1. With the recent drop in oil process, the Legislature will face some tough decisions in 2015. What will be your top priorities for funding? Are there areas you think should be cut?
Peter Micciche, Senate District O: Due to our natural resource wealth, Alaska is one of seven states without a personal income tax, one of only five without a state sales tax, and the only state with neither. My primary objective is for Alaska to remain the only state in the “neither” tax column.
The requirement to reduce spending to sustainable levels exists regardless of today’s oil price. We’ve increased production and received more revenue under SB21 with my 35% base oil tax amendment (the highest in Alaska history). However, the approximately 25% reduction in oil prices since June exacerbates the problem.
The 29th Legislature must draw the line between constitutionally-required essential and non-essential services, prioritize programs, make tough decisions and have the courage and leadership to reduce spending through a comprehensive, multi-year budget plan. We must also set a significantly higher bar to ensure the greatest value to Alaskans when it comes to funding capital projects.
Eric Treider, Senate District O: Public health, public safety and public education are off the table. Let’s stop funding the Knik Arm bridge — a project that principally benefits real estate speculators and building contractors.
I’d also take a hard look at the capital budget. We must maintain the facilities we already have but we should raise the bar for the approval of new facilities and upgrades.
And let’s rescind the $150 million refinery tax credits approved during the last session. If we really believe in the free market, we need to let market forces determine the winners and losers.
The $7/square foot monthly lease for the Anchorage Legislative Information Office is a shameful example of hypocrisy and waste; at a time when lawmakers are threatening cuts that will affect the quality of life for many Alaskans, ordering up an opulent office building is pretty insensitive and irresponsible.
2. Are there steps the Legislature can take to diversify the state’s revenue stream?
Micciche: Alaska’s status quo economic model has not served us well. Since territorial times, Alaska’s economy has been at significant risk due to our reliance upon the value of single commodities. Granted, we have benefitted greatly during fish, oil or timber higher-price environments. However, when demand falters and values crash, our economy has historically followed.
Last session, the foundation was laid for diversification through legislation enabling the Alaska LNG Project to come to fruition. AKLNG will provide the distribution of natural gas/LNG to energy-starved segments of our state that have been significantly hindered from feasible development due to high energy costs.
In addition to assisting in the growth and diversification of oil and gas production, responsible mining, renewable timber production, fisheries and tourism, we need to find our way back to our Alaskan enthusiastic, pioneering roots to produce value-added products from our natural resources and become a global leader in sustainable arctic technologies.
Treider: Miners have gotten a free ride in Alaska. The tax on mining income could probably be slowly raised without jeopardizing many of Alaska’s operators.
I believe that a bed-tax is reasonable. Peninsula communities shell out a lot of money to maintain the infrastructure required to handle all of our visitors who converge on the Kenai over the six-week peak in fishing activity.
I will also seek to incorporate the best of SB21 and ACES, maintaining the 35% floor up to $110 a barrel and then implementing ACES-style progressivity at higher prices. Tax credits for “new oil” would be decreased substantially.
3. Are there aspects of the state’s education policy you would like to address during the next legislative session?
Micciche: Reducing spending is imperative to protect Alaskans from taxation and the next generation from debt. While we evaluate where to cut costs, we must remember to adequately fund essential services required by the Alaska constitution. Education is very clearly one of those constitutionally-guaranteed core services.
I met with the KPBSD board and administration last week (School Board Consider New Approach, Clarion, October 21, 2014) to dialogue on thoughts and plans for the future. Frustration exists from both legislators and educators regarding gaps related to expectations of results from the legislative side and funding challenges from the educators.
Although the KPBSD has enjoyed positive results, statewide we are not performing adequately in the preparation of K-12 students for life ahead. I support active communication between both sides to develop key performance indicators that demonstrate educational effectiveness, a gap analysis to identify specific areas of improvement and a measure of responsible fiscal management.
