Leg With Louie: It’s Business Time in Alaska

The Governor recently submitted to the legislature a small squadron of bills as a part of a self-proclaimed “Open for Business” platform. Not only is this catchphrase redolent of the wonderful Flight of the Concords song “Business Time” it also bears the burnish of historical use. It is what Vitus Bering reported back to Peter the Great in 1725. It is what the Alaska Packers Association reported to San Francisco shareholders after canning the salmon run of 1891, and it is what J.P. Morgan said to the Guggenheims in 1906 when they formed the Alaska Syndicate to monopolize steamship, rail and mining concerns.

Countless Governors and Legislators use “Open for Business” as shorthand for “doing something that has been requested by some corporate interest or other.” When Murkowski said it, it meant pollution Mixing Zones in Salmon Spawning Habitat. When Parnell said it, it meant the death of the Coastal Zone Management Program and extreme subsidies to big oil.

Dunleavy appears to be wallpapering the Open for Business phrase over random bills to make it appear like a cohesive and strategic whole. In fact, they don’t represent a strategy as much as they represent four different bills: SB 156 – Unemployment Insurance Contributions; SB 157 – Professional Licensing Reform; SB 160 – Timber Sales; Forest Land Use; and SB 161 – Geothermal Resources. Perhaps the administration found itself scrambling for something else to bring up during the State of the State Address that wasn’t the PFD or the budget and thought “Open for Business,” because, why not?

Every piece of legislation is a puzzle, and sometimes it is hard to determine its genesis and beneficiary. Sometimes it is quite clear. The recently filed Open for Business bills will be clarified bit by bit when they get their day in committee. The Alaska Center and our partners will be thoroughly reviewing these bills in the week ahead.

Some Initial Red Flags:

SB 156 will reduce revenues going into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund on the estimate of the actuaries that the fund will be OK. Alaska has a history of getting bad advice from its actuaries. (For instance – actuarial firm Mercer made errors in calculating the state’s pension and health-care obligations that generated substantial unfunded liabilities for the Public Employees and Teachers Retirement System.)

SB 157 eliminates the requirement that an oil and gas business post a surety bond of $250,000 to guarantee payment of taxes and wages until commercial oil and gas production occurs. It also eliminates the ability of a party to file suit against the bond. This provision was put into law not that long ago as a recourse for workers and businesses who provide service to an oil and gas company, should that company become unable to pay them (see 2012 Buccaneer Jack-Up Rig debacle).

SB 160 would prohibit Alaskans from appealing a Forest Land Use Plan – which means that if you are concerned about a proposed clear cut in your back yard, you would no longer have the legal right to appeal the plan. – this looks like a direct response to successful past appeals.

SB 161 seeks to increase geothermal energy production – a good goal. There is language in this bill that removes the preferential right of a landowner to apply for a geothermal permit or lease to the area underlying the surface parcel. This removal could be an occasion for disputes between landowners and geothermal developers.

We will keep busy in the business of reviewing these and other bills as we enter week three of the 2020 session.

Hearings to watch:

(H) RESOURCES Standing Committee
Jan 27, Monday 1:00 PM
BARNES 124
HB 27 REGULATION OF FLAME RETARDANT CHEMICALS TELECONFERENCED. Testimony <Invitation Only>
Policy by Rich TELECONFERENCED Ruggiero & Christina Ruggiero. Testimony <Invitation Only>
Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

(H) ENERGY Special Committee
Jan 27 Monday 3:30 PM
SENATE FINANCE 532
Please Note Time & Location Change. Teleconference <Listen Only>
Joint with Senate RBE TELECONFERENCED
HB 151: ELECTRIC RELIABILITY ORGANIZATIONS. TELECONFERENCED — Testimony <Invitation Only>
**Streamed live on AKL.tv**

(H) JOINT SESSION Other Committee*
Jan 27 Monday 7:00 PM
HOUSE CHAMBER
State of the State Address by the Honorable Michael J. Dunleavy, Governor of Alaska”

(H) FINANCE
Standing Committee*
Jan 28 Tuesday 1:30 PM

ADAMS ROOM 519
HB 205 APPROP: OPERATING BUDGET/LOANS/FUNDS TELECONFERENCED
HB 206 APPROP: MENTAL HEALTH BUDGET TELECONFERENCED
FY21 Dept. Budget Overviews: TELECONFERENCED – University – Dept. of Environmental Conservation

(H) MISCELLANEOUS MEETING Other Committee*
Jan 29 Wednesday 12:00 PM

BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
Lunch & Learn: The Foraker Group: “The 2020 Census & Legislators – Becoming Census Champions & helping ensure a complete & accurate count in your district!” by – Laurie Wolf, President/CEO – Katie Scovic, Cook Inlet Housing & Alaska Census Working Group – Veri di Suvero, AKPIRG, & Alaska Census Working Group – Donna Bach, US Census Bureau Sponsored by Rep. Fields

(H)RESOURCES Standing Committee*
Jan 29 Wednesday 1:00 PM
BARNES 124
Overviews: TELECONFERENCED – Dept. of Natural Resources by Commissioner Corri Feige – Dept. of Environmental Conservation by Commissioner Jason Brune. Testimony <Invitation Only>
Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

(H)ENERGY Special Committee*
Jan 29 Wednesday 3:30 PM
SENATE FINANCE 532
Please Note Time & Location Change
Teleconference <Listen Only>
Joint with Senate RBE
TELECONFERENCED
HB 151 ELECTRIC RELIABILITY ORGANIZATIONS TELECONFERENCED. Testimony <Invitation Only>
**Streamed live on AKL.tv**

(S)EDUCATION Standing Committee* 
Jan 30 Thursday 9:00 AM
BUTROVICH 205
Teleconference <Listen Only>

SB 136 STATE-TRIBAL EDUCATION COMPACT SCHOOLS
TELECONFERENCED. Testimony <Invitation Only>
**Streamed live on AKL.tv** + Bills Previously Heard/Schedule

(H)ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION Finance SubCommittee*
Jan 30 Thursday 11:15 AM
CAPITOL 17
Dept. Budget Overview Div. of Environmental Health. Testimony <Invitation Only>
**Streamed live on AKL.tv

(S)COMMUNITY & REGIONAL AFFAIRS Standing Committee* 
Jan 30 Thursday 3:30 PM
BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
Presentation:  TELECONFERENCED Hydroelectric Projects in Alaska by Curtis Thayer, Executive Director & Bryan Carey, Hydro Power Manager of Alaska Energy Authority

(H)RESOURCES Standing Committee*
Jan 31 Friday 1:00 PM
BARNES 124
HR 12 HOUSE SPEC. COMMITTEE ON CLIMATE CHANGE
TELECONFERENCED. Public Testimony <Time Limit May Be Set>

(S)RAILBELT ELECTRIC SYSTEM Special Committee*
Jan 31 Friday 3:30 PM
BUTROVICH 205
SB 123: ELECTRIC RELIABILITY ORGANIZATIONS
TELECONFERENCED Teleconference <Invitation Only>

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