An engaged Alaskan democracy

Public debate of Ballot Measure 2 will help Alaskans weigh marijuana legalization

Peg Tileston, August 3, 2014, Commentary in the Alaska Dispatch News

OPINION: Ballot Measure 2 centers on a public policy issue that creates interest, emotion, and confusion, and a free public discussion can help voters consider their choice in November. Should Alaska become the third state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana

The marijuana legalization initiative, Ballot Measure 2, “An act to Tax and Regulate the Production, Sale, and Use of Marijuana,” will be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. This ballot measure centers on a public policy issue that creates interest, emotion and confusion. If passed, Alaska will be the third state to legalize the production, sale and use of marijuana.

What is the initiative really about? The proposed act is lengthy — eight pages long, consisting of three sections, which would add 17 new statutes and a severability clause to Alaska law. It would make the use of marijuana legal for persons 21 years of age or older. The bill would allow a person to possess, use, buy and grow set amounts of marijuana but would ban public use of marijuana. The bill would make the manufacture, sale and possession of marijuana accessories legal. It would create marijuana establishments including marijuana retail stores, marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana infused product manufacturers and marijuana testing facilities. The bill would allow localities to ban marijuana establishments but would not prohibit private possession and home cultivation. The bill would require regulations and provide for regulatory oversight, and would establish an excise tax of $50 per ounce on the sale or transfer of marijuana from a cultivation facility to a retail store or marijuana product manufacturing facility.

What might be the effects if Ballot Measure 2 passed? What might be the outcome if the measure fails?

The marijuana legalization initiative is a multifaceted issue. Some questions include:

• What might be the effects of legalizing marijuana on youth and rural Alaskans?
• Will marijuana legalization improve life and economic opportunities for Alaskans?
• What are the costs to develop regulations and administer the program, and costs to law enforcement?
• What are the estimated tax revenues?
• What is the experience of legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington?
• Should we wait to see how it goes in Colorado, Washington and perhaps other states before Alaska legalizes marijuana?

Alaska Common Ground is hosting a free public forum on the marijuana legalization initiative. The forum will present a balanced panel with experts discussing the pros and cons of the initiative. There will be ample opportunity for the public to ask questions of the experts. Veteran Alaska broadcaster Steve MacDonald will moderate the forum.

Panelists supporting the initiative will be Bill Parker, a sponsor of the initiative, a former legislator and a former deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections. He will be joined by Taylor Bickford, a spokesman for the organization “Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska.”

Panelists opposing the initiative will be Deborah Williams and Kristina Woolston, both with the organization “Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2.”

Overdue pay boost or job killer?

Alaska Dispatch News, July 27, 2014

OPINION: How can voters weigh competing claims about the initiative to change Alaska’s minimum wage that will appear on the November ballot? They can listen and ask questions of two experts who will share different perspectives.

In the Nov. 4 general election, Alaskans will vote “Yes” or “No” on Ballot Measure 3. That’s an initiative to raise Alaska’s minimum wage (set at $7.75 since 2010) to $8.75 on Jan. 1, 2015, and to $9.75 on Jan. 1, 2016. Thereafter, the minimum wage would be adjusted yearly for inflation. In any case, it would stay at least $1 above the federal minimum wage.

Data and studies on the impacts of Alaska’s existing minimum wage law are scarce. The federal minimum wage, however, has been well studied. So have the possible effects of a proposed rise in the federal minimum wage. As you might guess, there are dueling facts and findings. Still, the federal studies suggest some points for Alaska voters to consider.

But first, a few big-picture facts may help frame the issues. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, record-keeper for the nation’s income statistics, reports that by 2012, post-recession corporate profits had reached an all-time high as a share of total national income. At the same time, the share of wages and salaries had dropped to an all-time low. Profits are up. Wages and salaries are down. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau finds income inequality has grown much more extreme since 1980. Perhaps these broad trends are why minimum wage laws are now a live issue for Alaska and several other states and cities.

