The First Vote on Reforming ACES Goes Bad — and That’s Within the House “Majority”

An article posted yesterday evening in the Alaska Dispatch (see Alaska legislative leadership runs into political and personality problems,” Nov. 8, 2010) reports on votes taken over the weekend in connection with the formation of the new Alaska House “Majority.”  While the “leadership” is attempting to spin a serious disagreement that resulted as a “personality” dispute, in fact the vote that led to the disagreement appears to have been the first legislative vote on reforming ACES (which stands for “Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share”), the Palin era tax increase that has been discussed extensively elsewhere on these pages.

My comment on the development follows the article, and is repeated here:

“To me, there is something much deeper — and far more troubling — going on here with these developments.   There are eleven members on House Finance — without much argument one of the two most important committees in the Legislature (the other being Senate Finance).  Certainly, any legislation materially affecting Alaska’s economy is going to go through that Committee. 

Because of the recommendations made by the House “leadership” and approved by the Caucus, House Finance now includes a majority of members who voted for ACES in 2007 — Stoltze, Joule & Edgmon from the “majority,” and Doogan, Gara and Guttenberg from the minority.  To me, at least, there is no legislation currently doing more damage to the Alaska economy than ACES (see “Alaska’s future: It’s the oil,” Alaska Dispatch, July 10, 2010 (http://bit.ly/aDZPZu)).  The “majority” has now helped put in place on that Committee a majority of people who created that train wreck in the first place in 2007.

What the House “Majority” press release fails to discuss are the details of the proposal made by Kyle Johansen.  The press release says “Representative Johansen won re-election by his colleagues to return as Majority Leader, but proposed a deal to give up his position and give Rep. Millett a seat on the House Finance Committee.   What was that “deal”?  Johansen would step down as Majority Leader so that Alan Austerman could succeed him, opening up a spot on House Finance (where Austerman had been) to be filled by Millet — someone committed to ACES reform.

What happened instead?  The “majority leadership” accepted Johansen’s resignation from his position as Majority Leader, but then recommended Bryce Edgmon to succeed Austerman on Finance.  Now, Bryce Edgmon is a nice guy and did a good job identifying and working on Alaska’s internal energy needs last session as Co-Chair of the House Special Committee on Energy.  But in 2007, at every point in the legislative process that put together ACES, he voted for expanding and enlarging the tax — exactly the same voting record that Les Gara, Berta Gardner, Bob Buch and others put together during the same set of votes. See “Key Votes on Palin Tax Increase,” Alaska Alliance, November 2007 (http://alaskaalliance.com/pdf/final_aces_votes.pdf).

So, when presented with the opportunity to elect one candidate (Millet) who clearly and consistently during her campaign talked about the need to reform ACES, and another (Edgmon) who voted a straight line in favor of putting ACES together, “[t]he Caucus did not like” the idea of electing the candidate in favor of reforming ACES, and instead elected the ACES advocate — firming up a majority of members on the Committee as a whole who voted for ACES in 2007.  The old saying “with friends like that who needs enemies,” comes immediately to mind.

Personally, after that performance I would have walked as well with Johansen and Millet.  In another press release last week, the “majority” praised themselves for having achieved “regional balance.”  “Speaker Chenault says the caucus they’ve assembled is strong regionally and incorporates all areas of the state. ‘We struck a regional balance, same as last organization,’ Chenault said.  ‘It’s important, not only among caucus members, but also within the leadership team.'”  I don’t disagree that “regional balance” is a good thing, but worth the cost of putting on House Finance a majority of members who voted for ACES in 2007 — nope, not worth that.  With all due respect, Alaska’s overall economic future takes precedence.

In many respects, this vote was this Legislature’s first on ACES — and at least according to the “majority’s” own press release, a majority of the “majority” apparently didn’t want to rock the boat.  For those, like me, that supported a number of the members of the “majority” because they said they wanted to reform ACES, that is an extremely disappointing outcome.

It is not surprising that the “majority” leadership is attempting to cast Johansen’s and Millet’s actions in a personal light.   Spin, as they say, is everything.  But in my view, at least, something far deeper is going on here.  This vote was about Alaska’s future.  Unfortunately, it appears, the “leadership” spent so much effort building their “coalition” that they forgot about the ultimate objective.

Personally, I commend and support Reps. Johansen and Millet for their actions.  It can’t be fun going into a legislative session homeless, but when Alaska’s economic future is at stake, its the right thing to do.  Free from the restrictions the “majority” caucus imposed on themselves — all of the members committed themselves to vote in lock step not only for whatever budget is approved by House Finance, but also for whatever amendments are proposed on the Floor by the House Co-Chairs (which last year included the $70 million for the State crime lab) — I believe Alaska will be the better for it.

Brad Keithley”

Comments are closed.