I am continually asked about several issues. Here are my thoughts about three of them:
After being involved with the gas line issue for 13 years, I feel confident we are on the right track. We are closer than ever to monetizing our North Slope gas. No one who has been following the various proposals can argue that point. With any luck, it will not be stranded gas much longer.
We have a project that has producers aligned with the state and with gas buyers. These pieces of the puzzle have never fit together so well, until recently. Permitting is going forward, route surveys and analyses are in ongoing; work at Point Thomson is progressing at the highest rate since Prudhoe Bay. We are moving forward. Maybe not as fast as some might like but you don’t build a project of this magnitude quickly.
While we work towards the construction phase, we must make every effort to have a workforce trained and ready to take on the thousands of jobs that come with a mega-project. Not just construction workers are needed. Many high paying technical positions will be available long after the construction equipment has been parked. Vocational education is critical to our children and grandchildren’s future.
I supported SB21 in its current form. While I supported earlier versions of the tax structure, SB21 made important changes. I feel that the outcome of the referendum was correct and that I am in tune with my constituents. District 30 overwhelming voted NO – by 68% of the votes cast. This was the highest percentage in the State.
Although the recent drop in the price of oil will have a significant impact on our upcoming budgets, at current prices SB21 will generate at least $200 million more than the previous tax structure. SB21 helps reduce the budget deficit as long as the price of oil remains depressed.
Affordable Care Act or Obama Care
Call it what you may, it did not meet the expectations of many Alaskans. Most people agree that we did not have a perfect insurance system. But for the majority of Alaskans, it worked. We were told that Obama Care would allow us to keep our doctor, keep our health plan and that it would save the average family several thousand dollars per year. However, plan designs are confusing, deductibles and co-pays have increased significantly as have out of pocket expenses. New taxes will kick in next year. Many small employee group plans were cancelled or dropped when they became unaffordable.
On a positive note, several thousand Alaskans who were not previously covered now have coverage. Some of these Alaskans came out of the high risk pool, may have either lost or could never afford medical coverage, or were covered under federal plans. It was recently announced that premiums for several types of Obama Care coverage will experience significant increases in the range of 35-71%. The challenge for both the Legislature and Congress is to fix the ACA before it gets any worse.
On the State level, we have begun the process. My committee, the House Labor & Commerce Committee recently held a two day hearing. We heard from the underwriters who were hit by unexpected losses, medical practitioners, consumers who either had no previous coverage or can’t handle the increases, and State regulators.
This solution will come from both Juneau and Washington.
I encourage every one of you to vote on Tuesday. Many have sacrificed to give us this precious right. Please exercise it.