Governor should veto Legislature’s budget so they’ll finish the job

Source: Alaska Dispatch News

By: Former U.S. Senator Mark Begich

Being an elected official is always a great honor, but sometimes it’s not fun. And when it comes to solving the budget crisis in Juneau, it is time to make the tough decisions that are necessary, but not any fun.

When I was elected as mayor of Anchorage in 2003, I was not sworn in until July with half the fiscal year behind us. My administration faced a $33 million budget deficit and more than 60 percent of the community felt Anchorage was heading in the wrong direction. There was little desire to invest in the city and the convention center had failed a public vote just one year earlier.

As far as political environments go, it wasn’t what most politicians would consider fun, but it was our reality.

That is why, as the mayor, I thought it was important to get to work immediately and repair the slow bleed and lack of public trust. We needed to demonstrate that Anchorage was ready to make the tough choices it would require to get back on track. Moreover, we needed to signal that we were prepared for the public and private investment it would take to set our city up for long-term economic growth and stability.

After a tight election, many people thought it was too risky to cut the budget and raise fees to make services pay for themselves, but that is exactly what I had to do. I made the tough choice to cut libraries and reduce vacancies at the police and fire departments. I also went to the tax cap and put forward some of the largest bonds the city had seen in decades.

Those tough choices gave us the flexibility to make critical investments down the road — like building a new convention center and expanding the museum. And by the end of my time as mayor, we had fixed the intersection at Lake Otis Parkway and Tudor Road, and added police and firefighters. We also built two new middle schools, three new fire stations and more roads than the previous three mayors. Most important, the people of Anchorage believed in their future again, with more than 70 percent of the community believing we were moving in the right direction.

But let me be clear: We couldn’t have made those investments if we hadn’t also made the cuts.

That is why I believe the governor should veto the Legislature’s partial budget plan. Will it be popular? Maybe not. But is it the right thing to do? Absolutely.

The Legislature is trying to dodge tough decisions in an election year, leaving the governor looking for alternative solutions to keep the government open. Unfortunately, this is not a new problem and it didn’t happen overnight. The Legislature has repeatedly talked about our budget problems but failed to do anything about it for the long term.

It is time to make the tough decisions. We cannot wait any longer.

Yes, it means that they will have to go back and cut the budget deeper than they have. They will have to raise fees and revenues, and yes, they may have to decide on taxes. They will also have to decide on the long-term health of the Permanent Fund and how it will be used in the future.

Let me be clear: Making these cuts should not get in the way of strategic investments across the state. In Alaska, we are lucky to have strong industries like fisheries, tourism and infrastructure. We have opportunities to partner with the private sector. And we cannot invest in the future without investing in our children and providing a rock-solid education system from K-12 all the way to higher education. The University of Alaska system can and should be both a first-rate educational institution and a reliable revenue generator.

It won’t be fun, but Alaskans know that making these tough choices is necessary. It is time for the folks in Juneau to worry less about political posturing and more about our road to prosperity.

Alaska is a great place to live and raise a family, and I hope our elected officials in Juneau will come together so that continues to be true for generations to come.

Mark Begich served as mayor of Anchorage from 2003-2008 and as U.S. senator from Alaska from 2009-2015.

Read full editorial here.

 

Keep the promise: Don’t cut veteran education benefits

Source: THE HILL

By: Former U.S. Senator Mark Begich and Paul Rieckhoff

As cities and towns across America prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, we are once again reminded of the sacrifice of the small minority of men and women who volunteer to put themselves into harm’s way for our nation. But, after the streets get swept and the flags are returned to storage, some of our elected leaders will return to Washington and fail to honor the promise we have made to our service members.

In February, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3016, which called for a 50 percent cut to the housing allowance that children receive if their military or veteran parent transfers the benefit to them. Those who voted for the cut said it amounts to chump change for the average student, and that the savings will be used to fund other veteran programs. However, this cut has real-world consequences. For example, in the state of Alaska, the housing cut would cost a student as much as $1,260 every single month.

