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May 15, 2021

Where’s the $3000, and Who’s Vetting These People?

TALL TALES from Juneau

Eyes on the Dunleavy/Babcock Administration

 

The big news today is that the Senate passed their version of the budget, and everyone’s talking about how it contains a $3000 PFD, which is true. But lots of other things happened, and we’ll get to that in a moment. But before we do, there are a couple other happenings worth noting.

“WHO’S VETTING THESE PEOPLE?”

Stephen Moore

Alaskans have been saying that since the very beginning of the Dunleavy appointment process. Remember Quick & Chance? No, not a quaint Dickensian law firm – the first two casualties of public vetting. Jonathan Quick was the Admin Commissioner designee who lied to the Senate about being a yogurt entrepreneur on his resume, and Art Chance is the foul-mouthed, belligerent internet troll who went down in flames the moment human beings looked at his Facebook rantings.

So, it seems noteworthy when we see this phenomenon happening on a national scale. Enter Donald Trump’s nominee for a seat on the Federal Reserve – Stephen Moore. He joked that Trump kicked a black family out of public housing by winning the election and moving into the White House. He takes deep offense that women referee men’s sports saying, “How outrageous is this? This year they allowed a woman ref a men’s NCAA game. Liberals celebrate this breakthrough as a triumph for gender equity. The NCAA has been touting this as example of how progressive they are. I see it as an obscenity. Is there no area in life where men can take vacation from women? What’s next? Women invited to bachelor parties? Women in combat? (Oh yeah, they’ve done that already.) Why can’t women ref the women’s games and men the men’s games.” Predictably Moore made an exception to his rules about women’s participation. “Women are permitted to participate, if and only if, they look like Bonnie Bernstein. The fact that Bonnie knows nothing about basketball is entirely irrelevant … Bonnie Bernstein should wear a halter top.” Imagine! A woman daring to referee men! That’s an obscenity, unless they’re hot and we can objectify them. Amirite?

Granted, this is actually less offensive than what Art Chance was saying on social media, but most people in this century find the kind of misogynistic tripe that says women doing a job for which they are qualified is an “obscenity,” to be a deal-breaker. A further and interesting tie-in with Alaska is that Stephen Moore happens to be the former business partner of Dunleavy’s out-of-state Budget Director, Donna Arduin – the one who’s been advising him to slash and burn Alaska stating that it’s not her job to know the consequences of the slashing and burning. It’s a small, small world. You can read more about the charming Stephen Moore in a piece that just came out in The Atlantic titled, “Didn’t anyone vet Stephen Moore?”

**[UPDATE] Stephen Moore, like several Dunleavy appointees, has withdrawn his name from consideration to this appointment as of moments after writing the above. Bullet dodged!

 

WE’RE BURNING YOUR STATE DOWN. ISN’T THAT HILARIOUS?

And speaking of Donna Arduin, eyes and ears in Juneau noted that she showed up at a Trivia Night event, naming her team “The Red Pens.” Get it? Red pens? Like veto pens? As in, “if we get our way you’ll have no ferries, or vibrant university, or public radio, or adequate K-12 education for your kids!” Hahaha. So very clever.

You’ll be pleased to know that the “Red Pens” didn’t fare well.

And we don’t know how well the “red pen” in the governor’s office will fare with the budget, BUT considering that the Senate voted almost unanimously for their version of the budget (which never happens) and IF the House and the Senate can come together and meld a compromise that garners the support of 75% of the members of both bodies (45 votes out of the 60 possible votes consisting of 20 in the Senate and 40 in the House) that makes a red-pen-proof majority that can override vetoes. So, stay tuned and bear that in mind as you watch the next phase of budget negotiations.

 

THE VOTES AND WHAT THEY TELL US

It’s easy to focus the news cycle on outcomes, which are important, and are generally well-covered in the news. But there is always some interesting stuff going on in the details and that’s where we’ll look now.

 

SENATE BILL 80 – A SURPRISING TWIST

Remember Stand for Salmon? When that ballot proposition was found to have sections which were legally problematic, those parts were removed, and the ballot proposition was allowed to move forward without them. This is called “severability” – when one part of the language in the proposition is severed from the rest. Chris Birch (R –Anchorage) put forward a bill (SB80) which would prevent that from happening. In other words when citizens go through all the significant work to get an initiative on the ballot, if anything is out of place – down to the smallest wording or detail – they have no opportunity to correct it. The whole initiative could simply be stricken from the ballot. This is basically an effort to undermine and make more difficult the process of citizens’ initiatives ever becoming law. Bad idea. But sometimes bad ideas become law, and if that happens, the amendment process allows to at least make a bad bill less bad by introducing something good.

