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Alaska Common Ground's
Quarterly Newsletter
Inaugural Edition, February 2016

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Welcome to our first newsletter

We're excited to start sending you regular updates on events and issues we hope are important to you. If there are topics you would like to see in future newsletters, e-mail us at info@akcommonground.org

Long time Alaska Legislator and Alaska Common Ground Board member Max Gruenberg passed away on Valentine’s Day at age 72. His was a long life of service—as a decorated naval officer during the Vietnam War, as a law clerk for the Alaska Supreme Court, as legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, as a long-tenured state legislator, and as a board member for Alaska Common Ground since 2005.
 
Max’s background as a lawyer helped make him a valuable legislative craftsman and non-profit board member. He had a passion for making the law work as a legal technician and a drive to adopt the best public policies to improve the lives of Alaskans.
 
Even more impressive was Max’s gentle spirit. He was thoughtful, kind, and genuinely interested in the feelings of others. We at Alaska Common Ground as well as all Alaskans were fortunate to have Max serve for so long and we will miss his wise counsel.

Services will be held at the Congregation Beth Sholom, 7525 East Northern Lights Blvd on Thursday, February 25th at 5:30 pm.
 

Twenty-five years ago a group of concerned Alaskans, under the leadership of former Natural Resources Commissioner Esther Wunnicke, formed Alaska Common Ground to encourage citizens of the state to consider and become engaged in important public policy issues.

 

The founding principle that continues to be the organization’s guiding light is that democracy depends on informed citizen participation. The corollary is the state’s problems can only be addressed and solved through respectful, ongoing discussions.

 

The founders decided on the name Alaska Common Ground because it exemplified the purpose of the organization; to build agreement among Alaskans on important public policy issues. They felt strongly that through unbiased information and respectful dialogue, the state’s citizens could overcome loud divisive voices to reach common ground.

During the past 25 years, Alaska Common Ground has held over 50 public forums to facilitate the exchange of ideas on a variety issues, many of which have been carried on state-wide media. Over the years, forums have dealt with Alaska’s fiscal issues, health care, cost-effective justice, climate change, ballot initiatives, and proposed constitutional amendments.
 
The forums have had many organizational co-sponsors, including the League of Women Voters, AARP, Commonwealth North, Alaskans United, UAA-College of Arts and Science, Bridge Builders, and Partners for Progress among others.
 
Most recently, Alaska Common Ground has worked closely with the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) to address the state’s fiscal budget gap caused by the drop in the price of oil and decreased production. Several well-attended forums followed by presentations to organizations, media, and decision-makers by ACG’s Chair, Cliff Groh, have helped Alaskans think about ways to close the enormous gap.
 
As Alaska Common Ground moves forward, we continue to rely on the generous support of our members and the time and energy of a dedicated board of directors without which ACG would be unable to carry out its important mission.
 
For more information, please go to Alaska Common Ground’s website.
Support our work
Barbara Karl, longtime Alaska Common Ground board member, has retired from the board as of February 2016. Barbara has been involved with Alaska Common Ground from the beginning, attending the first organizational meeting in 1991. Shortly after that she joined the board. She has been the board’s Treasurer for the last 14 years, chaired and served on many committees over the years, and was a by-laws guru and editor extraordinaire. The board and the organization as a whole will greatly miss Barbara. Thank you Barbara for your board work, Treasurer’s work, and your commitment to the organization’s goals for these many years! While Barbara is stepping down from the board, she will join Victor Fisher as an Emeritus board member.

Step up to the Board?

 

Alaska Common Ground is seeking members to fill four vacant Board seats. ACG relies on Board members and a part time staffer to achieve the organization’s mission. The Board meets at 6 PM on the third Wednesday of each month in the Stoel Reeves conference room, fifth floor of 510 L Street. Meetings are open to members and the public. If you have some time to spare and a passion for public policy issues, consider this opportunity to Step up to the Board.

 

For more information contact:

Janet Bidwell, bidwell@gci.net, 907-360-3432

What are some of the most important things to understand about Alaska's fiscal challenge?

Alaska Common Ground has hosted several forums on the Alaska state government’s fiscal challenges. The most recent forum was in September 2015. ACG Chair Cliff Groh has continued to lead discussions on this issue with various community organizations, with the goal of broadening the understanding of the state’s budget crisis and to engage people in a meaningful discussion to seek solutions. The following is Cliff’s recent summary of the issue:
 
The State of Alaska is in a deep fiscal hole that gets deeper by the day. This year’s deficit is about three-quarters of the budget, and at current oil prices is more than $5,000 for each man, woman, and child in Alaska  At the current burn rate, the savings account financing that deficit—the Constitutional Budget Reserve—will be gone no later than the spring of 2018.
 
The realistic options to fill the hole include some combination of:
(a) more budget reductions and/or efficiencies beyond those that have already occurred;
(b) broad-based taxes such as an income tax or a sales tax; and
(c) some use of Permanent Fund earnings to pay for general government in the budget.
 
