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Crowd gathers in Anchorage to mark closing of Alaska State Council on the Arts

Mon, 2019-07-15 20:57

Artists and supporters of the Alaska State Council on the Arts gathered outside its offices in Anchorage to say farewell on Monday afternoon, July 15, 2019. The agency closed Monday due to its loss of funding by veto by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Sheryl Maree Reily spoke quietly as she reflected on the loss. Wearing a long, black dress with a dark lace veil, she was symbolically dressed for a funeral.

Reily was one of about 50 people who gathered outside the Alaska State Council on the Arts Monday to mourn the passing of the organization, which closed its doors after its funding was eliminated by a budget veto by Gov. Mike Dunleavy earlier this month -- a $2.8 million cut.

The elimination of the agency leaves Alaska as the only state in the U.S. to be without a state arts council. According to council chairman Benjamin Brown, the state’s general fund contributes $700,000 of the council’s funding directly; $700,000 in federal funds through the National Endowment for the Arts and $1.5 million in private foundation funds were also vetoed and can’t be accepted.

Although the gathering had a somber tone, community members also assembled to thank outgoing employees who were terminated with the council’s shuttering.

“I came here today to give my support, acknowledge the hard work and the achievements of this organization,” said Reily, who was a member of the council’s visual arts advisory committee.

Attendees wore “Art Matters” stickers and wrote messages of support in chalk on the pavement outside the front of the council office in Mountain View as local musicians played. Organizers were planning a larger show of support for employees as they left at the end of the day, but most wanted to complete their day without any extra ceremony. Those who left while the crowd was still at the building were visibly shaken.

Alaska State Council on the Arts staff member Keren Lowell, second from right, is comforted outside the organization’s Mountain View offices at the close of its last day on Monday, July 15, 2019. “We did a good job. I’m proud of what we did," Lowell said.(Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Keren Lowell, literary and visual arts coordinator, was emotional as she spoke about her time at the council. She also had finance and administrative duties during her seven years there. Although those were less gratifying jobs than working directly with the art, she said they were probably some of the more valuable services the council provided.

“That’s why this agency is so amazing,” she said. “We had a good handle on how money works and how the arts work in money. We did a good job. I’m proud of what we did.”

Lowell pointed out that while public perception might be that the organization was mainly about funding, they did much more, from supporting schools, teachers and rural communities to coordinating with other arts organizations and facilitating professional development for artists.

“Instead of thinking about us as an organization, we talk about being a node and all of the other arts partners used us as a pass-through or as a center or as a collection point for all of the activities going on,” Lowell said. “We communicated with people, which led to more opportunities and supported the work that they did.”

Reily said the loss of the council will be a big hole in the arts community.

“This is going to leave a huge vacuum,” she said. “There is going to be no formal mechanism for connecting information, connecting funding.”

Artists and supporters of the Alaska State Council on the Arts gathered outside its offices in Anchorage to say farewell on Monday afternoon, July 15, 2019. The agency closed Monday due to its loss of funding by veto by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Reily spoke about the perception of the arts as something that are subsidized without a return.

“I think it’s a misconception,” she said. “They are an economic driver. They are the underpinnings of the tourism industry, secondary to the landscape. People come here for the culture, and they come here for the arts. It’s the stories that people tell in magazines that bring people here that the writers and poets write, the photographs that the photographers take.”

Quinton Smith, 26, of Anchorage, is an audio/video artist who operates the firm Landsick Media. Smith said he’s done some work with the state council on the arts. While artists will continue to operate in the state, the loss of the council will be considerable, he said.

“It’s devastating,” he said. “It’s incredibly regressive. We’re the only state in the entire country that doesn’t have a state council on the arts. Art is going to prevail. Art will be here.”

Interior to move one-fifth of Bureau of Land Management’s Washington staff out West, as part of larger reorganization push

Mon, 2019-07-15 18:39

WASHINGTON - The Trump administration plans to relocate more than a fifth of the Bureau of Land Management’s D.C. workforce to west of the Rockies, part of its broader push to shift power away from Washington and shrink the size of the federal government.

The proposal to move nearly 80 employees from a key Interior Department agency - the majority of top managers - comes as Trump officials are forcibly reassigning career officials and upending operations across the federal government. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue finalized plans this summer to move about 550 jobs at two of his department's scientific agencies from the nation's capital to the greater Kansas City region. The White House is trying to abolish the Office of Personnel Management, the government's human resources agency, and has threatened to furlough as many as 150 employees if Congress blocks it.

"The problem with Washington is too many policy makers are far removed from the people they are there to serve," Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said in a statement supporting the move. "Ninety-nine percent of the land the BLM manages is West of the Mississippi River, and so should be the BLM headquarters."

But opponents argue that abrupt decisions to relocate or reassign federal workers have not been justified by sufficient analysis, can disrupt families' lives and has already cost the government valuable expertise.

"If I wanted to dismantle an agency, this would be in my playbook," said Steve Ellis, who retired as BLM's deputy director in 2016 after nearly four decades in government service. In a phone interview Monday, he said that transferring so many employees out of Washington could complicate the agency's relationship with Capitol Hill, budget officials and other federal entities.

He noted that Interior dispatched all of its wildfire and aviation staff to Boise, Idaho, in the 1990s only to re-establish a wildland fire office in D.C. when lawmakers expected briefings after fires broke out in the West.

"It's important for these agencies to have a meaningful footprint in D.C.," Ellis said.

Margaret Weichert, Office of Management and Budge deputy director for management, said in a statement that the move will make the government more efficient and "better serve the American people."

In a shift long sought by conservatives, Trump's government has shed thousands of employees overall since he took office, with gains at the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs but an exodus of civil servants at several other agencies, including the Departments of Labor, Education, and Housing and Urban Development.