In that light, Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) proposed an amendment, which was surprising. Not that he proposed it, but that it needed proposing. The amendment stated that it should not be legal for the government to use state funds to influence the outcome of ballot initiatives, proposed constitutional amendments, or recalls of public officials. Because now, that is actually LEGAL. Crazy, right? After Wielechowski presented the amendment, Chris Birch (R-Anchorage) objected to it saying it wasn’t “germane” to his bill and shouldn’t be allowed. Then Wielechowski stood up and explained in detail why it obviously WAS and “germaned” Chris Birch into the ground. So, it went to a vote and it was interesting to see who exactly voted how. And it was very dramatic! Lora Rinebold was the first Republican to vote yes, and then just at the end, Shelley Hughes changed her votefrom no to yes, causing the amendment to pass 10-9 (Republican Mike Shower was not present to vote). Here’s the vote board so you can see who thinks that the government should be allowed to spend the people’s money to influence elections. Those would be the 9 no votes.

After this, there was a bit of a stir, and John Coghill said that suddenly he was “struggling” with the bill and made a motion to table it, which passed. Now the whole thing is in limbo, and we’re not sure what will come of it, but it’s one to keep an eye on.

 

THE SENATE BUDGET

The Senate, in a marathon floor session yesterday, voted to pass their version of the operating budget. The Finance Committee, composed of mostly Republicans and a few Democrats, created subcommittees, went through a long string of meetings and presentations, and eventually hammered out a proposed budget. The Senate Finance committee voted unanimously for the budget to pass from the committee to the floor where it is voted on by the full Senate. When it goes to the floor for a vote, Senators have the chance to add amendments which, if they pass, will be included in the Senate version of the budget which will THEN get negotiated with the House budget. It’s a long bunch of baby steps, and then the governor will get the budget and have the opportunity to pull out the red pen and veto things he doesn’t like. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Here are some interesting votes that took place as the lengthy amendment process happened:

 

Amendment 1 presented by Jesse Kiehl (D-Juneau):
Would add a $475k federal grant to combat child pornography taking a more pro-active approach in going after those who produce and distribute it than we currently are.

FAILED: 14-6 with Democrats voting yes, and Republicans plus Lyman Hoffman voting no

 

Amendment 2 presented by Donny Olson (D-Golovin):

Would keep funding the same as last year for the Village Public Safety Officer program in rural Alaska where it is desperately needed. Olson and Wielechowski spoke about “two justice systems” in the state – one for urban areas, and one which is less adequate in rural areas.

FAILED: 14-6 with Democrats voting for it, and Republicans plus Lyman Hoffman voting to keep Dunleavy’s cut

*It’s worth noting here that Lyman Hoffman who is technically a Democrat but chooses to caucus with Republicans, and whose district is entirely rural supported this cut. And this is the hazard of caucusing with a party whose priorities don’t align with your constituency, or those who voted for you. BAD votes. Hoffman said not to worry because he “has a lot of faith” in the new Commissioner of Public Safety, Amanda Price. Mmmkay. Let’s see how that goes.

 

Amendment 3 presented by Jesse Kiehl (D-Juneau):
Would add funding for courts and prosecutors. This would enable the courts to catch up with a growing backlog of cases, AND make sure that we aren’t simply letting criminals go because we have no resources to prosecute them. Two years ago, it was estimated that 7,000 cases just went away because we have no prosecutors for them. And that’s just for existing laws, nevermind the tougher legal standards with the new crime legislation in the coming weeks. The “tough on crime” Republicans voted against the bill.

FAILED: 14-6 with Democrats voting yes, and Republicans plus Lyman Hoffman voting no

 

Amendment 5 presented by Tom Begich (D-Anchorage):

This amendment is to add “intent language.” That just means it’s something the Senate wants to make clear in the budget, there’s no mandate to do anything, no money attached to it. It’s just saying something. This one was designed to give worried Pioneer Home residents and their families peace of mind – the ones who got a letter from the administration warning of impending giant rate hikes and sorry but we all must suffer for “fiscal responsibility.” Begich’s amendment would simply assure those in the Pioneer Home that for the next year, their rates will not arbitrarily skyrocket. And yet… down it went. You can guess how. And Dunleavy & Crew are still pushing for massive rate hikes.