The Economic Policy Institute, a think-tank, estimated a proposed federal minimum wage increase to $10.10 by mid-2016 would affect 44,000 employees in Alaska. That’s about 15 percent of Alaska’s workforce. Alaska’s smaller proposed increase would likely affect fewer workers.

A recent study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office supplies findings for both sides. The CBO estimated the proposed federal increase would lift 900,000 persons above the poverty level. The CBO also estimated that 500,000 employees would lose their jobs.

Generally, pro-labor groups and liberal economists favor minimum wage laws. Pro-business groups and conservative economists oppose them. Oddly, both advocates and opponents center their arguments on the impacts on minimum wage workers.

Advocates can point to studies that find minimum wage laws raise incomes for minimum wage and other low-wage workers, with few or no job losses. Advocates also say putting more money in low-income pocketbooks boosts consumer spending and creates new jobs. And better incomes reduce dependency on public income assistance programs.

Opponents counter that higher wages mean higher prices, lost sales, squeezed profits, and, soon, lost jobs. Some opponents also say such laws penalize minimum wage workers in other ways, such as loss of earned income tax credits, higher payroll taxes and reduced eligibility for food stamps and housing and health care subsidies. Additionally, minimum wage laws are ineffective because much of the gain goes to families already above the poverty line.

Alaska Common Ground is co-sponsoring a forum on the minimum wage initiative at the Wilda Marston Theatre in Anchorage’s Loussac Library from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. July 30. Ed Flanagan, who supports a “Yes” vote, is former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and an initiative sponsor and chair of Alaskans for a Fair Minimum Wage. Dr. Kyle Hampton, who opposes the initiative, is assistant professor of economics at the University of Alaska Anchorage and director of its Center for Economic Education. Audience members will have plenty of time to put questions to the speakers.

The event is free and open to the public. The League of Women Voters of Anchorage, the League of Women Voters of Alaska, the Anchorage Public Library and Alaska Integrated Media are co-sponsors.

Kevin Waring is a board member of Alaska Common Ground, a membership-supported, nonprofit, nonpartisan tax-deductible organization that focuses on fostering understanding and dialogue about Alaska’s public policy issues.

Read the piece in the Alaska Dispatch.

Annual Meeting Report from the Chair

Mary Lu Harle
May 3, 2014

We welcome both longtime members and new members to our 2014 Annual Meeting!

Over the past year, Alaska Common Ground has been working to energize our organization. We have updated our website,, to improve the overall look and the calendar functions, as well as update our content. We continue to add information on topics of interest to our members and upcoming events. We also have a Facebook page, and are steadily increasing our followers. Please join them by “liking” our page.

During the winter, we held several board sessions devoted to focusing on ways to improve the events and forums we sponsor and to enhance our visibility and membership. We are currently in the midst of a membership campaign to gain new members. Today we are voting on proposed updates to our by-laws and to add two new board members. Finally we are planning four forums for the summer and another major forum in October. Over the past year, we co-sponsored an event with the Alaska World Affairs Council – “I can see Russia from Here: the 25th Anniversary of the Friendship Flight” with panelists Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, former Governor Steve Cowper and Willie Hensley. We also co-sponsored the Robert Reich film “Inequality for All” with Let’s Talk Anchorage. The Bear Tooth Theater was filled for two evenings that resulted in a great deal of interest and discussion on the film.

Alaska Common Ground continues to support and co-sponsor Let’s Talk Anchorage, which has held a successful series of discussions. Bill Hall, who leads Let’s Talk Anchorage, is leaving the board, but Alaska Common Ground will continue our support and co-sponsorship of this program. It is a great opportunity for citizens to discuss and deliberate issues of the day. All these events can be found on our calendar.

