Wake up, Alaskans: Your rights are disappearing quickly
I’ve been an Alaskan resident for 47 years and I’m very worried about our beautiful state and its citizens. Rights of Alaska citizens have been seriously eroded by Gov. Sean Parnell and his administration. They are systematically reducing and eliminating public involvement in major governmental decisions. Public input is ignored. Secrecy has been the main thrust of this administration, and has resulted in greatly increased power for the governor and his appointed commissioners. Citizens have been left with little or no recourse over decisions affecting their lives. Here are some examples:
• Voter passed Cruise Ship Wastewater Bill — cancelled by the governor.
• DNR mission statement changed — Gov. Parnell and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan struck the words “conserve,” “enhance” and “future generations.” No input sought. DNR is now operating under that direction.
• Medicaid expansion supported by business, health and advocacy organizations and determined a savings to the state — refused by Parnell.
Major policies eliminating citizen’s rights were aborted by negative public reaction, including:
• Retiree Health Plan — major changes were proposed.
• House Bill 77 — U. S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, former DNR commissioner, was responsible for “streamlining the process” by silencing public input on natural resource permitting issues. Mr. Sullivan is still proud of his efforts.
Education and essential services have suffered budget cuts, but the governor and legislature are obligating the state to great debt for his priorities. These projects received significant public opposition, including:
• Juneau road — $574 million, road only.
• Road to Ambler — A private road for the sole use of a Canadian mining company; $430 million plus $8.5 million annual maintenance.
• Knik Arm Bridge — $1.6 billion, bridge only.
• Suisitna Dam — $5.2 billion, dam only.
The bipartisan Senate coalition benefitted all Alaskans. There wasn’t always agreement with the governor. He lobbied against them. Illegal gerrymandering resulted in a legislature that passed virtually all his proposals with little discussion and few committee hearings. Legislators were often prevented from raising issues of concern.
For 30 years the Coastal Management program gave citizens and communities the right to have a say in management of Alaska’s coast, fish, and animals. It died in the legislature. A citizen-sponsored initiative to restore it was defeated in a subsequent election because the legislature said it needed to be modified. Nothing was done. Alaska, with the longest coastline in the United States, is now the only state without a coastal management program. Control is in the hands of the federal government, but the governor and his commissioners can now make decisions about land use without oversight by citizens or communities.
The state initiated a variety of lawsuits against citizens. As a result of legislation large multinational corporations benefitted and the judicial system is no longer accessible to citizens and nonprofits due to cost. Among the Parnell administations suits:
• Chose to sue former First Lady Bella Hammond and Vic Fischer, one of the original writers of the Alaska Constitution, for $1 million due to civil lawsuit loss against the state and the Pebble Mine.
• Sued Minto contesting a decision removing a child from a dangerous home.
• Attorney General Dan Sullivan pursued a case against subsistence re: the Katie John decision.
The biggest concern is secrecy in government. The Alaska Public Records Act states clearly “Public access to government information is a fundamental right that operates to check and balance the actions of elected and appointed officials and to maintain citizen control of government.” Ten days is given for response and an additional 10 days for cause.
Gov. Parnell refused to make public documents that are critical for controlling the power of state government, including:
• Oil Tax Issue: International oil consulting firms, Baker Hughes and Gaffney Cline, were contracted by the state to produce a model of current tax systems, potential changes to them and produce detailed reports during the legislative session. The governor refused to release those reports to the legislature and refused to allow the legislature to speak with the consultants. No reports have been released.
• Medicaid Expansion: Parnell refused release of the state report for months.
• National Guard Report: Parnell refused release of the National Guard Report. It took 86 days for the state to deny a request. A lawsuit forced the state to agree to eventually release the records.
Major state decisions made in secret meetings between Governor Parnell and multinational oil companies are not public as the information is “privileged,” including:
• Oil Tax Legislation: This was created secretly and not vetted by the Legislature. The state Treasury must pay North Slope companies that don’t make a profit 45 percent of their losses until January 2016 and 35 percent after that, an increasing danger as oil prices plummet. Alaska also must pay 35 percent of normal costs for companies without production for 10 years or more until oil or gas reaches the pipeline. We receive no share of the profit. The state has never had to pay the oil companies to produce oil!
• Point Thompson: Agreements between the governor and Exxon were secret.
• Gas Line: DNR Commissioner Balash stated,“Legislators and their staff will need to sign the confidentiality agreement and complete confidentiality training prior to the sharing of confidential information and any agreements to which DNR and the Department of Revenue are a party.”
The Hammond Administration declined partnership with the oil companies because “state ownership would unacceptably increase the conflict between the state’s regulatory responsibilities with respect to the pipeline operation and the state’s interest in maximizing public revenue.” A 2002 Revenue Department Study confirmed the danger.
The Parnell administration quietly increased its power at the state level to an unprecedented degree. Gov. Parnell and former DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan demonstrated their belief in government power if it suits their purposes.
Citizen power is in the ballot box. Elect honest officials with integrity and a belief in open government who are willing to address problems and solve them in a bipartisan manner. The God-given beauty of our state and our responsibility to sustain it are in our hands. Vote!
Catherine Bishop Herrnsteen McCarthy of Homer is retired. She is a former educator, Alaska State Board of Education member, commercial heavy air contract carrier owner, commercial fisherman and boat owner.
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