Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dan Saddler on How House Republicans were Rolled on the Budget

(2017©donnliston.com)



ECHO Magazine title: Dan Saddler on Kicking Crime in the District

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.
Image result for mcgruff the crime dog
McGruff the Crime Dog
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,” Saddler 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

 (2017©donnliston.com)
October 20, 2017

Thursday, October 5, 2017

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

(2017©donnliston.com) 

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

Discussions 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
(2017©donnliston.com)

“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. 

“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?

Comments:
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.

Alaska City on the Move: WASILLA! (2019 © donnliston.com) The new Wasilla Sonic restaurant is located in the Sun Mountain de...