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Alaska Editorials

4/7/2014 10:30 AM
By Associated Press

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

April 6, 2014

Juneau Empire: Alaska needs rational liquor laws, not bumbling bureaucracy

In Haines, Sean Copeland and Heather Shade have a promising new business. This summer, they'll open their doors to the cruise tourists who pour like rain into Haines and Skagway.

There's only one small problem — under Alaska law, they're legally prohibited from selling their product to anyone who walks through their doors.

That isn't right.

Copeland and Shade are the owners of Port Chilkoot Distillery, one of five liquor distilleries in Alaska. Unlike the state's breweries and wineries, distilleries cannot offer tastings, and they can't sell their product over the counter. They can only sell to a middleman who distributes it to liquor stores, bars and restaurants.

On Wednesday, the labor and commerce committee of the Alaska House approved HB309, which would fix that problem.

The bill creates a "craft distillery" liquor license that permits distillery tours, allows over-the-counter sales and lets visitors try up to 3 ounces of liquor.

While time is running out on this session, there's still time for the legislature to act and help these small businesses. Distilleries shouldn't be held to a different standard than the state's wineries and breweries.

Alcohol abuse is a valid concern in Alaska, but our distilleries aren't mass-producing $8 bottles of R&R whiskey. They're making $45 bottles of salmon-flavored vodka in small batches. The abuse of a product by a misguided few is no reason to restrict access for the law-abiding whole.

While the state seems intent on rationalizing its liquor laws, the federal government is going in the opposite direction. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration announced it will prohibit Alaska's brewers from giving their spent grain to farmers unless those brewers invest in costly drying equipment.

Since the dawn of brewing in Alaska, the state's small brewers have given their used grain — left over after the brewing process — to local farmers, who feed animals with it. These arrangements, usually built on a handshake, have benefited both sides.

The grain stays out of local landfills and farmers have to buy less feed.

Naturally, such a process is too simple for the FDA, which says it's unsafe for animals. They want the grain dried and tested before the giveaway.

Nevermind the fact that no animal has ever been sickened by spent grain, nevermind the fact that most brewers can't afford drying equipment.

The FDA's actions in this scenario are misguided. If implemented, the new rules will mean more waste, not less, as brewers simply throw their spent grain away.

The state of Alaska seems to be moving toward rational rules for alcohol production. Let's see if the federal government can follow Alaska's example.

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April 3, 2014

Juneau Empire: Pay now, not later

Posted: April 3, 2014 - 12:28am

Using a quarter of your savings to pay down an ever-growing debt makes sense, but it's hard not to pause when you're paying $3 billion.

That's the plan Gov. Sean Parnell has put forward to address the state's growing unfunded liability to the public employees' and teachers retirement systems, better known as PERS and TRS. The rationale behind the move is that by injecting $3 billion from state reserves now, future payments will be smaller and easier to manage without breaking the piggy bank. The money will go into a trust fund account so the interest along with starting balance would pay off benefits owed by 2037.

Considering the alternatives on the table, the governor's proposal makes the most fiscal sense. Without it, the state will pay billions more over the next few decades as annual contributions continue to climb. Alaska's contribution for this year is expected to be nearly $1 billion, according to a February report by Buck Consultants.

The retirement system has been compared by some to mortgage payments, and the governor wants to use state reserves as a lump-sum down payment. The big winners in this scenario are the employers, namely municipalities, who contribute to the retirement systems. With that said, everyone who benefits from local government — all of us — wins. Without the cash injection, municipalities will see their payments balloon out of control during a time when municipal budgets, including school funding, are being slashed.

Using a quarter of the state's savings may put some on edge, but it's the only way to ensure the payments don't bankrupt municipalities in decades to come.

Some have argued that with oil production steadily declining and the state cutting back on spending, now isn't the time to pilfer reserve funds — Alaska may need that money in the future. We believe the state needs to pursue this option to pay down its unfunded liability while it still has options on the table. Kicking the can down the road for someone else to deal with is irresponsible and places the burden on future generations.

Alaska can afford putting $3 billion toward resolving this issue. What it can't afford is to do nothing.

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4/16/2014 | Last Updated: 3:30 PM