Jason Briefel, head of the Senior Executive Association, which represents 6,000 top government leaders, said it is worth having a public conversation about how to reorganize different agencies. But he questioned whether the Trump administration had made a solid business case for some of these decisions.

"This isn't just an Interior issue," he said in an interview. "This is a government-wide issue."

Many of the 77 BLM employees slated for a job transfer will move to Grand Junction, Colorado, according to two federal officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been formally announced. But some of the affected workers - who include some top officials, Senior Executive Service staffers and low-level managers - will move to other cities in the West.

Interior officials have been eyeing a possible move for BLM, which manages more than 10 percent of the nation's land, for more than two years. A handful of Western states, such as Colorado and Utah, have sought to recruit the agency. The bureau has about 9,260 employees, of which roughly 350 work in Washington.

While administration officials defend the Agriculture Department and BLM moves as an effort to spread the federal workforce around, 85% of the 2.1 million federal employees already live outside the Washington area.

The Bureau of Land Management has just 350 employees in Washington, with 95% of its 9,260 employees working in the field.

The idea of shifting the bureau west has received the support of some lawmakers, including the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, Rob Bishop of Utah, as well as Gardner and Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. In March 2018, the two senators from Colorado urged then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to look at the city lying roughly 280 miles west of Denver.

"We can think of no better permanent home for the BLM headquarters than Grand Junction," they wrote. "Moving the BLM closer to the land it manages and the people it serves ensures a bright future for the agency."

Bishop helped arrange a tour of Ogden, Utah, last year for one of the top officials overseeing the move: Susan Combs, assistant secretary for policy, management and budget

Bishop said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is "promoting a thoughtful, methodical approach."

But House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., accused Interior Secretary David Bernhardt of not being more transparent about his plans. In a statement Monday, Grijalva noted that Bernhardt's hometown of Rifle, Colorado, is not far from Grand Junction.

"This administration has been handing over public lands to fossil fuel companies at record speed, and this move is part of that agenda. Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt's home town just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability," Grijalva said. "The agency will lose a lot of good people because of this move, and I suspect that's the administration's real goal here."

The move comes as Bernhardt has tapped William Perry Pendley, former president of the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation, as a top policy adviser at BLM.

Interior declined to comment on the matter.

It remains unclear whether Congress, which has yet to be formally briefed on the proposed changes, would have to explicitly authorize the shift in personnel. The move is expected to cost at least $4 million, according to one federal official.

This is not the first time Interior has reassigned senior executives with little notice. In June 2017, political appointees reshuffled the assignments of more than three dozen career executives, with just 15 days' notice of their job change. Interior's Office of Inspector General investigated the matter but did not determine whether the moves were justified, citing the department's incomplete records.

Denise Sheehan, who worked at Interior for 33 years before retiring last month at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a phone interview Sunday that the round of reassignments had "a chilling effect."

"They said, 'Don't fight, don't take any complaints to the politicals because they could move us. I had one manager tell me, 'They could move you, they could move me,' " said Sheehan, who added that it limited what political appointees could learn from career officials. "I don't know if that was intended or not, but that was definitely the effect. It's the most toxic thing in the senior executive corps I have ever seen."

In many cases, reassigned federal staffers have chosen to leave the government, because they hail from two-career families or for other personal reasons. A majority of scientists and researchers at the USDA agencies slated to move to Kansas City are choosing not to move, and Perdue's plan has been dogged by questions about its cost and the motivation behind it.

"When you move large numbers of employees from one part of the country to another, you're going to lose a lot of institutional knowledge," said Ward Morrow, assistant general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union - with 530 members at BLM.

In other instances, the administration has shuttered parts of agencies altogether. The small Federal Labor Relations Authority, which adjudicates disputes between federal employees and their agencies, has closed regional offices in Dallas and Boston, citing declining workloads.

While the administration has said that its efforts to reorganize the federal government are designed to make it more efficient and responsive, such moves are costly. Dismantling the Office of Personnel Budget, for example, would cost $50 million, according to the White House's proposed budget request.

Under federal law, BLM will have to pay all relocation and real estate costs for employees who choose to move west, including what it takes to sell their homes in the Washington region and purchase a new one. Employees and their families will be entitled to four months of hotel stays on the government's dime, federal personnel experts said, which could cost as much as $100,000 per employee.

The agency will probably offer retirement and buyout packages to employees who decide not to move, which could equal as much as a year's salary depending on their age and years of service.

Interior's total workforce shrank by a little more than 1 percent between January 2016 and September 2018, according to federal records. BLM's staffing grew 3 percent during that period, however.

Not all the administration's reorganization plans have gained traction, largely because they would have required congressional approval. A merger of the Education and Labor departments has yet to materialize, and neither has a plan to create a new agency housing safety-net programs such as food stamps and welfare.

The Washington Post’s Andrew Ba Tran contributed to this report.

Impasse continues as Alaska lawmakers push different visions for budget, Permanent Fund dividend

Mon, 2019-07-15 18:05

Gov. Mike Dunleavy talks and answers questions about his recent budget vetoes at the start of a meeting with members of his cabinet in Anchorage on July 15, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

JUNEAU — Alaska lawmakers have entered the second week of their ongoing special session still divided by different visions for this year’s Alaska Permanent Fund dividend and state budget, even as concerns about the location of the session subsided with a compromise meeting in Anchorage.

On Monday, one group of lawmakers unveiled new legislation that would fix issues with the state’s capital budget, reverse Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s decision to veto $444 million from the state operating budget, and pay a dividend of $929 per person with the $641 million surplus remaining after state services are funded.

The other group, deferring to the governor’s control of the special session’s agenda, published a letter asking him to add the capital budget to that agenda once lawmakers agree on the amount of this year’s dividend. The issue of the vetoes was left unaddressed, but its authors said in subsequent interviews they could be addressed after the other two items.