After outcry from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families, a similar provision was removed from the Senate version of the bill (S.425). That progress was welcome, but it came at a cost when the bill’s sponsors announced the inclusion of a new cost-saving measure: a $3.4 billion cut over the next five years to all veterans’ Post-9/11 GI Bill housing allowances.

As a former member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the leader of the largest post-9/11 veterans group in America, we have come together numerous times to expand the GI Bill benefits that these men and women have earned.

In 2010, we worked to pass an upgrade to the Post-9/11 GI Bill that helped simplify and improve tuition benefits, expand eligibility to the National Guard, include vocational programs and make nationwide in-state tuition rates a possibility for new veterans. After that, we fought to increase veterans’ access to the tools necessary to make the right educational decisions for their future.

More than one million veterans and family members have used their Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits, making it one of the most successful government programs in recent history.

Today, we are coming together again to tell Congress that our veterans – who have already sacrificed so much – should not be asked to sacrifice even more.

Congress needs to do its job, without taking from one veteran to give to another. It is unacceptable that instead of finding ways to make veterans’ educational goals easier to achieve, Congress seems intent at throwing obstacles in their way. The Pentagon depends on a strong New GI Bill for recruiting, retention and morale. Our troops overseas in combat can read the news, and they shouldn’t have to see headlines about their benefits being cut back home.

The education benefits in the New GI Bill have been critical in enabling the members of America’s New Greatest Generation and their families to maximize the contributions they make to our country after they leave the service.

The GI Bill is not a piggy bank for Congress to use when they fail to properly manage government spending elsewhere. It is a sacred commitment between our country and our service members that we have a duty to uphold.

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have drawn a line in the sand and are calling on members of Congress and our current president to commit to uphold our country’s promise to our veterans. It is a breach of trust to tell veterans you have their backs on the campaign trail, and then deny them their earned benefits when in office.

The men and women who wore the uniform abroad — and their families who sacrificed so much at home — kept their promises. Now it is time for Congress to keep theirs.

We look forward to seeing the many staunch supporters of our veterans on Capitol Hill step forward and protect GI Bill benefits.

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Former Sen. Begich represented Alaska in the Senate from 2009-2015 where he served on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He is now the President and CEO of Northern Compass Group located in Anchorage, Alaska. Rieckhoff is Founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He was an Army Infantry Officer who served in Iraq from 2003-2004.

Read full editorial here.

U.S. needs Arctic oil and gas policy changes

Source: newsminor.com The Voice of Interior Alaska

News-Miner Community Perspective:

With the price of oil down and news of companies halting their drilling efforts in the Arctic, it is easy to get caught up in what seems to be an ongoing drip of negative headlines surrounding Alaska’s oil and gas industry and its impact on our economy.

However, we cannot forget the sheer volume and long term value of Alaska’s resources. We have

35 billion barrels of oil and 161 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, production in Alaska’s offshore Arctic waters alone could last for 50 years and generate tens of thousands of jobs nationwide.

That is why, as Senator, I fought to diversify our energy development strategy. I took on federal regulators and we saw progress opening new federal lands and waters to oil and gas development. After 25 years of stalled progress, the Obama Administration finally permitted oil and gas exploration in waters off Alaska’s North Slope and allowed work to get underway in the National Petroleum Reserve-

Alaska (NPR-A), which is expected to produce 18 million barrels of oil per year. However, there is more the federal government can and should be doing, and we can’t let the latest news derail the important progress we’ve made.

I believe there are five critical steps that the federal government could be taking right now to provide security and sustainability for Alaska’s oil and gas industry while increasing our national security:

• Reduce approval process time for projects: In 2011, the Obama Administration adopted my idea to create a one-stop-shop permit review agency in the federal government to expedite the process. I believe, however, this should go even further. By establishing it in law and expanding its jurisdiction, Congress could direct this agency to accelerate permitting on critical natural resource projects across the state.

