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Our local governments deserve more respect

Posted: March 14, 2014 - 12:16am

I am often asked how I differ from Gov. Sean Parnell. One significant difference is how we view local governments. Over the past six years, a pattern has developed with Parnell disrespecting our local governments. Here are a few examples.

Veiled Funding Threats: Parnell recently threatened fiscal retaliation against the Ketchikan Gateway Borough for filing litigation regarding education funding after the borough exhausted other avenues for resolution with the State. The Fairbanks North Star Borough has since voted unanimously to participate in that suit and no doubt is also on alert for legislative retaliation.

I first became involved in local government in my mid-20s as a transportation commissioner, city council member and mayor. My law firm has represented many Alaska cities including litigation against the state. Just as states wrangle with the federal government in the courts, local governments are provided a legitimate avenue of legal redress when encountering impasse with state government. Whether one agrees with the underlying merits of any particular lawsuit or not, the process must be defended and respected. In my three decades as a municipal attorney, I have never known a governor to do what Gov. Parnell did last month when he warned Ketchikan, “I will view any capital requests from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough through a different lens as a result of the lawsuit filed by the borough.”

State Assessment Review Board (SARB): This state board hears disputes on the value of oil and gas property assessed by the state. Approximately half of that revenue goes to the state and the other half goes to six municipalities with oil and gas property. Gov. Parnell, who obviously disagrees with the recent Alaska Supreme Court case affirming SARB’s methodology and setting a valuation at 10 times what which the producers wanted, fired Marty McGee. McGee was the SARB chairman and former chief assessor for the Municipality of Anchorage. He was replaced with a former oil industry consultant and former employee who lives in California and is not an assessor. The reason given by Parnell, “We wanted a fresh perspective on the board.”

This is shocking arrogance and totally disregards the welfare of local governments.

Gasline: Parnell recently released a signed Heads of Agreement to begin yet another expensive 18-month gas pipeline study. The first concession offered by Parnell, without any justification for the necessity of any concessions, was a local government property tax holiday to the major North Slope oil companies in exchange for committing to yet another gas line study. He also granted a tax holiday to the same companies for the massive construction impact on local governments that would result if the project were built. When the mayors of the North Slope Borough, Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Kenai Peninsula Borough collectively asked to be part of the negotiating team when local property taxes are being discussed, as is provided in Alaska statute (43.82.510), Parnell replied “no way.” He said involving the impacted municipalities is as “impracticable as having 60 legislators sitting at the table.” This is another sorrowful example of how Gov. Parnell shows little respect for local governments.

Coastal Zone Management (CZM): During the 2011 legislative session, there was a strong push by local governments to not let the CZM laws lapse. The bill to extend CZM would have given Alaska’s coastal communities meaningful input regarding resource development projects in their region. The bill did not pass, and Parnell stated that had it passed, he would have vetoed it.

Closure of Flint Hills Refinery: Interior Alaskans are dismayed to learn that this major employer in North Pole is closing up shop resulting in the loss of 80 high-paying jobs and other detrimental economic impacts. Flint Hills executives met with Gov. Parnell in Sept. 2013 requesting assistance to keep the refinery open. The governor said he would get back to them but never did.

Our local communities need a governor who consults with them, represents them and works cooperatively to find solutions to pressing issues impacting their lives and livelihood. Healthy communities contribute greatly to the overall wellbeing and prosperity of the state and deserve more respect than they are currently afforded.

• Bill Walker is a lifelong Alaskan with an Anchorage law firm with over 30 years’ experience in municipal and oil and gas law. He is running as an independent candidate for governor.

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