Legislators have four tasks: agree on the appropriate location of the special session, approve an amount for this year’s Permanent Fund dividend, finish work on the capital budget (including the “reverse sweep”) and make a final decision on reversing (or not) Dunleavy’s decision to veto $444 million from the state operating budget.

Last week, and continuing Monday, about one-third of the Legislature’s 60 members have met in Wasilla, supporting a special-session proclamation from the governor that calls them into session there. The remaining lawmakers contend that the Legislature’s position as a separate but equal branch of government allows them to select their own meeting location, and with a majority of the Legislature in attendance, convened the session in Juneau.

Lawsuits have been filed on both sides of the issue.

In remarks Monday to news media, the governor said legislative factions were “moving closer together.”

He said compromise wasn’t off the table.

“I realize we all have to come together,” he said. “Which means some movement into the middle, so we can meet.”

Dunleavy did not say what compromises he was willing to make.

“We all realize we’re running out of time,” he said. “We all want a closure to this legislative session.”

Representatives Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage, left, Neal Foster, D-Nome, and Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, listen to public testimony during the Alaska House Finance Committee meeting in Anchorage on Monday, July 15, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage and one of those who went to Wasilla, said the location dispute is a side issue.

“We have gone to the governor and said, you know what, if you want to call us into Anchorage or Juneau, we will be there. That’s not the issue here,” she said.

The critical issues, she explained, are budgetary. If the Legislature fails to finish work on the capital budget before the end of the month, the state could lose almost $1 billion in federal highway and airport aid. Within the capital budget, the failure of the “reverse sweep” vote has caused college students to lose scholarships and has endangered, at least temporary, the state’s subsidy for rural electricity.

If the governor’s operating budget vetoes are unchanged, the state’s senior benefits program will remain unfunded, Medicaid patients will go without dental care, and the University of Alaska will be forced to make extraordinary cuts to its operations. (The university’s board of regents on Monday deferred decisions on those cuts until the end of the month.)

Speaking to reporters, the governor said, “these vetoes, once again, in my opinion, were needed to start the process of right-sizing government.”

He has previously said his goal is to balance the state budget without increasing taxes, cutting the dividend or spending from savings.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy talks and answers questions about his recent budget vetoes at the start of a meeting with members of his cabinet in Anchorage on July 15, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Costello said the Wasilla group believes the governor’s special session proclamation is constitutionally and legally valid, so it must be followed. The difficulty is that the only agenda item on that proclamation is the dividend.

The Wasilla group supports following the traditional dividend formula, which calls for a payment of $3,000 this year. Most of the Juneau group does not.

“We need to fund the full amount, but that’s because that’s step one of multiple steps in terms of getting this off our plate,” said House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage. Pruitt and Costello signed the letter on behalf of the legislators in Wasilla.

“We’re supporting the constitutional call, but at the same time we’re moving things forward,” Costello said.

Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, center, and Senate President Cathy Giessel, right, attended the Alaska House Finance meeting in Anchorage on Monday, July 15, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Legislators who originally convened in Juneau are taking a different track. On Monday, members of the House Finance Committee who met in the capital city introduced a new version of House Bill 2001, which was originally written to pay a $1,600 dividend.

The new version calls for a “surplus” dividend — what’s left over after other expenses are paid. As part of the calculation of that surplus, the bill calls for restoring funding to programs vetoed by the governor, funding the capital budget and fixing the reverse sweep. After that, it pays the estimated $929 dividend.

That roundabout approach is necessary to follow the governor’s constitutional ability to control the special session agenda, which only includes the dividend.

“This is, again, a surplus PFD bill, and we had to put the information in there to know what the surplus PFD was,” said Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome and co-chair of the House Finance Committee, in a committee hearing unveiling the proposal.

The hearing took place in Anchorage, neutral ground between the Juneau and Wasilla locations. Three members of the committee who attended the Wasilla session were present. They voted against considering the idea, saying it strays from the governor’s agenda.

Foster said after the hearing that the bill “is just a starting point. I don’t think there are many people who believe we’re going to have a $929 PFD.”

He called the bill a “means to get past the current impasse” over the budget.

“Maybe in the end we do accept some of the (governor’s) cuts, but without this bill, that’s a nonstarter,” he said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Amazon shoppers snatch up deals on potato chips and toilet paper

Mon, 2019-07-15 17:39

Amazon shoppers are snatching up potato chips, crackers, toilet paper and other nonperishable grocery store items to take advantage of the online retailer’s Prime Day deals, which could be bad news for Costco and Walmart.

Sales of consumable products on Amazon during the first nine hours of Prime Day - a two-day sale that began Monday - are about triple what they are on a typical sales day, according to CommerceIQ, which helps hundreds of consumer brands sell products on the e-commerce site.

The results show that Prime Day's appeal stretches beyond electronics, appliances and other big-ticket purchases shoppers usually put off until there's a big promotion. Sales of car seats, appliances and toys were up four to five times a typical day, according to CommerceIQ, which is about the usual rate for a sales event.

Shoppers will spend $5.8 billion on Amazon over the two days, according to an estimate from Coresight Research. That's an 11% increase from last year's 36-hour sale when converted to spending per hour. Amazon launched Prime Day in 2015 as a way to lure new Prime members, who pay monthly or yearly fees in exchange for shipping discounts and other perks like video streaming.

The uptick in spending shows Amazon Prime Day continues to have strong appeal to shoppers despite competing sales events offered by rivals from Walmart to Target and EBay.

Amazon doesn’t disclose specific sales information about Prime Day. Some companies are able to gain insights through their own sales on the site or estimations based on sales rankings and other information Amazon discloses.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway will ignore congressional subpoena

Mon, 2019-07-15 17:31

WASHINGTON - White House counselor Kellyanne Conway will ignore a congressional subpoena at the request of President Donald Trump, refusing to testify about a government watchdog’s findings that she broke the law dozens of times, the White House said Monday.

