Thursday, September 08, 2016

"Replumbing Permanent Fund doesn't create more water" or Nerd Nite Alaska Budget AND Facial v Verbal Portrait

I went to the Nerd Nite beer and budget meeting last night.  Before I get into that I'd like to offer you a 'how you know' things test.  Regular readers know I'm fascinated by how people come to 'know' things - like what's true, how the world works, how we draw conclusions about people, etc.  All the kinds of things that underlie everything we know and how we act on things.  If everyone were self-aware of all these things would, society would be radically different.  And as we watch this event known as a presidential election, it's clear that all of these things impact what voters take from media coverage, images, words, etc.

So let's do an experiment

I want you to look at the verbal portrait I've made of someone.  And as you read it, I want you to be aware of the images you have of this person.  I don't want you to work at imagining the person.  Rather I want the image(s) that your unconscious creates.  What do you see?  Is it one image?  Does it change as you read more?  At the end is there an image of this person - a face?  a stature?  a voice?
Again, don't think, just capture the image that your brain generates on its own.

Got your image?  OK.  Stash it away until later in the post.

The 49th State Brewing Company is in the old Snow Goose building, which was the Elks Club built in 1918.  (The chandelier in this room is adorned, still, with elk antlers.)   This was an evening of state budget policy with three speakers who have been intimately involved in the topics they took on.

You can see that the room was packed.  Probably 400 or more people to hear about:
  1. the origins of the Permanent Fund Dividend (Cliff Groh)
  2. the trade offs between cutting the budget and raising revenue (including dipping into the Permanent Fund, various taxes, and oil taxes and subsidies) (Larry Persily)
  3. how the oil subsidies work (Dan Dickinson)
There was beer and snacks for sale as a standing room only crowd hung around for two plus hours of policy.  It was a mix of ages, but I would guess most were under 40 which is a different demographic than I've seen at talks on similar topics in Anchorage in the past.  Having beer instead of coffee probably helped.

Groh went back to the debates between the Hickel view (the owner state) and the Hammond view (the people as individuals having a share in the state's wealth) and other reasons for and against having the dividend.  Groh's position was more as a reporter than an advocate.

Persily didn't pretend to be neutral as he discussed the income options open to the state because cutting the budget alone simply won't balance the budget.  He favored taking a part of Permanent Fund earnings (cutting into the dividend), income taxes, changing the oil subsidies.  When an audience member pointed out that cutting the dividend was the most regressive option, Persily didn't disagree, but said including an income tax would balance this by getting the most from those with the largest earnings.  

After each speaker, there was a five minute beer break, so instead of leaving before the third speaker, the audience was fairly mellow.  

Dickinson discussed how the oil and gas credits worked.  Some are related to production, some are intended as incentives to investment in exploration.  They can give companies a huge return - combining can lead to a maximum of 85% return on investment.  But the graphs he had of revenue show a steady decline since these credits have gone into place.  But he pointed out, in response to a question about why we keep funding companies that go bankrupt instead of producing, that usually a new company takes over what the last company did and they keep production going.  He also pointed out that now when companies submit for their credits, instead of taking the money themselves, they often assign it to the financial institutions that gave them their initial loans.  

A key bit of information I learned was that the law doesn't actually guarantee the state will pay the credits.  There's a clause that says something like "if the legislature appropriates funds."  So, he said, if the state didn't pay the credits because there was no money allocated for them, the state wouldn't be violating any laws.  And, in fact, he said by the end of the year forecasters predicted companies would be submitting for about $1 billion in credits.  The legislature allocated about $460 million (not exactly certain of the number) and the governor vetoed all but $30 million of that.  

All three of the speakers, as I said, worked for the state on the issues they discussed.  They knew their stuff cold and their presentations were lively and interesting.  A good way to get this stuff.

Now, back to the verbal image above.  Which of the images below comes closest to the image your head conjured up?

Image Source
Image Source
Image Source

Be honest with yourself.  Which is closest to your image?

What's the point of all this?  When I got home and looked at the picture I had taken, I realized the visual just didn't convey the depth of work and experience I had learned this person had.  It made me realize how much I still - despite my efforts not to - make assumptions about people based on what they look like.  Despite my admonition to myself to treat people I meet as though they will be the president of the US in 15 or 20 years, but no one knows it yet.  Or as though they have won a Nobel Prize or in some other way are highly distinguished and interesting.

For non-Alaskans and for non-political Alaskans, these are the six certified candidates listed in the US Senate race today at the Alaska Division of Elections.  #1 is Joe Miller who recently replaced the Libertarian candidate who withdrew.  #2 is Breck Craig.  #3 is Margaret Stock.  #4 is Lisa Murkowski.  #5 is Ted Gianoutsos.  #6 is Ray Metcalfe.  The one whose bio is briefly summarized in the top image is #3 Margaret Stock.  The info comes from her campaign website.  I met her for the first time last night at Nerd Nite.

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