Homer area residents and voters from other areas of the Kenai Peninsula got a two-for-one special Friday with an opportunity to listen to and ask questions of Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, and Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, during a town hall meeting held at Homer City Hall.
“Thank you to both men,” said Homer City Council member Francie Roberts in her introduction of the two legislators who represent areas of the central and southern peninsula.
Noting the $4.2 million funding Homer received in the capital budget for harbor improvements and the reapportionment of $2 million for a Skyline fire station and harbor building, Roberts added, “They have worked really hard for our community. The city of Homer extends a heartfelt welcome to both and thanks them for their service to Homer.”
Following Micciche and Seaton’s brief overview of the legislative session, the two fielded questions, the bulk of which centered on commercial fishing concerns about resource allocation.
“We’re very, very tired of getting beat up by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association,” said Wes Humberg, a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman since 1968. “And we’re getting no help from you people.”
Seaton, chair of the House Fisheries Committee, pointed out the support commercial fishing has received from the Legislature, but said it’s “a difficult issue, especially when you have a concerted effort by some people in the upper inlet to blame everything on Cook Inlet.”
“I think both myself and (Micciche) are working strongly to defend rational and reasonable participation by everybody and make sure it’s science-based,” said Seaton. “But not everybody has that same reaction. “
Commending Seaton and Micciche for their effort, Humberg asked, “Where do we go for help?
There’s a lot of people on the peninsula that depend on you for help and we’re going down the toilet. … We need to do something besides talk about it.”
Micciche used the Legislature’s rejection of Claude “Vince” Webster, a King Salmon commercial fisherman, for reappointment to the Board of Fisheries earlier this year as a case in point. Webster’s support and opposition were divided between rural and coastal legislators.
Micciche, who commercial fishes, said the answer lies in “talking to agency folks on a regular basis about what’s happening and educating other legislators. … You guys need to pool your resources and get down (to Juneau). You have UFA (United Fisherman of Alaska), but UFA has mixed interests. I think we need setnetters, drifters that speak well to come down and educate legislators.”
John McCombs, a Ninilchik fisherman, urged for a peninsula meeting of the Board of Fisheries and criticized the Matanuska-Susitna area for not protecting its fish-rearing habitat.
“They can’t hold us hostage for their own lack of stewardship,” said McCombs. “They’ve got a fishery and a situation where they want more fish, but they don’t want to do the enhancement or clean-up work. I think that’s their problem.”
Micciche pointed out the need for bringing fishing groups together, using a coastal caucus within the Legislature as an example.
When Rick Oldham, a 34-year Cook Inlet fisherman, said he has stopped supporting banks and other businesses that don’t support commercial fishing, Seaton urged him to go the next step and let others know what he is doing.
“You need to write to the board of the bank and let them know what’s happening, write letters to the editor so the rest of the public understands you’re taking action,” said Seaton.
Homer resident John Fenske asked the legislators about the effects of the passage of Senate Bill 21, a multibillion dollar oil tax cut that hangs its hopes on increased production.
“I saw in the newspaper this morning that the next budget session is looking at a $1.6 billion shortfall. What are we cutting? There must be some areas that you’re considering,” said Fenske.
Micciche said budget shortfalls already are happening “and they will continue to increase as revenue is decreased because of production declines. … We’re looking at a five-year plan for responsible spending limits for operating budget. We’ve grown our budgets at, in my view, an irresponsible rate. ... It’s going to take a little while.”
Seaton said the public should “be prepared. ... If we are looking at severe budget deficits where we take out of savings, we don’t generally fund many capital projects. ... We’re looking at tight times.”
After expressing appreciation to both Seaton and Micciche for their service in the Legislature, Frank Mullen of Homer focused on their support of SB 21 and the initiative process currently underway to give voters the option to reverse that decision.
“There’s a lot of people out here that don’t think it’s a very wise business decision to wind back the tax rates on some of the wealthiest oil companies on the planet,” said Mullen. “I picked up my petition today for SB 21 and I’ve got to tell you I was almost mobbed with people lining up 10 deep to sign this thing. Personally, as a businessman, I think that kind of giveaway was totally unnecessary. Both of you voted for it, so I think both of you should accept some responsibility for it.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.