Last month, the House Oversight Committee authorized a subpoena for Conway after special counsel Henry Kerner said she blatantly violated the Hatch Act, a law that bars federal employees from engaging in politics during work.

"We're not requiring her to testify about advice she gave the president or about the White House policy decisions. . . . We are requiring her to testify before Congress about her multiple violations of federal law," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the committee, said at a session Monday. "This is bigger than just the Hatch Act. . . . This is about holding our government to the highest standard and not allowing [Trump officials to have] special treatment when they flagrantly violate the law."

White House lawyers had rejected the Oversight Committee's request for Conway to appear at the hearing last month, citing a bipartisan practice that West Wing officials do not testify to Congress while they still work in the administration. They likewise advised her to ignore the subpoena Monday at Trump's request.

"As you know, in accordance with long-standing, bipartisan precedent, Ms. Conway cannot be compelled to testify before Congress with respect to matters related to her service as a senior adviser to the President," White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter to the panel.

He added: "Because of this constitutional immunity, and in order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of the President, the President has directed Ms. Conway not to appear at the Committee's scheduled hearing. . . . The long-standing principle of immunity for senior advisers to the President is firmly rooted in the Constitution's separation of powers and protects the core functions of the presidency."

The move increases the likelihood that Democrats will hold Conway in contempt, just as they have for several White House officials who have ignored compulsory measures. Rebuffed by the White House, Cummings said Monday that the panel would meet July 25 and vote on whether to hold Conway in contempt.

In the latest example of the standoff between the two branches, House Democrats will vote Tuesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt for refusing to cooperate with an investigation into President Trump's effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

In Conway's case, Democrats argue that the White House had no right to claim executive privilege or immunity because the alleged violations deal with her personal actions, not her duties advising the president or working in the West Wing. They accused the administration of stonewalling another House investigation.

The Hatch Act bars federal employees from engaging in political activity during work hours or on the job. But a report submitted to Trump by Kerner - a former Oversight Committee Republican aide who was appointed by Trump - found that Conway violated that law on numerous occasions by "disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media." Kerner recommended that Trump terminate her federal employment, though Trump has refused.

Conway has appeared on national television to defend herself and accused House Democrats of trying to retaliate against her for managing Trump's 2016 campaign.

"You know what they're mad about?" Conway said. "They want to put a big roll of masking tape over my mouth because I helped as a campaign manager for the successful part of the campaign. . . . So they want to chill free speech because they don't know how to beat [Trump] at the ballot box."

Republicans have also tried to argue that Kerner, while a former colleague, is targeting Conway because she scoffed at his requests that she stop discussing politics on air. But Kerner, in an interview with The Washington Post, pushed back on the assertion that politics in any way influenced his decision.

"We're trying to hold Ms. Conway to the same standard we hold other people in government to," Kerner said. "My staff came up with violations. They're obvious. She says things that are campaign messages."

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, said Monday that the session was "pure politics . . . to silence one of the president's top advisers. They targeted Ms. Conway because she's effective."

The Office of Special Counsel is a quasi-judicial independent agency that adjudicates claims of retaliation by whistleblowers and administers the Hatch Act and other civil service rules. It is separate from the office run by former special counsel Robert Mueller, who led an inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

History is watching. Let’s look out for one another.

Mon, 2019-07-15 16:18

The setting sun lights up the buildings of downtown Anchorage beneath the Chugach Mountains as seen from Port Woronzof in west Anchorage, AK, on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (Bob Hallinen / ADN) (Anchorage Daily News/)

I remember when Ted Stevens would put on his Hulk tie and do battle for Alaska. He fought hard, and so did generations of leaders who put Alaska first. They would be appalled at what is happening to their dream. The Great Land is in peril. The women and men who built and bequeathed Alaska were tough, fair, and smart; they had wisdom and common sense. We need to draw on that spirit today since the adversity we face betrays our legacy and jeopardizes our future.

We are in a painful and frightening moment because the vetoes aim at the heart of our legacy, and at the people of Alaska.

At our best, Alaskans shared clear vision, even when our visions conflicted, and we respected our neighbors. Pride of being in this place together took priority over partisanship. Sadly, our politics have shriveled. A coarseness corrodes our identity as Alaskans and threatens the civil discourse required for a functional democracy. The way out of this bog is to be big, to be bold, and to find common ground. As former Gov. Wally Hickel warned, “There is no vision, no hope, no future, no agenda for Alaska ... if your only cause is to cut the budget.” I refuse to believe that Alaska can be judged solely by the size of our dividend. That measure is not the way of greatness. It is just the measure of our price.

We are so much better than this, and so much bigger. There is moral deficit in slashing budgets that disproportionately target our elders and our most vulnerable. There is neither strength nor self-determination in devastating our university, our pre-K, our doctors and nurses and teachers in training. There is callousness in stripping Power Cost Equalization from rural Alaska. There is hypocrisy in pulling state bond-debt reimbursement for resident taxpayers while protecting oil industry tax credits. Too much of the cry is about “my” dividend, but not enough about “our” schools, “our” roads, “our” Alaska. These vetoes are shattering the promise of what it means to be an Alaskan. The things being broken were costly to create and will be more expensive to replace. Ultimately, budget veto choices reflect values, and it is time to fight for the values that define us.

Alaska is being given a false choice between cuts and a dividend. This pushes us down a path of instability and danger, pitting Alaskan against Alaskan. There are other paths, fiscal options that make Alaska stronger and competitive, able to meet the future on our own terms.

One sustainable fiscal option has old roots spread wide across the political spectrum. The POMV — Percent of Market Value model — uses approximately 5% of the Permanent Fund annually, protecting the remainder. 5% of the Fund’s current $60 billion value translates to $3 billion. Under one model, 45% of the 5% goes to the state (approximately $1.4 billion), 45% goes to the dividend (roughly a $2000 dividend and growing), and 10% for community dividends ($300 million, which allows local government to assume many state costs, such as bond-debt reimbursement, diversify local revenue and ease tax burdens on local taxpayers).