We are pleased to present our program today – an overview of the initiative and referendum processes and an overview of the three initiatives and one referendum that will be on the ballots this year. This panel is a prelude to our Summer Ballot Measure Series, to be held on Wednesdays from 7:00 to 9:00 pm in the Wilda Marston Theater at the Loussac Library. July 23 – Oil Tax Referendum (SB 21 Repeal) July 30 – Minimum Wage Initiative August 6 – Marijuana Legalization Initiative August 13 – Bristol Bay Forever Initiative On Saturday, October 4, we will present a major all day forum on Alaska’s Fiscal Future, also held at the Wilda Marston Theater at the Loussac Library. We look forward to seeing you at these forums! If you would like to help with planning these events, let us know! We’ll keep you informed as we move forward on them.

Longtime board member Bill Hall is leaving the board, and we thank him for his work on the board and his leadership of Let’s Talk Anchorage. Leonard Lawson resigned from the board earlier this year due to health reasons and we send him our best wishes. We want to thank Alaska Common Ground members who have helped this past year. They have played an important part in our activities. Jenifer Kohout – Program Committee

  • Susan Klein – Website Committee
  • Karen Hunt – Let’s Talk Anchorage Steering Committee
  • Mia Oxley – Let’s Talk Anchorage Steering Committee
  • Dick LaFever – Let’s Talk Anchorage Steering Committee
  • Bill Falsey – Event planning
  • Taylor Brelsford – Annual meeting panelist and event planning
  • Harry Crawford – Annual meeting panelist

Our great thanks go to the Stoel-Rives Law Firm for generously allowing ACG to use their conference room, their telephone and refreshments for our board meetings. Our thanks also go to the Anchorage Public Libraries for co-sponsoring our upcoming forums and providing the venue for them. We offer a big cheer and thank you to our staff support, Kari Gardey. She takes care of ACG work, keeps us on track, and makes us look good! Finally we thank you, our members, for your continued support. You are the heart of Alaska Common Ground! We hope you will visit our webpage ( and our Facebook page and stay in touch with us!

Are you concerned about democracy in Alaska today?

Do you believe that Alaskans have many great ideas worth sharing? Are you concerned about our current polarized city and state governments? Is respectful dialogue and exchanging of ideas a better way to solve problems?

If you believe these things, Alaska Common Ground invites you to join us!

Alaska Common Ground was founded in 1991 by committed Alaskans seeking an engaged Alaskan democracy. The founders included Esther Wunnicke, Wilda Hudson, and Peg Tileston. Over the years we have addressed many issues such as state fiscal management, cost-effective justice, ballot propositions, and re-districting.

We invite you to join us and support this work. Become a member!

At Alaska Common Ground we work to build better understanding of important public policy issues facing Alaska through:

• Public forums and debates on policy issues of concern to Alaskans
• Group dialogues on issues of community interest
• Reports, recommendations, and media presentations

This summer we will focus on the three ballot initiatives and one referendum that will be on the August primary ballot. Our annual meeting at the Mountain View Library on May 3 will provide an overview of each initiative and referendum on the August 19 ballot. We will hold longer forums in the Marston Theatre in the Loussac Library on each of these ballot measures on four consecutive Wednesdays – July 23, 30, August 6 and 13 – all from 7 to 9 p.m.

Mark your calendars and join these discussions!

We also co-sponsor weekly Let’s Talk Anchorage dialogues on topics of community interest with the Anchorage Public Library. These discussions are held each Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. in the Ann Stevens Room at the Loussac. Come join the discussion!

We invite you to become a member of Alaska Common Ground to learn about, discuss, and deliberate on important issues that Alaskans are talking about!

Let’s make Alaska an informed, engaged democracy!


Alaska Common Ground’s Board Of Directors

October 2013

As we transition from one season to the next in Alaska, so too we are experiencing transitions in Alaska Common Ground. After many years as Chair of the Board of Directors, Peg Tileston has stepped down.  Happily however, she continues on the board and has assumed leadership of the Program Committee to direct the development and planning of Alaska Common Ground’s events. I am endeavoring to fill her big shoes as the current chair. As we move forward, we are looking to our membership for your continued support of our vision and our programs.

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