The following editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:
Developing a plan and beginning to implement it has a calming effect, and Gov. Bill Walker has achieved that with Alaska’s liquefied natural gas project and likely soon with the budget — if the most recent special legislative session is an indicator, and it is.
There is much about Alaska’s finances to perpetuate unease. The state is in a financial crisis, with a growing $3 billion budget deficit and a severe decline in production of its highest source of revenue: oil.
Unease — at least in part — had lawmakers complaining before the start of the session about the lack of bills provided for their prior review by Gov. Walker.
Despite the complaints, Walker, who clearly had multiple conversations underway with oil-related entities, confidently stated: “I am optimistic that once we actually sit down . . . it will be a productive process.”
It was. The tone and attitudes changed from one week to the next, and legislators, once they listened to what the administration presented, overwhelmingly supported the Walker administration.
In the meantime, Walker, who had proposed a gas reserves tax for oil companies, received assurances from the companies that they would make the natural gas available for the project. Following that assurance, Walker pulled the tax proposal from the special session agenda.
Next, the governor presented to the Legislature a plan to take TransCanada out of the natural gas project, arguing Alaska would gain more control over the project and likely be able to attain financing at friendlier rates.
The Senate endorsed Walker’s plan to authorize $157 million by a vote of 16-3, followed by a 39-0 House vote. TransCanada would receive $68 million for its most recent effort. The balance would be spent by Alaska to move the project forward.
Alaskans depend on legislators, who are paid representation, to listen to proposals such as the one with TransCanada and vote. Unlike past votes regarding Alaska’s natural resources that passionately divided and dismayed, the lawmakers almost unanimously endorsed Walker’s plan.
With the Legislature and Walker solidly behind the decision, it tells Alaskans that while there’s a long way to go to the production point, this currently is the best calculated approach toward eventual success.
That Standards & Poor’s patted Gov. Walker on the back for proposed changes to the Alaska Permanent Fund in an effort to resolve the state’s budget deficit situation only adds to the calming effect Alaskans have most recently experienced and appreciate in government leadership. It still remains to be seen whether the proposal will win with legislators and other Alaskans, but it’s one plan to be considered.
And a plan is the beginning to a solution.
Walker signed the TransCanada buyout bill immediately following the close of the special session. He is expected to complete the buyout by Dec. 1. Dec. 4 is the date Walker and the oil companies with natural gas are expected to approve their own work plan and budget for the upcoming year.
Alaska has begun to execute a natural gas project plan that is: a) solidly supported, b) considered the best way to provide energy to Alaskans and Outside, and c) increase state revenue. The plan is a precursor to success.