A second component of a fiscal plan would strengthen the Permanent Fund. There’s a lot of talk about what comes out of the Permanent Fund, but little about what goes in. The current requirement is that 25% of the royalty oil value goes into the Permanent Fund. It should be 100% — the theory of the Permanent Fund is that we are converting non-renewable resource wealth into renewable financial wealth, and if the theory makes sense for 25%, it makes more sense for 100%.

When future Alaskans look back on this time, I want to say that we fought to keep faith with the tradition of looking out for one another. History is watching. Now is the time to rise and show ourselves worthy heirs of Alaska.

Ethan Berkowitz is the mayor of Anchorage and a former state legislator.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Governor’s vetoes don’t reflect Alaska’s values

Mon, 2019-07-15 16:18

Laura Lucas (left) and Martha Hopson (right) hold protest signs in front of the Alaska State Capitol on Monday, July 8, 2019. Lucas and Hopson are advocating that the Alaska Legislature override Gov. Mike Dunleavy's veto of $444 million from the state operating budget. (James Brooks / ADN)

During the past month, Rasmuson Foundation’s board of directors has urged our elected leaders to compromise and seek solutions that are best for Alaska when addressing the state’s $1 billion-plus budget gap.

We have stated our belief that a solution relying primarily on cuts will negatively impact critical services throughout the state, causing harm to many Alaskans. The Alaska Legislature responded with a budget that included $190 million of cuts, the largest decrease in year-on-year spending in state history, while preserving a high quality of life for our residents.

The governor’s vetoes, announced on June 28, will harm Alaska’s most vulnerable citizens and have a significant and detrimental impact on our state’s economy. The impact of these decisions will carry negative consequences well beyond this year, impacting generations to come.

The budget he signed into law has set off a battle that addresses the soul of Alaska, who we are and what we represent, and the kind of state we hope to leave to future generations.

Since 2016, Rasmuson Foundation has been conversing with Alaskans about the budget through town halls, community meetings and online discussions. Research shows that a majority of Alaskans prefer a multifaceted approach to balancing our state budget.

Yes, this includes reducing spending, but it also means exploring new ways to generate revenue and the use of Permanent Fund earnings will need to be part of the solution.

The vetoes must be closely examined by our elected officials:

• The defunding of housing and services for families and individuals experiencing homelessness is inhumane. It’s estimated that the cuts to Brother Francis Shelter, Clare House, Covenant House and Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis in Anchorage will put hundreds of people out on the street adding to an already intolerable homeless population of 1,100.

• Very low-income seniors will be pushed into homelessness with the loss of their senior benefits.

• The closing of Head Start programs for low-income families will decimate the childcare now available to working parents and force many into public assistance.

• 700 professionals will be laid off from UAA and 40 student programs shuttered. It’s estimated that 3,000 students will be directly affected.

Whether a local government, business, nonprofit or individual, we all benefit when we are able to plan. Businesses want certainty in regulation and taxation, which in turn allows them to build strategy. Individuals base decisions like buying a house on what they expect their annual household income to be. Dramatic changes – the sudden repeal of a law or elimination of a job – can cause chaos, not just on an individual level, but across entire communities.

Nonprofits are no different. They build their budgets each year using the best available data. When you cut expenditures for homeless services, housing, legal assistance, telecommunications and healthcare as dramatically as was proposed by Governor Mike Dunleavy, our nonprofits will have to drastically change the way they do business, and they’ll have to do it overnight.

It will be the financial equivalent of the 7.1 earthquake that hit Southcentral Alaska last November. But this time, there is no state or federal agency to step in and help handle the emergency. That’s because Alaska’s nonprofits handle emergencies on a daily basis, as they are the stopgap between homelessness and having a place to rest your head. Between hunger and having a warm meal. The place that houses women and children who need a safe haven.

Total state general fund spending has been cut from almost $7.8 billion in fiscal 2013 to about $4.5 billion in fiscal 2018. It is change that has been painful but measured in annual steps. As a result, systems in health care, education, resource management and the arts continue to serve Alaskans while adapting to our new reality.

Massive cuts will dismantle, in just one year, services, organizations and programs that took decades to build. These cuts are a priority of the governor, but what about Alaskans? Do these cuts represent the philosophies and beliefs of Alaskans?

Given the high level of community support across the state for nonprofit groups and education, from the arts to services for the poor and vulnerable, it seems unlikely that the depth of these cuts represents Alaska residents’ beliefs.

Rasmuson Foundation promotes a better life for Alaskans; our mission guides us every day to be part of a solution that improves the quality of life for all Alaskans. We believe notice is critical for Alaskans to plan, make the hard decisions and adjust. Reducing spending – dramatically and on such short notice – will significantly diminish certainty and confidence in Alaska. We can and must do better. The budget, as reduced by the governor’s vetoes, does not embody the values of the Alaska we all support and love.

Diane Kaplan serves as president and chief executive officer of Rasmuson Foundation, based in Anchorage. Before joining the foundation, Kaplan provided consulting services for philanthropic organizations, Native corporations and tribes, and nonprofit organizations. Prior to that, she served as chief executive officer of Alaska’s 28-station public radio network.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

University of Alaska governing board delays vote on whether to declare financial emergency

Mon, 2019-07-15 15:31

Maria Williams, a professor of Alaska Native studies at UAA who chairs UA’s Faculty Alliance, asks the Board of Regents to hold off on declaring exigency. The University of Alaska Board of Regents met to consider declaring financial exigency on Monday. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The University of Alaska governing board voted on Monday to delay a decision on whether to declare “financial exigency" — a rare and drastic step that would have allowed UA officials to more quickly end academic programs and remove tenured faculty as they grapple with a 41 percent cut to state funding.

