Ethan Berkowitz wants Alaskans to help build a gas pipeline by investing it.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidate -- accompanied by lieutenant governor hopeful Diane Benson -- unveiled his Great Alaska Pipeline Company at a press conference Friday morning.
Here's the simple version of how it would work: Alaskans could invest part of their Permanent Fund Dividend in the gas line through a check-off element on the PFD application. Kind of like if you want to give money to a presidential candidate on your federal tax return.
It's strictly voluntary and has nothing to to do with the Permanent Fund itself, Berkowitz emphasized several times, only your own PFD. It would divert whatever amount you designated from your check into an escrow account where it would sit until construction of a gas line begins. If a gas line never gets built, you get your money back. If a gas line is built and turns a profit, as an investor you would get some sort of return.
"This is about making a gas line a reality," Berkowitz said.
The "Own a Piece of the Pipeline" campaign is aimed at helping finance the line as well as giving the public a seat at the table with the oil companies. Berkowitz envisions that to be as shareholders, not through the state itself, and shareholders would be represented by a board of directors.
He figures that if just 20 percent of Alaskans invested their PFD in the gas line, that would raise about $800 million of investment capital.
The idea is not new, Berkowitz was quick to point out. Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young not only proposed it in 2004 but got Congress to pass authorization for the idea through the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline Act.
"Not a governor since -- not Murkowski, not Palin, not Parnell -- has taken advantage of this opportunity," Berkowitz said.
Of course, he would still need to get it through the Legislature. And there's some Securities and Exchange Commission business to take care of once significant sums of money started being collected, he pointed out.
But Berkowitz is hopeful people will respond to the idea and support his campaign for governor, too. A letter to Alaskans explaining the whole thing (he slips in a subtle request for campaign contributions) is posted on his campaign website, www.EthanBerkowitz.com.
UPDATE: Here are some thoughts from Michelle Toohey, Gov. Sean Parnell's campaign manager:
"There are a lot of unanswered questions about this proposal -- not the least of which is whether or not Alaskans should spend billions and go into debt for billions more on a private sector project that is moving. As to whether or not Alaskans should own a portion of the pipeline - that's certainly an option and has been discussed in the past. Alaskans need actions, not words, and actions are what they get from Governor Parnell."
Contact Patti Epler at patti(at)alaskadispatch.com.