• Provide 20-year leases: Currently, 10-year leases are the industry standard. That makes sense in warm climates like the Gulf of Mexico where you can drill year around. In the Arctic, however, where drilling is limited to certain times of the year for practical and safety reasons, 20-year leases make more sense.

• Approve revenue sharing for Alaska communities: In 2006, before I was in the Senate, Congress passed revenue-sharing legislation granting Louisiana and Gulf of Mexico states a share of revenues from oil and gas development in federal waters off their coasts. There is no reason Alaska should be excluded from this arrangement.

• Invest in oil spill technology for cold climates: Development critics like to cite oil spills in other areas — like the Gulf of Mexico — that are entirely different from the conditions present or responses necessary in the Arctic. By investing in oil spill technology for cold climates, we will continue to demonstrate our preparedness.

• Develop a public-private partnership for an Arctic port: As chairman of the U.S. Senate Oceans Subcommittee, I brought the issue of a deepwater port front and center. Warming waters and increased traffic mean big opportunities for Alaska if we invest in our infrastructure now.

In addition to our vast natural resources, the talented and trained workforce in Alaska is unmatched. Right here in Fairbanks, the Pipeline Training Center is providing top-notch training and producing skilled workers for all sectors of Alaska’s oil and gas industry. We must continue to invest in our people and ensure that energy jobs in Alaska are filled by Alaskans.

Alaskans have always had a stake in our natural resource development and a keen understanding of the critical role it plays in our state’s overall economy. But we also understand how important Alaska is to the energy and national security of our country. Having a ready supply of oil and gas protects our role as a leader across the world and protects our jobs here at home.

As Alaskans, we have never been afraid to take on tough challenges and create great opportunities. We must focus on harnessing Alaska’s potential for innovative energy development and create a long-term, sustainable energy plan that works for our state and our country.

Mark Begich served as a U.S. Senator from Alaska from 2008-2014. He is now the president and CEO of the Northern Compass Group, an Anchorage-based consulting firm.

Read the full editorial here.

Association of Croatian American Professionals First In-Person Conference Held in Washington, DC

Source: Total Croatia News

An important gathering of the Croatian diaspora and Croatian interests in Washington last week, which was attended by President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. TCN’s Steve Rukavina was also there and sent this report on April 26, 2016.

The First In-Person Conference of the Association of Croatian American Professionals (ACAP) held in Washington, DC on April 21st and 22nd was a resounding success. It was a privilege for me to participate with 210 Croatians who all showed their commitment to network, share knowledge, and foster new friendships over two days. The group was about 90% Croatian Americans, however, the twenty-five plus Croatians from Canada and Zagreb gave the conference more of a true global dimension and really enhanced the dialogue of further international collaboration.

ACAP President Marko Zoretic and Croatian Ambassador Josko Paro welcomed the 200 plus attendees to a wonderful reception at the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia on Thursday night with tamburitizan music led by Tom Vesolich and his musical ensemble. It was a night of Croatian wine, Plavac Mali and Posip flowing, with new friendships being formed and the “One Global Croatia” theme playing out real-time in person.

ACAP Vice President and the President of the organizing committee Dr. Steve Pavletic said, “This is the historical meeting, totally oriented towards the future and one can feel it in the air.”

Former Senator Mark Begich, was the featured speaker on Friday and gave the receptive audience a captivating and entertaining mix of politics Alaska-style with insights into his days as a U.S. Senator. It was very interesting and inspiring to hear him speak of his father, the first Croatian American Congressman, Nick Begich, and his political achievements. Begich, the first Croatian American U.S. Senator, shared his sincere appreciation for all the Croatian support and interest in his candidacy and victory. He spoke glowingly of his visits to Croatia while serving in the U.S. Senate and mentioned his participation in the annual Ron Brown Summit in Croatia as another Senate highlight.
The conference highlighted seven different panels to showcase Croatian Americans’ talent, success and commitment within the fields: National Diaspora Organizations; Future of the U.S. Croatia Relations; Entrepreneurship and BioTechnology; Medicine – Focus on Cancer and Health Tourism; Croatian Space Program; Croatian Arts and Entertainment in the USA; Legal Topics-Immigration and Real Estate.

