Freshman democrat, Representative Bob Miller was elected to serve as Interior Delegation Chairman last Tuesday. It was one of the first times that every member was present at the same time for a meeting. The Interior Delegation has a long history of working together on the legislative priorities that impact Fairbanks and Interior Alaska. The Delegation will meet every other week for an early-morning teleconference with Fairbanks and other meetings as necessary. Though the Interior Delegation is small in number compared to the Anchorage Caucus at 24 members, our strength is through our ability to work together and unify on issues to help our constituents up north.
Working Across the Aisle
There was a lot of commentary about the new seating arrangement at the State of the Union and “working across the aisle.” In Juneau, we already sit next to one another without regard to political party. It mostly has to do with seniority, but being a rowdier member of the House means I was placed in the back of the room with my colleague, Rep. Les Gara.
Breaks for Big Oil? Do They Need It?
An issue to dominate the session is the ongoing debate about our oil resources. The legislature reformed the old tax regime with ACES (Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share) only three short years ago and every year since Big Oil has cried foul and tried to change the law. Yet, Conoco-Phillips reported yesterday that their profit in Alaska actually grew since last year to $1.7-Billion, even as oil production declined. ACES gives Alaskans a fair share for our limited oil resources while providing oil companies huge credits for exploration. We don’t need to go back to the drawing board every year. If it isn’t broken then don’t fix it.
Several bills introduced give nearly $1-Billion to oil corporations who have been promising to create jobs in Alaska. Yet, the bills have no direct provision of any additional job creation or guarantee of hiring local Alaskans if jobs become available. BP recently reported that there would be no guarantee of more jobs with the proposal. Under ACES, employment on the slope increased but Alaska hire is decreasing. Alaska needs a stable tax structure that provides an equitable share our barrels of oil and ensures local hire of Alaskan. According to the Department of Revenue report released last week, it was too early to judge whether further revisions were necessary. It will certainly be contentious over the next few months and I promise to keep you posted every step of the way.
In the Halls – Taking Care of Seniors
We passed our first bill out of the House yesterday to extend benefits to some of the most vulnerable Alaskans. House Bill 16 passed the House unanimously and now moves over to the Senate. The bill extends the current benefit program till 2015. My first special session in 2007 was to establish a needed benefit program for vulnerable seniors and seniors impacted by the elimination of the Longevity Bonus. I was proud yesterday that the House’s first order of business we voted on was the protection of senior benefits.