Transition committees release recommendations for Alaska's future

The administration of new Alaska Gov. Bill Walker released 17 transition reports Tuesday, packed with proposed priorities for the governor's four-year term. The recommendations deal with everything from how to manage state savings to tribal governance and paying the unfunded debts of the state's retirement systems.

The recommendations, from 17 different committees, may provide a preview of some of the subjects Walker will touch on his first State of the State and State of the Budget speeches he'll deliver Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

The reports, available online here, took shape during a weekend session in Anchorage on Nov. 22-23 that brought together more than 250 people from across the state, meeting in small groups to try and reach consensus on the most important tasks facing the new administration. Some of the goals are specific. Others are general statements of philosophy.

The administration is not bound to follow the recommendations, prepared by individuals with a wide range of political views about what's best for Alaska.

Some of the recommendations have already been carried out, such as the suspension of new state spending on six megaprojects, pending further review. The fiscal committee proposed that step, along with a $50 million reduction to the current fiscal year's budget and a $500 million cut to the next fiscal year's budget, in the face of stagnant oil production and plunging oil prices.

"The committee does not make any immediate recommendation on changes to oil and gas taxation, but does recommend the current tax regime be examined to ensure it is working as anticipated. The committee recommends the administration and Legislature work to better communicate Alaska's fiscal situation to the general public and to begin analyses of alternative revenue sources," said the fiscal committee, chaired by Brian Rogers, chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The financial challenges facing the state cannot be solved without "sustained cooperative effort between the administration, the Legislature, and the public," said the committee.


The group called for a budget strategy to deal with the immediate financial issues brought on by the collapse in world oil prices, as well as a long-term outlook.

"There will be public acceptance of reductions at a level that avoids or minimizes recession," the committee said.

The nine-member subsistence committee, chaired by John "Sky" Starkey, said that "dual management, including federal eco-system management, is ineffective and inefficient" and that a new approach is needed, one that incorporates "tribes and Alaska Natives into state and federal subsistence management systems."

The oil and gas committee, chaired by attorney Robin Brena, called for a variety of actions, including extending tax credits for Cook Inlet, stabilizing taxes, more auditing, evaluating tax policy and its economic impact, and focusing on changes that can lead to additional oil production.

The health and social services committee recommended expanding Medicaid and development of a business plan to identify costs or offsets of savings in the fiscal year 2016 budget. "Get Legislature on board or find alternative," it said in the context of expanding health care coverage and access.

Among the other recommendations from the committees:

• Become more involved in Arctic policy questions, particularly with the Arctic Council, a group of circumpolar nations the U.S. is set to chair from 2015-2017.

Revitalize the National Guard in rural Alaska.

Improve public safety in rural areas and develop a policy of "community condemnation" of domestic violence and sexual assault.

• Take action to reduce the unfunded liability of the public employee retirement systems. "This is an example of proactively dealing with a significant issue as soon as possible to reduce the impact at a later date," the committee on administration said.

• Reduce energy costs by 50 percent over the next three years, in part by developing more local energy sources and crafting building codes with energy efficiency standards.

• Separate the boards of the Alaska Energy Authority and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which have the same board members. "These boards should be separated and reconstituted to capture appropriate skillsets and fairly reflect the various stakeholders, needs and the diversity of the varied regions and lifestyles of Alaskans," the consumer energy committee wrote.

• Ensure that the public is involved in decisions about natural resource management and work to make sure state permitting is "fair, transparent and predictable," the natural resources committee said.

• Mandate integration of electrical transmission facilities in the Railbelt by 2016.

• Take steps for better alignmnet of educational institutions to improve education and teacher development.

Dermot Cole

Former ADN columnist Dermot Cole is a longtime reporter, editor and author.