Treider: I support private education and home-schooling but I oppose the use of public money to fund private schools because it violates the spirit of the laws which separate church from state and because it would be an impossible task to insure that privately-educated children would be receiving the same high-quality education they’d receive in public schools.
Also, our public schools serve as a focal point in our communities and they provide our young people with a common experience that brings us all together.
At little expense, we can strengthen public education by simply stabilizing funding so that educator’s don’t find themselves in limbo at year’s end, not knowing if they will have a job the following year.
And I disagree with the heavy emphasis on students’ test results as the basis for teachers’ evaluations — there are so many other factors which contribute to children’s scholastic success or failure.
4. As a member of the Legislature, what can you do to help Alaskans deal with access to and the cost of health care?
Micciche: My priorities in the 28th Legislature were to kick-start Alaska’s economy through reasonable taxation reductions and by enabling employment opportunities for Alaskans. I also passed health-related legislation such as the Nisi Act that improves monitoring of infant health in rural communities. The 29th Legislature must focus on the cost and availability of health care for Alaskans.
Unlike my opponent who actively, financially supported Obama/Obamacare, I want to be clear that I feel that the plan was ill-conceived and laced with unintended consequences for Alaskans. We are a state with the resources that could have widened the pool of coverage without the negative impacts we are experiencing.
However, it’s clear that the current health care system is broken and unsustainable with exponential annual cost increases. We must sit down, evaluate the impacts of Medicaid expansion and identify creative, collaborative solutions to ensure coverage for a greater proportion of Alaskans during the next legislative session.
Treider: If Sean Parnell is re-elected, the legislature must pursue measures to expand Medicaid to protect 43,000 low-income Alaska workers who can’t afford health insurance but who aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. And when these folks use the ER for their primary care, it drives up everyone’s insurance premiums.
Parnell’s administration approved health insurers’ rate hikes without adequate study and justification: these rate increases must re-examined. And his choice of contractors to administer the Medicaid program has been a disaster, causing serious cash flow problems among the few providers willing to accept Medicaid patients.
Figures from a Harvard study suggest that 100 Alaskans will die needlessly without Medicaid expansion.
Eventually, we’ll adopt a national health care plan in order to make sure everyone receives high-quality care and to drive down costs. Canadians pay 40% less for equivalent health care — and they are much happier with their system.
5. Will you pre-file any bills for the 2015 session? On what issues?
Micciche: I often ask constituents for feedback to evaluate my performance. However, I am not in Juneau to pass shallow legislation unless I identify significant deficiencies requiring a legislative solution. My legislation has been and will be designed to correct conflicting/outdated conditions, improve academic and vocational education, facilitate a stronger business climate, improve health and wellness, provide consumer protection or unleash employment and economic opportunities. Being supportive of smaller government, I remind the reader that it takes legislation to eliminate an unnecessary law.
Our team is working on several pieces of legislation important to District O. For a couple of examples, our courts seem more focused on the criminal perpetrator’s rights than the rights of our law-abiding citizens. I am crafting a bill to help folks feel secure in their own homes. We are also designing legislative solutions to assist those with substance abuse problems to redirect their poorly chosen path toward a healthier, more fruitful outcome.
Treider: I will pre-file the Shareholders’ United Act patterned after a bill that will be introduced in the Maryland state legislature.
The bill would require that all corporations post political contributions on their corporate website within 48 hours and it would forbid corporations from spending on campaigns and political candidates unless they can prove that the contributions reflect the “majority will” of their shareholders.
In cases where the majority of corporation’s shareholders are institutional investors that can’t take political positions — such as pension and retirement funds, universities, insurance companies and non-profits — that corporation would be forbidden from contributing to political campaigns.
Until we can reverse Citizens United — the U.S. Supreme Court decision that decreed that “corporations are people” — this might be our best hope of freeing ourselves from the perverting influence of big money on our political system. The Sullivan/Begich race is but one disgusting example.