Ballot Initiative Comes with Risks To Economy
By Dan Hall
No one wants to protect our economy, way of life, and Alaska more than Alaskans do. We stand together to protect our jobs, our communities, and to make Alaska a viable place to live now and for the future.
Our state is beautiful; full of wildlife, aquatic life, outdoor activities and endless possibilities. We also have high cost of living, from milk to heating oil, from purchasing land to purchasing materials to build. When we go to build a house, cabin, bridge or landing strip, what we want to build needs to be durable and long lasting.
Our homes, whether in downtown Anchorage or next to a scenic river, must be rugged, just like Alaskans. Our rules and regulations should be durable and long lasting too, from state and federal permitting to rights and access. When we look to the Governor and legislature, we expect them to “look out” for all Alaskans, for our rights and for our future. We expect fair and balanced laws, well-vetted and thoughtful. We expect responsible budgeting, with a long-term look to the future.
We also expect that when a law or regulation needs improvement or updating, for legislators to do their job. However, if they don’t, Alaskans can work to change the law through the initiative process.
It is the right of all Alaskans to change law through the initiative process. However, that doesn’t mean it is always done in a productive way. Generally speaking, ballot measures contain very broad language, which often leads to litigation to clarify the intent.
These types of initiatives put economic activities such as construction, fish processing, timber harvests, and mineral extraction at risk. Not to mention oil and gas, which has historically supported as much as 90% of Alaska’s state government.
These shot-gun approaches spray a perceived issue with changes, rather than focus on a specific solution to a specific concern. This type of approach has consequences far beyond what may be needed. For example, an initiative that targets mining could have a big impact on the construction industry.
A truly thoughtful initiative would be done to benefit the state and the people, and with the input of all stakeholders. The process should be transparent and open, and demonstrate that it is in the public interest.
Many people believe ballot initiatives should be eliminated, and the work should be left to the people’s legislature to craft and develop our laws and regulations. Unfortunately, Alaskans may be facing yet another ballot measure to protect fish habitat, a protection that is already in place.
This onerous ballot measure would create an expensive and extremely cumbersome state permitting system that would be more stringent than current federal regulations. The seismic shift in permitting would make it much harder to get state approval for virtually all private, community and resource development projects across the state than it would be to get permits under the Endangered Species Act or the Clean Water Act.
The cost to the Alaskan public is valuable private sector dollars, often millions per initiative, being spent on ads and materials to inform Alaskans of the consequences of such initiatives. This is millions that otherwise could be invested in new projects or expanding existing projects in the private sector.
In addition to private sector costs, ballot measures cost significant public funds, and will deepen Alaska’s fiscal crisis at a time when the state is facing a serious and prolonged recession.
As we in the construction industry learn more about any initiative, we will rely on each other to engage in communicating the risks to our industry, whether intentional or not.
Dan Hall is president of Associated General Contractors of Alaska.