In a 10-1 vote, the UA Board of Regents approved to delay a decision until July 30, with Regent Mary Hughes casting the dissenting vote after about 90 minutes of discussion. Questions remain about whether state lawmakers will reach some sort of deal this month, inserting funding for UA back into another bill.

“I think we owe it to ourselves to pause for a moment to ensure that we’re gathering the data and the information to make the best decision that we can,” said regent Sheri Buretta.

The regents’ vote follows Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s unveiling on June 28 of 182 line-item vetoes to the state operating budget. He erased an unprecedented $130.25 million in funding for UA, on top of the $5 million cut approved by the state Legislature.

In total, that’s a 41 percent cut to the public university system’s state funding compared to last year, and roughly 17 percent of its overall budget.

[House panel introduces legislation to reverse governor’s vetoes and fix other gaps in budget]

Very few public universities in the U.S. have declared financial exigency in the past, said Peter Lake, professor of law and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University in Florida. He couldn’t recall any other public university systems making such a declaration.

“I have no living memory, and I’ve been at this for 30 years, of an entire system declaring exigency,” he said. “That registers on the Richter scale.”

UA regents declared financial exigency in 1986 in response to budget cuts, said UA President Jim Johnsen. However, he said, the governor then dialed back some of the reductions, and exigency wasn’t implemented.

The UA Faculty Alliance had passed a resolution asking regents to delay voting on the declaration this year. Monday is too soon and the impacts of such a declaration are too severe, the chair of the alliance has said. Impacts could include the loss of accreditation, dwindling student enrollment and more, Lake said.

[‘Despair, rage’: University of Alaska community braces for big budget decisions ahead]

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Four minority congresswomen condemn Trump attacks decried as racist

Mon, 2019-07-15 15:19

WASHINGTON - The four Democratic congresswomen who President Donald Trump told to “go back” to their countries rejected the president’s attacks on Monday, condemning his tweets as racist and calling them a distraction from the issues facing the country, including the detention of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told reporters at the Capitol that they were not surprised by the president's attacks and vowed not to be silenced by them.

"This is the agenda of white nationalists. . . .This is his plan to pit us against one another," Omar said.

Trump said earlier Monday that he is not concerned by criticism that his tweets were racist, asserting that the congresswomen hate the United States and are free to leave. Three of the four were born in the United States; the fourth, Omar, came to the U.S. from Somalia and became a citizen as a teenager.

Pressley began by voicing gratitude for the support the four have received in light of the "most recent xenophobic, bigoted remarks from the occupant of our White House."

"I encourage the American people and all of us - in this room and beyond - to not take the bait," Pressley said. "This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people that we were sent here with a decisive mandate from our constituents to work on."

Addressing the children of the United States, Ocasio-Cortez rejected Trump's words and said that they were the opposite of what America stands for.

"No matter what the president says, this country belongs to you. And it belongs to everyone. . . . This weekend, that very notion was challenged," she said.

She said Trump was launching personal attacks on the congresswomen - including accusing them of hating the United States - because he wasn't able to debate them on policy grounds.

"Weak minds and leaders challenge loyalty to our country in order to avoid challenging and debating the policy," she said.

And Omar defended the comments that she and her colleagues have made as coming "from a place of extreme love for every single person in this country."

Asked about Trump's suggestion earlier Monday that she supports al Qaeda, Omar replied: "I will not dignify it with an answer."

Trump tweeted another broadside against the Democratic congresswomen while the press conference was underway.

“The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them,” he said. “That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!”

Record warm water in lower Kuskokwim River likely caused heart attacks in salmon, biologist says

Mon, 2019-07-15 13:23

As record high temperatures swept Alaska recently, many people said the heat was killing them.

For Kuskokwim River salmon, it was actually true. Never-before-seen temperatures in the Kuskokwim River likely sent salmon into cardiac arrest.

Water temperatures near Bethel broke into the lower 70s last week, marking the highest river temperature ever recorded in early July.

Residents along the lower Kuskokwim River from Tuntutuliak to Akiak reported dead salmon floating downstream. Salmon don’t function well past 70 degrees, and the water had pushed just above that limit.

“Essentially, what could happen is salmon metabolism speeds up to the point that they’re having heart attacks and going belly up and floating downriver,” explained Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Ben Gray.

Gray and his crew boated from Bethel to Akiak to check it out. Along the way, they counted about 20 dead salmon.

Warm water is also the suspected cause of the higher than normal amount of parasites infesting salmon harvested along the river. That warm water is coming from the ocean. Kuskokwim Bay has run 10 to 12 degrees above average throughout the summer, and each tide pulls that warm water into the lower river.

“And that water is pushing upriver,” Gray said, “and it’s mixing, and we’re having a profile in the water right now where it’s a solid 68 to 70 degrees all the way through.”

Meanwhile, residents throughout the Norton Sound region to the north have reported large numbers of dead pink salmon that have yet to spawn floating in warm waterways.

This article originally appeared at and is republished here with permission.

Truck fire at Valdez refinery remains under investigation

Mon, 2019-07-15 13:13

Valdez firefighters begin stretching hoses to attack a fire in a tanker truck at the Petro Star refinery in Valdez on Thursday, July 11, 2019. fire. (Photo courtesy Valdez Fire Department)

The cause of a fire in a truck taking on fuel at a Valdez refinery last week remains under investigation, local officials say.

Reports of an explosion and fire at the Petro Star Refinery on Dayville Road came in at 8:32 p.m. Thursday, according to the Valdez Fire Department. Responders arrived about five minutes later to find a fire involving a highway cargo tanker truck parked inside the loading facility. An Alyeska Fire & Rescue engine also responded.

No injuries were reported.

The fire was brought under control at 8:49 p.m., according to the department. The last crews left the scene before midnight.

