Sen. Elton and Isabel
off the record
a VIP policy letter
Senator Kim Elton
Room 115, State Capitol, Juneau, AK 99801
* 465-4947 Phone * 465-2108 FAX

Edition # 251           Please feel free to forward          September 22, 2006


A series of events that discombobulate

      Several years ago, my staff added a Saturday night dinner and 15-minute speech at an event Scout Signhonoring Eagle Scouts. A rule I generally try to follow during the session is I'm allowed to work 24 hours a day five days a week but the weekend is for family and home. But exceptions are made and staff knew without asking I'd want to make an exception for the scouts.
      That Saturday I sat down and jotted out talking points designed to encourage teens to think of a career in public service. That theme, I thought, was pertinent as these young men, who had already made some good decisions in the past, were beginning to make decisions about their future.
      When I arrived at the dinner that evening, public service career talking points tucked into the inner pocket of my suit jacket, I was met by an exuberant older fellow. In the course of draping heavy strings of Mardi Gras beads around my neck, he simultaneously welcomed me to the New Orleans-themed annual dinner of delegates from the Alaska aeries of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. Shortly after, a nice woman who wanted to talk politics spilled red wine on my tie and white shirt. (Spilling the wine didn't bother her at all--there was plenty more where that came from.)
      So, seated at the head table between a visiting Eagle dignitary from some state in the middle part of America and an Alaska Eagle officer, I scratched out my talking point advice for a career in public service and tried to pencil in comments more fitting to the very celebratory occasion. My new remarks that night were forgettable but I do remember my speech Monday morning when I suggested to staff that more care needed to be given to correctly defining the nature of the events they schedule. I told them I now knew there were at least three kinds of Eagles: the clan shared by many of our neighbors and the two that had gotten confused on the schedule--scouts and aeries. I knew the first two far better than the last one.
      I tell this rather long story to explain that the discombobulated feeling I had for a few hours that long-ago Saturday night is similar to the feeling I've had now for the past few weeks. Look at the discombobulating events of the last month:

  1. Ski Jumper the governor gets bounced in the primary, landing as hard primary night as Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards (that awkward and goofy British plasterer who gained fame as Britain's first and only Olympic ski jumper) often did during the '88 Olympics;
  2. half the Prudhoe Bay oil production is shut down because of pipeline corrosion issues that "surprised" BP, the field operator;
  3. the price of Alaska's oil in the market keeps dropping to the point it is now $16 less than the midsummer price;
  4. the FBI raids six legislative offices, apparently looking for links between money and policy decisions; and
  5. the managers of state and municipal public employee and teacher pension funds drop a half-billion dollar collection notice on employers of Alaskans that deliver services around the state.

      Perhaps the only good news in all this is that Alaskans get to hire their CEO and board of directors in just 45 days. The general election races for governor and for state legislators are, fundamentally, a job interview process. And Alaskans, if they so desire, get to do the interviews and participate in the hiring. I hope they so desire.
      I'll 'fess up--I have a stake in all this because I am being interviewed for rehire. Nonetheless, I have some suggested interview questions.
      It's too simple to say that Prudhoe is partially closed because of pipeline corrosion. So those who want to guide the state on your behalf should be asked: "did the state fail in its responsibility to regulate the field and should BP be allowed to deduct the cost of its failures from state taxes?"
      Nearly 90 percent of Alaska's general fund budget is based on oil. So those who want to guide the state on your behalf should be asked: "what are you doing to make other economic sectors more robust and what's your fallback position if the price of oil slips below $53/barrel--the level on which state spending in this fiscal year is predicated?"
      The FBI and IRS are plumbing the relationship between some elected Alaska officials and money. So those who want to guide the state on your behalf should be asked, if they're incumbents; "did you vote to loosen rules on lobbyist reporting and on campaign contribution limits?" Additionally, "did you vote for laws making it tougher to file ethics complaints against elected and appointed state officials?" Challengers should be asked if they "will champion reform measures rather than protect officials."
      The legislature dramatically changed retirement programs in a manner that makes it harder to recruit and retain talented teachers, police officers and other public servants. It was necessary, proponents said, to avoid future economic problems. Make way for one of those future economic problems the changes were supposed to help us avoid.TV Delivery The state is passing a $505 million retirement cost increase on to public employers, including school districts and cities (those local employer costs, if not paid by the state, will reduce services and/or drive up local taxes). So those who want to guide the state on your behalf should be asked: "why is the employers' cost hikes far higher than what the state's contract actuary recommended and why did the governor and legislature spend so much time reducing benefits for new employees instead of controlling soaring health care bills that really are driving system costs?"
      These are just some of the questions prompted by current events. Remember, though, that none of the answers is simplistic enough to fit in a 30-second TV spot.

Contact Us
Phone: (907) 465-4947
Fax: (907) 465-2108
Mail: Sen. Kim Elton, State Capitol
Juneau, AK 99801
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Capitol Undercurrents

Jury BoxA grand time?--Which current legislative staffer and which former legislative lawyer recently received notices summoning them to Anchorage for a possible 18-month tour of duty on a federal grand jury that, potentially, could be hearing cases resulting from FBI raids on legislative offices?

So that's what "toss-up" means--After a hand recount of Flip the coinone precinct, a hand recount of the entire house district, a review of challenged ballots by the Alaska Supreme Court, and the counting of two previously uncounted ballots this morning, it's a tie. Western Alaska and Aleutian Chain incumbent Carl Moses and primary challenger Bryce Edgmon will apparently have their race decided after a coin is tossed up--probably Monday morning.

Greenback dependency--Republican U.S. Senator Tom Coburn is: a combative foe of "bridges to nowhere"; Ted Stevens' frequent budget nemesis; and a fellow who can turn quite a phrase. He told the Christian Science Monitor recently that congressional "earmarks are a gateway drug on the road to spending addiction."

Grounded--If my high school grades were as bad as the grades our university system got from the GroundedNational Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, I'd have been grounded by my parents. The center graded all states' universities and colleges on: how well does the state prepare students for education beyond high school (Alaska got a B-); whether state residents have sufficient opportunities to enroll in education and training beyond high school (C+); how affordable higher education is for students and families (F); whether students make progress toward and complete their certificates in a timely manner (F); and what benefits does the state receive from having a highly educated population (B-). Just a couple of notes--only one other state got an 'F' on completion (Nevada) and our 'F' in affordability comes as Alaska's university regents debate today another 7 percent tuition increase after raising tuition 10 percent each year since 2003.


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