Rep. Alan Austerman and Sen. Gary Stevens have each been racking up airline miles by attending conferences and meetings in Alaska and Outside.
Stevens begins a tour of Norway with nine other legislators this weekend, part of a policy tour he said is important to stay educated on strategies for managing oil and gas wealth.
“The goal is to find out why Norway is so successful,” Stevens said.
He pointed to Norway’s Government Pension Fund, its equivalent to the Alaska Permanent Fund, which contains more than $570 billion, as compared to the permanent fund’s $37 billion.
“They seem to have made some really successful decisions,” Stevens said.
He also said Norway’s investments in hydroelectric power, geothermal electricity and its Alaska-like climate make it a potential role model for the state.
While Stevens understands that some of Norway’s actions can’t be mirrored in Alaska, such as its state-owned oil company, “It’s a really great example of what can be done,” he said.
Later this summer, Stevens said he plans to be a part of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee’s hearings on North Slope hire issues.
Stevens said the hearings are an outgrowth of the debate about oil taxes that emerged in the last legislative session. Gov. Sean Parnell claimed Alaska’s oil taxes were forcing companies to hire less.
“As we looked into it, our Department of Labor found we’re hiring as many people as we ever have,” he said. “What is the truth?”
Also on his agenda is an energy council meeting in Anchorage where legislators will learn about the latest developments in hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” a process by which oil is forced from tight layers underground by pumping liquid into those layers.
“Is that something we want to do?” Stevens asked.
According to figures from the state’s Legislative Affairs Agency and first reported in the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska lawmakers spent a combined total of more than $710,000 on travel in state and Outside during 2010. Stevens and Lyman Hoffman of Bethel claimed the most of any legislators, with each reporting more than $44,500 in expenses.
Stevens said the cost is worthwhile.
“Any time we can make folks have a better understanding of what they’re voting on,” he said. “I don’t think a little education ever hurt anyone.”
Austerman returned this week from Hawaii, where he was attending a Council of State Governments-West conference.
Austerman said two conference sessions he found particularly valuable were those dealing with ways to create paperless government and ways legislators can “deal with irrational discussions versus rational discussions,” he said. “That was a good learning session.”
Austerman said from what he learned at the conference, more states are turning to electronic record keeping as a way to save money as they tighten their budgets. Nevada, which has been among those hardest hit by the Great Recession, is a leader in the sector, he said.
“We in the Alaska Legislature have been pushing our IT people for ways to go paperless on the floor,” he said. But there are “some inherent problems with that,” he added.
Security is a concern, as is access, Austerman said.
“I made another trip to Notre Dame (University), where we went through more of the technology issues,” he said.
That trip included discussions about private companies hosting confidential files on the Internet and the associated problems.
“I’m not totally convinced that we’re ready to go into the cloud with all of our IT stuff and turn it over to the private sector,” he said.
Later this summer, Austerman is scheduled to attend the Marine Fisheries Expo in Seattle to stay informed on fisheries issues affecting Kodiak, and he will be at several meetings in Anchorage as part of his majority position in the Legislature.
In early September, Austerman is scheduled to attend a meeting of the Alaska House Fisheries Committee, which will address halibut issues including bycatch and potential new limits on charter anglers.
Looking ahead, Austerman senses that energy issues will again dominate the upcoming session of the Alaska Legislature.
“I think the gas pipeline’s going to be the major one that we’re going to have to deal with,” he said.
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at email@example.com.