The truck’s operator was starting to load diesel into the forward cargo tank when the fire started, according to Allie Ferko, a city spokeswoman. The rear tank was empty.

Damage was limited to the truck and the loading bay it occupied, Ferko said.

A Petro Star representative didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

Legislature update: House panel introduces legislation to reverse governor’s vetoes and fix other gaps in budget

Mon, 2019-07-15 12:52

The Alaska House Finance Committee met in the Anchorage Legislative Information Office on Monday morning, July 15, 2019. Representatives Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage, left, and Neal Foster, D-Nome, center, are co-chairs. Rep. Dan Ortiz, a Ketchikan independent, is at right. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

As the Alaska Legislature’s special-session impasse entered a second week, members of the House Finance Committee introduced new draft legislation to reverse Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget cuts, fix problems with the state capital budget and pay a “surplus” Permanent Fund dividend of about $929 per person.

Members of the coalition House majority envision the legislation as a means to solve the state’s budget impasse, but Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome and co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, said it is more of a “starting point” than a final proposal. Members of the Republican House minority opposed the introduction of the new legislation and questioned its legality.

“This is just a starting point. I don’t think there are many people who believe we’re going to have a $929 PFD,” Foster said.

Any veto-reversing legislation is itself subject to a gubernatorial veto and would require the governor’s support or the approval of 45 lawmakers.

Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, center, and Senate President Cathy Giessel, right, attending the House Finance meeting in Anchorage on Monday, July 15, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN)

House Bill 2001, as the proposal is known, pays a dividend equivalent to the amount left over in the state’s budget once services are paid for. Without the governor’s vetoes, the state’s budget is balanced if the dividend is about $900. With the vetoes, the budget is balanced under a dividend slightly smaller than $1,500.

Paying a traditional dividend of $3,000 would require further cuts, breaking the Permanent Fund spending limits approved last year, or spending from state savings accounts, such as the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

“Really, it just shows that if you restore all of the vetoes — and we put the capital budget in there — what money is left over for a PFD?” Foster said of the legislation.

The new draft was introduced during a meeting of the Finance Committee in Anchorage, a compromise between the Wasilla and Juneau locations favored by different legislative factions last week. Of the committee’s 11 members, nine were present — six from the Juneau bloc and three from the Wasilla group.

“I’m not buying what they’re selling,” said Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, in a Facebook post about the meeting, and she followed through on that comment by questioning the legality of the new legislation.

Under the Alaska Constitution, the governor controls the agenda of a special session that he calls. Legislators need 40 votes — two-thirds of their 60 members — to call their own special session and set the agenda that they choose.

Dunleavy placed only one item on the agenda of the current special session: the Permanent Fund dividend.

With that in mind, Sullivan-Leonard questioned whether it is legal for lawmakers to include veto-reversing language in the bill.

“Again, I challenge the legality of this,” she said.

Foster responded by saying that because the amount of the dividend in the bill is listed as surplus, paying “a surplus Permanent Fund Dividend … requires that the Legislature address the funding for state services.”

Speaking after the morning Finance Committee meeting, he said it’s possible that the coalition House majority could change its position later on.

“Maybe in the end we do accept some of the cuts, but without this bill, that’s a nonstarter,” Foster said. “This bill allows us to fully start the process and maybe, potentially, accept some of the cuts.”

The committee voted 6-3 to consider the new legislation, with “no” votes coming from Sullivan-Leonard; Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla; and Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River.

House Finance is rolling out HB 2001 to restore the vetoed budget items. Hearings next week as follows:

Monday, July 15th
11 am Anchorage: Committee Meeting
2-7 pm Public Testimony

Tuesday, July 16th
2-7 pm Wasilla

Wednesday, July 17th
2-7 pm Fairbanks

Details to come. 2/3

— Ivy Spohnholz (@IvySpohnholz) July 13, 2019

The House Finance Committee began its meeting at 11 a.m., with public testimony to start at 2 p.m. and continuing until 7 p.m. on the idea of reversing the vetoes and a surplus dividend. Those interested in offering testimony can do so in person at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, 1500 W. Benson Blvd., or by phone. If calling from Juneau, the number is 907-586-9085. If calling from Anchorage, it’s 907-563-9085. If calling from elsewhere, use 844-586-9085.

Board of Regents meets today

At 1 p.m., the University of Alaska Board of Regents will meet to consider a $135 million reduction to its budget. Dunleavy vetoed $130 million from the university system’s budget atop $5 million in cuts approved by the Legislature this year.

That meeting could result in a declaration of “financial exigency,” which allows the university system to take major action, including the firing of tenured teachers.

The Board of Regents meeting will be streamed at

Recall backers delay launch

According to a message posted on social media, a group of Alaskans upset with the governor’s budget vetoes has delayed the launch of a petition seeking the recall of the governor. According to the announcement, further legal review will take place before the organizers begin gathering signatures Aug. 1.

Under state law, the petitioners would have to gather 28,501 signatures to have the petition considered for certification by the Alaska Division of Elections. If the division certifies the petition, those seeking recall would have to gather 71,252 signatures to hold the recall election.

Murkowski calls Trump’s racially tinged comments against Democratic lawmakers ‘spiteful’

Mon, 2019-07-15 12:09

In this combination image from left; Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., July 10, 2019, Washington, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., March 12, 2019, in Washington, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., July 12, 2019, in Washington, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., July 10, 2019, in Washington. In tweets Sunday, President Donald Trump portrays the lawmakers as foreign-born troublemakers who should go back to their home countries. In fact, the lawmakers, except one, were born in the U.S. (AP Photo)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Monday joined a chorus of criticism against President Donald Trump after he told four minority congresswomen to “go back” to their countries.

“There is no excuse for the president’s spiteful comments – they were absolutely unacceptable and this needs to stop,” Murkowski said in a Facebook post.

