Morning Headlamp – Alaska Lawmakers Expenses Under Scrutiny

Per diem & Legislature spending. Alaska lawmakers of both parties are using leftover campaign cash to pay for lunches, cellphones and airport lounge memberships pushing the boundaries of what is legal. Campaign finance reforms enacted in 1996 allow public officials to use those “POET” accounts — short for “public office expense term” — only for expenses “associated with the candidate’s serving as a member of the Legislature,” and not for personal or political purposes, according to state law. Reports of hundreds of dollars spent on airport lounge access for the Alaska Lounge, hundreds of dollars spent on top of per-diems at the cafeteria in Juneau, and personal cellphone bills have drawn additional scrutiny to legislative spending practices.

This follows proposals from a panel of Alaska House members to slash by three-fourths their $213 daily payments for in-session expenses and to completely eliminate the special $160 per diem for Juneau’s three legislators. The unanimous, bipartisan vote last Thursday evening would cut each non-Juneau lawmaker’s payment to $4,800 for the standard 90-day session, down from the $19,170 they get at the current rate.

Spending cap & PFD. The Republican-led Alaska Senate majority on Friday proposed a new deficit-reduction bill involving Permanent Fund dividend reductions and provisions to limit government spending. Senate Bill 70 was referred straight to the Senate Finance Committee — bypassing the State Affairs Committee chaired by Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Dunleavy who is pushing his own plan for the fund that would keep dividends at recent levels with the help of budget cuts.

Interior Mining. An Australian mining company plans to conduct field work this summer at a mineral deposit about 60 miles south of Fairbanks. White Rock Minerals acquired the site, called the Red Mountain Project, last year. Two deposits of zinc, copper, silver, lead and gold have already been discovered there, and there is potential to find more, the company said.

Trump & Cook Inlet. The Trump administration announced Friday that it’s moving ahead with plans to offer 1.1 million acres for lease in Alaska’s Cook Inlet on June 21. The proposed sale has been in the works for years. A decision by the Obama administration in November canceling lease sales in the Arctic Ocean through 2022 generated uncertainty whether the Cook Inlet lease sale in Southcentral Alaska would continue.

Federal overreach curtailed. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt unveiled plans to roll back at least three Obama-era rules at the EPA while vowing to give businesses “regulatory certainty.” On Monday, President Donald Trump is scheduled to sign orders compelling the EPA to begin undoing recent regulations, including the Clean Power Plan that slashes greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation and the Waters of the U.S. rule that defined which waterways are subject to pollution regulation. The orders would direct Pruitt to begin dismantling those measures, helping fulfill the president’s pledge to eliminate rules he describes as throttling U.S. energy development.

 

First Reads

Lunches, cell phones, and airport lounge fees: How some Alaska lawmakers use leftover campaign cash

Alaska Dispatch News, Nathaniel Herz, February 26, 2017

Australian mining company eyes little-explored Interior deposit

Alaska Dispatch News , Annie Zak, February 27, 2017

Alaska Senate majority unveils new Permanent Fund bill, with spending cap

Alaska Dispatch News, Nathaniel Herz, February 27, 2017

Trump administration takes step toward June oil and gas lease sale in Cook Inlet

Alaska Dispatch News, Alex DeMarban, February 25, 2017

House considers slashing daily expense payments to Alaska lawmakers

Alaska Dispatch News, Nathaniel Herz, February 25, 2017

Environmental Chief Vows Swift Rollback of Obama-Era Rules

Bloomberg, Jennifer A. Dlouhy, February 26, 2017