government bureaucracy overseer, that owned 99 percent of the land prior to statehood, with an equivalent State Bureaucracy. Alaskans yearned for a prosperous state with responsible resource development and robust commerce.

So the Annual PFD is NOT a government handout. The PFD is a dividend for our collective investment in resource development.

This investment return, from the efforts of our oil industry company partners, enriches the state by paying for most state government, providing income compensation to residents in an inflated economy, and rewarding mutual responsibility for perhaps the most environmentally responsible oil development effort of this scale ever endeavored. We all should be proud recipients of our individual investments with this annual dividend!
Today state government is the largest employer in Alaska, and some of those state employees at the Department of Revenue manage to do a pretty good job of distributing PFD payments to grateful residents one time per year. But the Permanent Fund was established by the Alaska Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Hammond. That means payments to Alaskans from our mutually-held endowment are subject to the whims of politicians who say one thing when they are running for office and quite another when the special interests who paid for their campaign call their debt due.
Thanks to our current governor, who in recent years has shown us how vulnerable our Permanent Fund is, Alaskans must now consider installing the Permanent Fund–and the longstanding formula used for payment to eligible Alaskans from the fund–into the Alaska Constitution. This amendment is necessary because the founders would have never imagined what might happen from great resource development wealth, but they rightly assured that the benefit should be for Alaskans.

Why Not Mt. McKinley? (2019 © donnliston.com) Some of us grew up knowing Mt. McKinley was the largest mountain...