The president must stop “digging deeper into the mud with personal vindictive insults," she said. The U.S. needs to demand a “higher standard” of decency.

Trump on Sunday said in tweets that freshmen Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib should “go back” and fix their “corrupt and inept” countries rather than telling the people of the U.S. how to run government.

So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly......

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019

Omar was born in Somalia, the only one of the four women not born in the United States. All four are U.S. citizens. Omar, 36, fled civil war in Somalia with her family, becoming a U.S. citizen as a teenager.

The comments drew widespread condemnation for their racially charged undertones, and helped unite a Democratic party that has been split by the congresswomen’s strong views on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They have also sharply criticized Trump, and the latest sparring comes at a tense time as the president increases efforts to tighten restrictions on immigration at the U.S. southern border.

On Monday at a White House event, Trump broadened his attacks against the women, saying, “These are people that hate our country." He said they should be apologizing to him.

Most Republican lawmakers have not commented on the controversy, but Murkowski has previously bucked her party to stand up to the president. Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young early Monday did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

[Blasted by Trump and GOP, praised by others, Murkowski takes independent course on Kavanaugh]

[On Twitter, Trump criticizes Murkowski over her health care vote]

Be proactive when confronted with workplace revenge

Mon, 2019-07-15 08:42

Through no fault of her own, “Loni” almost lost her job. When she called me requesting coaching, she told me told me she’d been with her company for 11 months. For the first nine, she’d been on the fast-track to a senior management position. Two months ago, everything changed. Last Friday morning, her CEO had told her to “pull it together or you’re out.” She said several recent disasters had led her company’s CEO to lose confidence in her.

Loni said she’d mislaid crucial documents, had apparently sent unprofessional emails that she hadn’t remembered writing and had submitted shoddy work on key assignments because her rough first drafts had been transmitted rather than her polished final drafts.

Since her dad had dementia, Loni worried she might be showing early signs of the same illness. Loni told me she’d visited her dad’s physician and he’d told her dementia could start with subtle short-term memory changes.

I asked Loni to give me a chronology of the recent problems and asked her if anything had changed at work just before the problems started. She said, “Nothing,” and when I pressed her, insisted she’d been on a “winning streak.” She mentioned that the CEO had publicly praised her in an “all hands” meeting.

I asked, “Exactly when did he praise you?”; “Who has access to your office?”; “When you go across the hall or out for a short meeting, do you lock your computer?”; and “What are your relationships like with those you work most closely with?”

Loni gave me a copy of the problem emails her CEO referenced in his meeting with her. Together, we searched her sent log looking for them and didn’t find them. Loni described the two women who worked most directly with and closest to her office as caring individuals. She said one in particular had been incredibly helpful in trying to help her find lost documents.

“Mind if I interview her?” I asked. My spidey-sense kicked on during the interview, particularly when the other employee described Loni as “spacey,” but acted as if she mentioned this with great reluctance.

When I told Loni what I sensed and precautions she needed to take, she asked if I’d talk with her CEO. He brought HR into the picture, and when the employee who described Loni as spacey was interviewed in the guise of investigating Loni’s problems, this employee accused Loni of delegating all her “grunt work” while taking full credit for the final products, making belittling comments and abusing her power and position once she’d begun to rise in the corporate hierarchy.

The diagnosis: workplace revenge, which occurs more frequently than many realize and may have its genesis in the target’s actions. If you suspect others of taking revenge, here’s what to look for:

• Have you lost documents even though you keep an organized workspace?

• Are rumors about you floating around the workplace?

• Are there items in your sent log you didn’t originate?

• Have documents you created disappeared from your computer?

• Does someone have a vested interest in you being fired?

• Do you sense you’re being sabotaged, particularly after receiving a promotion or other honor?

An internet survey revealed these real-life statements I’ve paraphrased (from and

1. The cling film over the toilet seat thing is so last year. I fixed the restroom light sensor to plunge the room into darkness after one minute.

2. I make sure there’s a huge wheelie bin parked in the boss’s personal parking space. Sends a message.

3. After I my employer stiffed me on a business deal, I pretended to be a new major customer and set up meetings. On the day we’d arranged for the sales presentation, I heard there were loads of panicked emails from sales-team members who kept driving in circles trying to find my offices. Pure joy.

4. My boss took credit for a 200-page report I wrote and received a huge bonus. Was it wrong of me wipe out all of his department’s computer files?

5. Pretend you’re not pissed off at your employer for making life so difficult you resign. Maintain relationships with your former manager and HR. Suggest the worst possible employee for them to hire as your replacement. Definitely vouch for this person and sing her praises.

Why do people take revenge on others and what happens to them? Those who commit revenge generally feel justified. They often cover up continued sabotage with aggressively helpful efforts once their target’s career begins to plummet. Interestingly, reports on document that 83% of those who commit revenge get away with it.

Worried that revenge infects your workplace? You can find out with a bit of sleuthing.

Trooper involved in Togiak shooting is 18-year veteran of force

Mon, 2019-07-15 07:17

The Alaska State Trooper who shot a man involved in a shooting in the Southwest Alaska village of Togiak is an 18-year veteran of the force.

The state Department of Public Safety late Sunday identified the trooper involved in the shooting as Daniel Sadloske. He had not been immediately identified under department policy to wait 72 hours to name troopers in officer-involved shootings.

Troopers say Sadloske responded to the sound of gunfire Thursday afternoon and shot a still-unidentified man holding a gun as another man lay on the ground.

The man did not drop his gun at Sadloske’s command, and the trooper fired at least one round at him, troopers said last week.

The suspect was injured and flown to Dillingham for medical care. No charges had been filed against him as of Friday. The man on the ground, 61-year-old Samuel Brito, was declared dead from gunshot wounds.

The Alaska Bureau of Investigation is investigating the trooper’s use of force. The state attorney general’s office will determine whether he was justified in shooting the man.