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With no one at the rudder, Alaska is losing control in fiscal free-fall

Bill Walker
OPINION: Alaska is suffering from a crisis in finances and in leadership. Alaska is in danger of proving Wally Hickel's fears correct by slipping from an "owner state" to an "owned" state.

Alaska is in a financial crisis and we are burning through our cash reserves at the rate of $7 million per day. That's over $2 billion a year. 

We face a multibillion deficit, yet state spending is out of control. Resources are being wasted while funding for education, infrastructure and critical services is threatened.

Legislation is being steamrolled. Education bills are bypassing the Education Committee.  A bill to change state law to allow out-of-state residents to be appointed to the gas line board was initially appended to a domestic violence/sexual assault bill to assure passage.  The appointment of a Houston-based former ExxonMobil executive has since been confirmed by the Legislature.

A high bid of $1.5 million was accepted to paint and improve the exterior of the governor's mansion. Two bids were received for less than $1 million. Litigation has ensued over that lavish spending deal gone bad.

We are incurring a no-bid $80 million lease obligation for a Taj Mahal-type facility for spare Anchorage legislative offices. Two glass elevators and bathroom stalls with maple doors are boasted features. I visited the legislative offices in Bethel recently. A small metal building suffices there.

Four years ago, I ran for governor largely on a platform of getting Alaska's gas to Alaskans first and then to the world via LNG exports to the Asian markets.  Gov. Parnell was fixed on the highway route to Canada.  That failed study has cost us $330 million and counting.

Last year, Parnell supported the small bullet gas line study for $400 million. This year, finally, he has recognized the benefits of the large volume LNG project, but he wants to put control into the hands of TransCanada and the three leaseholders who have competing projects all over the world. This latest 18-month study is $90 million.

Still, no pipe has been ordered and from Nome to Napakiak, from Fairbanks to Tatitlek, Alaskans are having to choose between paying medical bills or paying energy bills. When a 75-year-old businessman who has invested his life and savings in Interior Alaska breaks down telling me about the $30,000 monthly energy bills he cannot pay, I get angry. The time we have wasted, the opportunities we have squandered, the lack of leadership that has made us easy targets for being led.

My critiques are not because I am anti-oil. I am as pro-development as they come. Working as a carpenter, teamster and laborer on the pipeline construction financed my college education. I worked with the producers to secure the tax exempt financing for the Alyeska Marine TerminaI. As a charter member of OMAR, which later became the Resource Development Council, I was on OMAR's national lobbying delegation for an all-Alaska gas line in the 1970s. I have frequently lobbied in D.C. for the opening of ANWR. I traveled with then-BP Alaska President Bob Mallone to Sullom Voe Scotland post-oil spill to learn about their oil spill response facility.

And when BP sought to buy Arco, Gov. Hickel, I and others fought to prevent that. We met with the Securities and Exchange Commission to argue Alaska should have three companies, not just BP and Exxon. Those efforts paved the way for ConocoPhillips to buy Arco and establish a major Alaska presence and portfolio.

I know what pre-oil days were like for many families. Mine went from a rugged honey bucket lifestyle to building and owning a hotel during the construction boom. But we cannot permit the companies who partner with us in the development of our resources to occupy the third floor of the Capitol and control our fiscal and resource development policies.

My parents fought for statehood so that as Alaskans, we could control our destiny, not so we could be controlled. Gov. Hickel feared Alaska would one day slip from an "owner state" into an "owned" state. In 1994 he told the Legislature, "It's time to let the word go out that no one dictates to us and that we will not yield to others what generations of Alaskans fought to create." In 2014, we would be wise to heed that call.

Bill Walker is an independent candidate for governor. He is a lifelong Alaskan whose Anchorage law firm practices primarily in the areas of oil and gas and municipal law.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.