FAILED: 14-6 with Democrats voting yes, and Republicans plus Lyman Hoffman voting no. Are you starting to sense a theme?

 

Amendment 7 presented by Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage):
This amendment assured that this year’s debacle that resulted in letters going out to seniors on April 10 announcing that their May benefit checks weren’t coming, nor June, because shrug we just ran out of money, wouldn’t happen next year. This one was a win for our elders! They’ve had a rough month or two and at least everyone stepped up and did the right thing on this one.

PASSED: 20-0

 

Amendment 9 presented by Donny Olson (D-Golovin):
This is more intent language and it’s basically a smack on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper to Gov. Dunleavy. The legislature last year promised schools $20 million in funding that Dunleavy is now withholding. He must turn the money over at the end of June anyway, but is stalling until the last possible minute to actually disburse the money to schools. Because that’s how he rolls. And Sen. Olson does not like how he rolls at ALL. There’s now a lawsuit over this which you can read about HERE. Sen. David (slapped a reporter) Wilson (R-Wasilla) tried to worm out of it by saying the intent language would influence the outcome of the lawsuit. Coghill (R-North Pole) and Wielechowski disabused him of that notion. Some but not all Republicans joined the Dunleavy smack-down – enough that it passed!

 

PASSED:  16-4 with all Democrats and some Republicans voting yes.

 

Amendment 10 from Elvi Gray-Jackson (D-Anchorage):

Would reverse Medicaid cuts that are in Dunleavy’s budget. And she suggested that we actually understand the effects of these cuts on PEOPLE so we know their impact on vulnerable populations. You can guess how this went.

FAILED: 6-14 with Democrats voting to restore Medicaid and Republicans plus Lyman Hoffman voting to keep Medicaid cuts.

 

Amendment 11 from Jesse Kiehl:

Would restore more funding to the ferry system, still leaving a 28% cut but making sure that communities serviced by the ferry wouldn’t be left virtually stranded.

FAILED: 12-8 with Democratic caucus voting yes, and Hoffman and Stevens crossing over.

 

Amendment 13 from Bill Wielechowski: (Here we go!)

Would cap the refundable per/barrel oil tax credits at whatever amount is needed to balance the budget. Coincidentally, what we’re handing over to the oil companies in this way at the moment is a little over $1.2 billion this year. Aaaand what’s the gap in the budget? A coincidental $1.2 billion. How about that. It should be said that all during the floor session, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association was clogging the #akleg Twitter feed talking about how great they are. Bert Stedman gave Wielechowski credit for “being creative” but said that more research was needed. To which Wielechowski reminded him that he had a current bill, SB14, which deals with this and has literally been ignored. And that he has also had a bill dealing with this for the past SIX YEARS and if anyone wanted “more research” then maybe they should ask for it.

And now, we need to find our tiny sad violin. Because Peter Micchiche (who cast a deciding vote for our current tax structure WHILE HE WAS AN EMPLOYEE OF CONOCO-PHILLIPS) got very upset by the suggestion of Amendment 13. He said he knows it’s “popular to hate the oil companies” and asked us to “just imagine” if another industry was asked to suffer like this because the state can’t get its spending under control. (I hate the phrase, but LET THAT SINK IN FOR A MINUTE). Peter Micchiche is blaming US, and blaming the legislature of which he is a part, for not controlling spending in budgets that HE voted for, and not cutting our state services ENOUGH to give the oil industry (which is logging record profits) more than a billion dollars a year of OUR MONEY. I tried to find a way to make this amusing, but truth is it’s downright appalling in every way.

Sen. Begich took exception to Micchiche’s angry accusation that anyone “hates” the oil industry, and so did Wielechowski who had an epic wrap-up discussing oil companies’ current profitability, and the legislatures sworn duty to uphold the constitution which demands that our resources are developed for the “maximum benefit of the people.” Aaaaand guess what?

FAILED: Democrats voting yes, and Republicans plus Lyman Hoffman voting no.

 

Amendment 14 from Scott Kawasaki:

Would require companies getting more than $10 million in deductible oil tax credits to get Alaska hire up to 85%.

FAILED: Democrats voting yes, and Republicans plus Lyman Hoffman voting no.

