Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:
Feb. 23, 2014
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Four mayors make a good case for inclusion in property tax talks
Property taxes are the underpinning of the operation of the Fairbanks North Star Borough and other local governments. Therefore, anything that could have a detrimental impact on that revenue will most likely catch the attention of elected officials.
And that's precisely what has happened with regard to the natural gas pipeline agreement reached among the state, the major oil companies operating on the North Slope, and pipeline builder TransCanada.
Mayor Luke Hopkins of the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the mayors of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the North Slope Borough and the city of Valdez sent a letter to Gov. Sean Parnell earlier this month expressing deep concern about the potential impact the agreement could have on local property taxes.
The oil companies that hold the leases to the North Slope gas leases say they want fiscal certainty on oil and gas fiscal terms in order to go forward on the gas pipeline. And fiscal certainty with regard to the gas pipeline would surely mean a stable, flat tax payment, a system called "payment in lieu of taxes." That differs from the tax fluctuations that the rest of us see as a result of annual increases and decreases in property values.
But it's the local governments that have taxing authority over property located within their borders. And they should be involved.
Large projects and buildings bring in a large portion of a government's total tax revenue. The trans-Alaska oil pipeline is the biggest example in the Fairbanks area and has been the subject of repeated taxation disputes, one of which, for the year 2006, was won this week by the Fairbanks borough when the case went to the Alaska Supreme Court. That victory means $9 million in taxes for the borough.
With such large amounts of tax revenue at stake, it is right that leaders of the local governments strenuously express concerns at the earliest opportunity.
The mayors' concern, as stated in their letter to the governor, is that they will be excluded from the negotiations about local taxes on existing oil production and pipeline property and future gas production and pipeline property. Will, for example, the state somehow change the tax structure on existing oil-related property to a flat annual rate from the current value-based system? Will a flat, or payment in lieu of taxes, system be imposed for a gas pipeline? And how would that affect Fairbanks and the other pipeline communities?
Mayor Hopkins says he's heard virtually nothing from state officials on this. He and the other mayors expressed that frustration in their letter to the governor: ". we have become concerned about the lack of information provided to municipalities regarding the impacts of the ongoing negotiations. ."
The mayors don't just want to be advisers in the process. They — and, through them, the communities they represent — want to be active participants who can have the ability to shape the eventual outcome of decisions.
The mayors and Alaskans in general want to see a natural gas pipeline built. But the mayors are acting responsibly by looking out for their respective communities and are deserving of meaningful inclusion by state officials and the oil companies.
Feb. 22, 2014
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Bill to seal some criminal case records isn't good for the public
A bill up for a hearing Monday in the state Senate seeks to deny public access to documents in criminal cases in which an accused person is acquitted of all charges or has had all charges dismissed, or some combination of the two.
It has a nice feel to it. Why, after all, should someone charged with a crime but not convicted of it have to have that record sitting around for someone to look at? The idea is that they've been cleared and shouldn't have to suffer again.
It's a bad idea.
Sealing up those records, even after 90 days from the date of acquittal or dismissal as the bill proposes, is to further seal up the actions of our government.
Senate Bill 108 by Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, is particularly vague and broad.
It would add a new section of law that would read "A court record of a criminal case is confidential if 90 days have elapsed ." But it offers no explanation of what constitutes a "court record," so presumably that means the entire file, from charging document, to motions and responses, to court orders to juror information and so on, would become confidential. Would the acquittal and dismissal records themselves also be off limits?
The file would apparently simply vanish from public viewing after 90 days.
So how, years from now, would a member of the public research the dismissal of a criminal charge filed against a public official? How would a member of the public learn the details of the allegation against the public official? How would we learn that prosecutors had a strong case but inexplicably dropped the charge?
That's just one example, but it's sufficient to raise enough alarm about this bill.
It's also important to note that an acquittal or dismissal doesn't always mean the accused didn't commit the crime. It certainly can be the situation, of course, but an acquittal can also mean that prosecutors didn't do a good job presenting their case.
Living in an open society can be messy at times. Government agencies make mistakes and misuse their authority at times. Making records confidential in cases of complete acquittals and full dismissals would only cover up those errors and abuses.