More than 55 percent of the State of Alaska’s budget is in three categories: education and early development; health and social services; and oil tax credits.  
Alaskans pay the lowest state taxes in the United States.
 
The options most frequently discussed involve much more use of Permanent Fund earnings than is commonly recognized. There are various ways to use Permanent Fund earnings in the budget for general government—cutting/capping Permanent Fund Dividends, using money currently used to inflation-proof the principal of the Permanent Fund, and using retained earnings not currently used either for Dividends or inflation-proofing.
 
A number of Alaskans believe the Alaska LNG project (also called “the gasline”) will bring in revenue to offset lost oil revenue. However, most project advocates realize that even if built, natural gas revenues will never equal the amounts received from oil and the state will not receive any revenues until many years from now. Some believe the project may never pay off.
  
Although a lot of talk focuses on the fiscal hole only as a matter of numbers, it is important to consider as well the psychology, values, incentives, the question of who pays, and politics.  

Alaska's Changing Climate forum

Nearly 200 people gathered in November for Alaska Common Ground’s all-day discussion in the UAA Student Union Cafeteria on Alaska’s Changing Climate: Impacts, Policy and Action. Moderator Libby Roderick set the stage for the issue by explaining the difference between adaptation (making adjustments such as rip-rap or sand bags to reduce coastal erosion) and mitigation (reducing the causes of climate change such as a carbon tax or reducing fossil fuel use).
 
Jeremy Littell with the US Geological Survey Climate Science Center provided a thumbnail sketch of the science behind climate change in Alaska. Next, Larry Merculieff, Robin Bronen, and Mike Black spoke passionately about how changing climate is impacting residents of rural Alaska. Dr. Jon Montague talked about how military installations and the military’s action plans are addressing climate change. The morning ended with the Keynote Address by former Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Bill Ross describing some of the lessons learned from climate change action plans and strategies in the Western states: what has worked and has not worked.
 
During lunch, Sheila Selkregg’s UAA Public Policy graduate students presented their findings on climate change research to a very appreciative audience in the cozy Den atmosphere.
 
The afternoon program focus was on policies, strategies, and action plans to address present and future climate change in Alaska. It started off with a panel of state policy makers, including Larry Hartig, Alaska Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation; Craig Fleener, Special Assistant to the Governor on Arctic Policy; and Kate Troll, Member of Governor Palin’s Mitigation Advisory Group. This was followed by a panel of Alaska community leaders, including Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz; Homer Mayor Beth Wythe; and former Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Reggie Joule.
 
The Alaska Citizens’ Panel comprised of Shaina Kilcoyne, Renewable Energy Alaska Project; George Donart, Citizens Climate Change Lobby; and Faith Gemmill, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands talked about the positive actions that can be taken to address the causes of climate change.
           
The final panel was the Young Alaskans’ Panel who gave voice to the concerns and ideas for the future. It was comprised of Maka Monture, Indigenous Fellow at AK Center for the Environment; Xavier Mason, President, NAACP Youth Panel; and Vika Morozova, AK Youth for Environmental Action.
 
If you missed these informative presentations, you can view the presentations here. For more climate change information and the presentation slides visit our website.
 

Upcoming Events


Tuesday, April 5, 6:00 – 8:00 PM, Birch Room at BP Energy Center – Alaska Common Ground is co-sponsoring “Genocide and Refugees”, a panel discussion, with immigration attorney and co-founder of the Alaska Institute for Justice Dr. Mara Kimmel and Alaska Jewish Museum Director Leslie Fried. The panel is part of a week of “Defy Fear!” a ten-day series of music, films and lectures sponsored by the Anchorage Concert Chorus.
 
Tuesday, April 5, 5:30 – 8:30 PM, BP Energy Center – Alaska Common Ground is joining with Let’s Talk Alaska to sponsor a discussion titled “Making Ends Meet”. This dialogue is at the request of the National Issues Forum. The topic refers to the economic insecurity of individuals in our society — a bland acknowledgement of systemic inequality.
 
Alaska Common Ground Board Meetings – The ACG Board meets the third Wednesday of every month at the offices of Stoel Reeves, 510 L Street, 5th floor.
  • Wednesday, March 16, 2016 – 6:00 PM
  • Wednesday, April 20, 2016 – 6:00 PM
If you plan to attend, you may need to call 529-2265 to enter the building after 6pm.
 
Alaska Common Ground Celebration and Annual Meeting – Late April or Early May - stay tuned to your email or ACG’s website for the date, time and location. This will be a celebration of ACG’s first quarter century, complete with hors d’oeuvres and beverages. We will report on ACG’s activities this past year and announce some of ACG’s upcoming events. We will also have our annual board elections. Join us for a celebration and let us know what you would like to see Alaska Common Ground focus on in the future.  
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