 

Amendment 16 from Chris Birch (R-Anchorage):
Would cut the $3000 dividend down to $1200. He said (after voting to preserve massive giveaways to oil companies) “We simply can’t afford it.” Wielechowski points out that there is a statute that sets the amount of the dividend, and if we want to change the amount of the dividend, we must change the statute first. Otherwise, the legislature is making arbitrary decisions and violating the trust of the people that they will follow the law.

FAILED: 17-3 with Birch, Von Imhof and Kiehl voting yes.

There were a bunch of amendments after that which were withdrawn for various reasons. And then it was a wrap.

 

STAY TUNED

How will the budget be balanced and where will the money come from? How will the House and Senate reconcile their individual budgets? Will the Red Pen Brigade hack it all to shreds anyway? And will the House and Senate be able to cobble together the 45 votes necessary to override those potential vetoes? Stay tuned for the next episode.

To help you keep it all sorted, subscribe to the PRESS CLIPS which I’ll send out to you every weekday morning – featuring a smattering of the most important political stories of the day from Alaska, the nation, and the campaign trail for 2020. You can subscribe HERE.

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Stay strong, mighty, and caffeinated, because things are about to get interesting!

Jeanne

Comments

comments

Comments
7 Responses to “Where’s the $3000, and Who’s Vetting These People?”
  1. mike from iowa says:

    Happy Mother’s Day, Mudflat Mothers.

  2. mike from iowa says:

    If you like obstruction of justice, you’ll love wingnuts. Aside from Drumpf’s antics, McCTurtle McConnell told Drumpf Junior not to worry about subpoenas because no Senate committees will find any collusion and Miss Lindsey Graham, ass clown from South Carolina, threatened DOJ employees jobs if they investigate Drumpf.

    Of course the wingnut party cannot see something they don’t want to see so McCTurtle and Miss lindsey are probably safe from obstruction charges.

  3. mike from iowa says:

    Law says South Dakota governor can be banned from tribal lands and so she has.

    http://dakotafreepress.com/2019/05/07/law-says-oglala-sioux-tribe-can-ban-noem-from-pine-ridge/

    It isn’t like SD’s wingnut party has done anything for the Rez except take Indian kids from their families and place them in white families and with hold federalo money to make it easier for Indians to get to polling places.

  4. mike from iowa says:

    Glad everyone is so talkative. While we chat, Texass sized wingnuts passed a law basically banning carpooling for elections unless the driver can attest at least one member of the vehicle has a medical problem that leads them to needing help getting into vote.

    I wonder if I can think of which groups of Dem voters this is aimed at? Hmmm, nah, they wouldn’t target the elderly of poor, or POC now would they?

    How things have changed over the years. When the 1950’s iteration of Dems were going to vote to make Hawaii a state, Dems weren’t sure if they wanted all those brown people to have voting rights. A scant 10 years later the wingnuts were the ones who didn’t want brown people voting and still don’t today.

    I am glad we had this talk. 🙂

  5. mike from iowa says:

    Got a serious question for coastal dwellers in Alaska about something we don’t have much of in iowa cornfields. Why am I not seeing immense dorsal fins on Orcas on the internet? They used to be pretty common along the west coast of United States.

    Seems like every pod had at least one. Now they seem to be uniform in size and shorter. I am perplexed.

  6. mike from iowa says:

    There is a nationwide, koch bros funded attempt to allow states to restrict or ban citizen initiatives/referendums.

    On a funnier note, the recently elected, incompetent female guv of South Dakota proposed fining protesters of oil pipelines, basically for showing up, and using those monies to pay for any cleanup of oil spills. The funny part being that TransCanada and their KXL pipeline, which has yet to be built, will carry highly toxic tar sands-bitumen mixed with an assortment of chemicals and a lot of heat just to get it to flow. This stuff is considered to be crude oil for all purposes except there is no mandatory 9 cent per barrel clean up fund fee on it because it is not considered crude oil. So the gubmint wants to use prior restraint against KXL protesters and let a Canadian owned and receiver of all profits Korporation to skate on clean up fund.

    Then the cavalry arrived. In response to being told they cannot peacefully protest KXL damaging reservation lands, Oglalla Sioux had a meeting and banned the governor from setting foot on their lands until she apologizes to the tribe and admits global warming is real.

    Expect a court fight as some wing ding wingnuts have publicly stated tribes and tribal lands aren’t sovereign.

    • Kim Rice says:

      Hello, Mike from Iowa!

      Thanks for this comment. I had seen a comment about this Oglalla Souix decision, and did not have time to look it up this week. Well, good for them!

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