New coastal initiative is bad news for jobs, future

commentJuly 14, 2012 

If you set out to foist on unsuspecting Alaskans the most constitutionally offensive ballot initiative possible -- the absolute, stinky worst -- it would end up as Ballot Measure 2, an homage to the Left's craving for absolute power.

Slated for the Aug. 28 primary ballot, Ballot Measure 2 is an initiative from hell: a convoluted, 15-page freak show slapped together behind closed doors. The state estimates it would cost $5.4 million to run this vague, unvetted scheme.

The 703-word measure -- the longest in state history -- would create an entirely new coastal management regime. It would defang the Legislature, end-run the Alaska Constitution and subject development in Alaska to the capricious whim of a new, powerful and unaccountable bureaucracy bound by few, if any, rules. Worse, its decisions, unconstrained by time-lines to move them along, likely would adversely affect every industry -- and your personal property rights.

That bureaucracy, part of a big-government power grab by the Left and green interests, would consist of three levels, with a 13-member Coastal Policy Board at the very top, a new state division of Coastal Management and local district panels.

Policy Board members would be unconfirmed by the Legislature and outside its reach -- although virtually all other boards and commissions overseeing groups such as barbers and hairdressers require such confirmation. The board would rule by simple majority, and, oddly, major population centers -- Anchorage and the Mat-Su, for instance -- would get fewer votes, while Southeast and Southwest Alaska, along with the North Slope, would get more. Fairbanks and Interior Alaska get zip, although the new program could affect development decisions hundreds of miles from any coast.

How vast would the new powers be? Imagine what "scenic" and "aesthetic" appearance standards could be. It would be adios to blue tarps or anything else that offends our new green masters.

In addition to its other sins against Alaska's economic future, the measure would make permitting more difficult, especially for smaller companies. It would add yet another layer of red tape, increase costs and set the stage for endless lawsuits. None of that is good for Alaska.

The independent oil and gas explorers just incentivized by Alaska to search in Cook Inlet are saying they will rethink their investment and exploration decisions if the ballot measure passes. They cite anticipated delays and increased costs.

There are so many blatant problems that even some of the measure's supporters acknowledge the Legislature will have to make adjustments. What they are not telling you is that lawmakers cannot substantially tamper with the measure for two years if it passes.

The fairy tale du jour being peddled by Ballot Measure 2 supporters is that, golly, it simply would replace the old federal Coastal Zone Management Program, an opt-in effort that gives coastal states and territories say in federal issues in their areas. It is no big deal, they say.

That is far from the truth. The first such program in Alaska was instituted in 1977 and amended substantially in 2003 and 2005 because it was burdensome, spawned litigation and stalled applications and permits. It was a tool for delay. Unbelievably, Ballot Measure 2 would reintroduce old abuses such as allowing third-party interests to appeal administratively during the permit process, causing unnecessary delays.

The old coastal management program sunset July 1 last year, despite two special legislative sessions aimed at keeping it in place. The measure passed the House 40-0 but representatives refused a Senate deal on how much weight "local knowledge: would be given by the policy board. Rather than hammer out a legislative solution in the open, the Left chose to end-run to the voters -- and did a lousy job.

Attorney Gen. John Burns recommended the measure be put on the ballot despite "numerous potential constitutional concerns" and "numerous irregularities involving draftsmanship, inconsistencies and ambiguities in the bill itself." He also noted that the measure proposes 18 new statutory provisions.

While there is little opposition to sane, responsible coastal zone management, this measure is about more than just coastal policy. It is about choking off jobs and Alaska's economic future. It is a giant step away from consistent and intelligent resource management, and toward big government, over-regulation and new barriers to economic growth and job creation.

It is a lousy idea.


Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com, a division of Porcaro Communications, which is providing professional services to the "Vote No on Ballot Measure 2" campaign.

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