4th of July Fire Safety

The Alaska State Fire Marshal’s Office realizes that Independence Day and fireworks can go hand in hand, but fireworks shouldn’t go in consumers’ hands. Fireworks cause devastating burns, injuries and even death. Knowing the harm that fireworks can inflict, we urge Alaskans to leave the fireworks to the professionals who are trained to put on spectacular displays. Remember, fire is everyone’s fight.

Michael Warzewick
Alaska State Fire Marshal’s Office

Operation Dry Water 2017

Today (June 30th) kicks off the National campaign Operation Dry Water. Alaska Wildlife Troopers across the state are participating by making contact with boaters during heightened awareness patrols and encouraging them to make good choices while they recreate on Alaska waterways. The goal of Operation Dry Water is to reduce recreational boating incidents that result in injury, death or damage to property caused by intoxicated boaters.

Many people across Alaska are beginning their 4th of July celebrations today. We know that many times these celebrations involve alcohol. If you chose to drink or consume any other substance that causes impairment, we encourage you to not operate a boat or any other vehicle. We want everyone to have a great time and stay safe.

While contacting boaters, Troopers will be checking to make sure necessary safety equipment is on board. AWT encourages everyone to wear their lifejackets as well.

The national campaign, organized by the National Association of Boating Law Administrators (NABLA) runs through July 2. Alaska Wildlife Troopers have participated in this recreational boating enforcement campaign for the past eight years.

Megan A. Peters
DPS, Public Information Officer

Better Care Reconciliation Act: Advocacy for Veterans

An Open Letter to Senators Murkowski and Sullivan

Dear Senators,

I’m grateful for leaders like you, who prioritize the needs of our state by speaking out for those who are often forgotten by society. As you address the Senate’s new health care bill, I know you will continue advocating for the thousands of Alaska veterans it could affect.

The Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) will make extensive cuts to Medicaid, to the detriment of Alaska veterans. In addition, Medicaid restructuring and weakened protections for people with pre-existing conditions puts an unacceptable burden on those who have served.

During my time in the United States Marine Corps, I gained a first-hand appreciation of the incredible sacrifices our service members make to defend our freedom. In a survey by Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), 58 percent of respondents reported having a mental health injury related to their service. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports close to 600,000 veterans sought care for post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) last year.

However, PTSI often remains undiagnosed because of the difficulty veterans have accessing the treatment they need. Around 22 percent of veterans don’t receive care from the VA, many because of issues such as travel distance. Medicaid empowers Alaska’s rural veterans to receive life-saving diagnoses and treatment they would otherwise forgo because of such barriers.

A recent study from Families USA showed 3,700 Alaska veterans depend on Medicaid for the coverage they need. The Senate’s proposed per capita caps on Medicaid diminish our state’s ability to help thousands of veterans by limiting federal funds for crucial programs. Additionally, the BCRA doesn’t do enough to protect coverage for veterans with pre-existing conditions. We can’t leave veterans without medical coverage after so many have sacrificed their health to defend us.

During my time as a state representative in Alaska’s veterans caucus, it was my honor to advocate for fellow veterans. I understand what it takes to amplify veterans’ concerns, and I’m confident you will make a powerful positive impact as you revise the BCRA. Please, encourage your colleagues to prioritize veterans by preserving Medicaid funding and keeping protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

Bob Herron
Bethel, AK

A Call to Leadership

When, after being in session for 160 days, I began to hear both the House and Senate leadership talking about passing just a budget and going home, I was reminded of a meeting I had last summer with a professor from the University of Potsdam.

He was traveling around the world, talking with people associated with the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds—many of which were associated with mineral-rich regimes. His research was focused on how the funds were being used to replace falling revenues from commodities as price and production fluctuate over time.

As I discussed the difficulty the Governor was having in moving the Alaska legislature to make significant changes before we fall off the fiscal cliff, he interrupted me. He said Alaska is facing the same problem seen facing decision-makers throughout the world. The problem is so common, he poses the same question every semester: “How can I incentivize a decision-maker (or a body making decisions) to take action now that prevents an unfortunate outcome later in the future?”

Because here’s the conundrum: If a decision-maker takes action to prevent a draconian outcome—without evidence that inaction would have been far worse—the populace could retaliate. For fear of retaliation, decision-makers fail to act to avoid the crisis they know is coming. Instead, they wait for the “safety” of the crisis to justify action.

We are seeing this play out in Alaska. For three years, the legislature has failed to take any significant action to resolve the state’s fiscal crisis despite ample evidence of the ultimate outcome of inaction. Every time a legislator avoids a difficult decision by blaming someone else, finding an insignificant issue to hide behind, or leaning on tired ideology to justify inaction, it shows he or she is not inclined to act until all of the state’s monetary reserves are depleted–so the “safety blanket” of a crisis can then justify action.

I don’t mean to diminish the difficulty of the decisions facing the legislature. From a purely political perspective, eliminating government services and programs is nearly impossible to do. Imposing new taxes is unpopular at best. Reducing the size of the permanent fund dividend or limiting oil and gas tax credit payments is incredibly controversial.

However, no one ever promised that governing a state of such immense size and diversity would be easy. Leading is hard and often unpopular work. It cannot be done within an artificial bubble of party politics where creative thought and bold decisions are met with re-election threats from nondescript party leaders whose only apparent concern is whether the winning team has an “R” or a “D” on the jerseys.

You cannot lead when an inordinate amount of energy is used to develop strategies to pin blame on the other body, the other caucus or the other branch of government. You cannot lead when the bloggers and radio talk shows are accepted as the surrogate voice of the people. You cannot lead when keeping a job becomes more important than doing the job.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope there are still true statesmen leaders in the legislature who are as frustrated as the rest of us with legislative inaction. I hope they are willing to step forward and say “enough is enough.” I hope there are such leaders whose reasonable voices are silenced by caucus politics.

I hope we have leaders who are willing to accept that an uncertain political future is a price worth paying to ensure fiscal certainty for the state they have sworn an oath to serve. I hope we have leaders who are ready to reject party and caucus politics to find a compromise solution that all parties can accept as fair and balanced. I hope we have leaders who are ready to get the job done for the people of Alaska.

Commissioner Randall Hoffbec
Department of Revenue