By Dave Donaldson
Ethan Berkowitz wants to give Alaskans a chance to buy a share in the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline. The Democratic nominee today presented the first part of what he says will be a series of ideas involving energy he wants to bring into the gubernatorial campaign.
Berkowitz proposed a voluntary check-off from Permanent Fund dividend applications that would give the public a chance to purchase shares in a quasi-governmental corporation that could end up owning between ten and twenty percent of the project – depending on the number of people taking part in the plan and the final cost of the pipeline. He said those who chose to make the investment would share in the profits.
Our hope is by starting now, by allowing individual Alaskans to own a piece of the pipe, we’ll encourage Alaska businesses and Alaska native corporations to participate in the ownership, construction, and maintenance of a great Alaska pipeline.
The voluntary Permanent Fund check off would have to be approved by the legislature – just as the voluntary College Savings Plan and the Pick-Click-Give program for charitable contributions now have statutory approval.
Berkowitz says the proposal springs from Congressional approval of private Alaska investment that was included in the 2004 federal Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline Act setting up guidelines for the development of the project. He points out that no state administration has picked up on the idea that was approved by then-Senator Ted Stevens, Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young.
If we take advantage of this opportunity, we’ve got a greater chance of making a pipeline become real. So, that’s why we want to have this happen. I believe that if Alaskans have a chance to own a piece of the pipe, we’ve got a greater likelihood of seeing a pipe come true.
Diane Benson, who’s on the Democratic ticket as the Lieutenant Governor candidate, says she would have been excited to have had an opportunity like this when she was a young mother of limited means.
Probably our biggest complaint in this state is we don’t feel we have any control over our own lives. And this is one way of garnering some control and being able to invest in our own future as a state – as a people. So I’m very excited about this.
Berkowitz says as much of the risk as possible would be removed to protect the investments from loss. All the purchases would be held in escrow until the project is actually underway and funding is called for. It also would have no impact on the Permanent Fund itself, since the money would have already been designated as dividends.
He also says the stock purchase would be project-neutral – it would go into place whatever route the gas line would take. If no pipeline is built, he says the money would be returned from the escrow account.
TAG: After we went on the air with the story, Governor Parnell’s campaign issued the following statement with no further explanation: Michelle Toohey, campaign manager said, “There are a lot of unanswered questions about this proposal – not the least of which is whether or not Alaskans should start over, spend billions, and go into debt for billions more instead of letting the free market continue to work. A project is already moving forward with private sector companies bidding their gas into a pipeline for the first time in state history. As to whether or not Alaskans should own a portion of the pipeline – that’s certainly an option and has been discussed in the past. Alaskans need actions, not words, and actions are what they get from Governor Parnell.”