At the first panel a few Ambassadors and ethnic leaders from Macedonia, Slovakia, Italy and Ireland shared their programs to interact, inspire and involve their diaspora with their respective homelands. Meto Koloski, United Macedonian Diaspora President, shared a lot of coherent ideas about how they built their organization and especially to involve more members under the age of forty. Slovakia Ambassador Peter Kmec stood out as an avid advocate of strong collaborative initiatives with Croatian professionals.

It was a high honor for me to be part of the U.S. Croatian Relations panel moderated by Ambassador Josko Paro. This politically focused panel included former US Ambassador to Croatia James Foley, the U.S. State Department’s Hoyt Yee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs, former Croatian diplomat and Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul, and Senator Mark Begich. The political panel had a very substantive discussion about the double taxation challenge between the USA and Croatia as one of the major barriers to stronger influx of investments and businesses to Croatia and vice versa. The significance of the floating Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) terminal proposed for the Krk area was a major topic. It was very encouraging to hear that Croatian Canadians in Toronto are involved in the potential financing for this LNG project. Lastly, it was brought up that the Bosnian Croat community still needs our support and involvement and a few National Federation of Croatian American (NFCA) projects were mentioned in that regard.

Musician Nenad Bach, founder of the Croatian World Network (CROWN), energized the attendees with his message that we need to further develop the means and media that serve our community to enhance our message and communication. Nenad challenged the audience to globally create more economic leverage by our community committing to buy Croatian products. His theme that art and especially music is a cohesive force in a progressive society is spot on, like his beautiful song from the 1990s, “Can We Go Higher.” Nenad has been leading the effort to make direct flights to Croatia from the USA happen.

There were so many other speakers and panelists and there’s just not enough space to do justice to mention all of them here. ACAP folks were very impressed with the special guest from Zagreb, Davorin Stetner, and all his progressive work with the Kreator Group, and his media and digital achievements and also with the Croatian Business Angels Network. Similarly, Professor Slobodan Bosanac of Swiss Space System Zagreb and Zoran Kahric, Chief Engineer at NASA convinced us that the Croatian space program has a bright future.

Dr. Steven Pavletic and his experience at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda could help his colleagues in Croatia battle cancer, which would also foster research in this utmost important area of biomedicine. Those types of professional collaborations must be further developed. Successful scientists turned entrepreneurs such as Dr. Boro Dropulic of Lentigen in Maryland and Dr. Dubravko Kicic of the Biocenter in Zagreb discussed specific ideas to take this field of medicine forward in Croatia and make it a focal point of economical progress.

The Friday sessions closed at The Embassy Row Hotel with excitement as President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic visited, after a busy day in the U.N., to extend her well wishes. The Croatian President delivered an excellent and inspiring ten-minute speech. She thanked everyone for their efforts and challenged the Croatian diaspora to be even more involved with their time and talent to further help develop Croatia. The gathered Croatians were so appreciative of the President’s visit to this conference and her willingness to meet, greet and allow pictures to be taken with her at the meeting.

The Embassy’s Friday night’s reception featured entertainment by musician Nenad Bach, guitarist Dr. Miroslav Loncar and tambura star, Tom Vesolich. The ACAP celebration continued past 11:00 pm that night to put a little more icing on the ACAP cake.

Successful conferences do not happen at random and it was very impressive to see all the volunteers that made this event happen. The DC local Hrvatska Ura group and the Croatian Embassy staff are to be commended for all their wonderful organizing, preparation and dedicated work. It should be mentioned that National Croatian Fraternal Union President Ed Pazo and NFCA President Mijo Radocaj were there both days to show support and to network and were part of many dialogues about more cooperation and collaboration on many fronts.

This first ACAP conference has set in motion a new era for more global Croatian collaboration and proposed coordination and it’s up to our community to build on this opportunity. Please visit their web site at www.CroAmPro.com for more information.

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