Gov handles range of questions in online town hall

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell said repealing the state’s oil tax system would “kill” oil production.

 

During an online town hall Wednesday evening, he also said he personally opposes the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. But he said if a ballot initiative on that issue passes this year, the state would implement the regulations needed for the measure.

He also said he would support increased funding for public education — “whatever funding it’s going to take” — though he clarified in a later interview that that should be taken in the context of the current funding debate at the Capitol. The House, in its rewrite of the governor’s education bill, proposed a roughly $300 increase in the per-pupil funding formula known as the base student allocation over the next three years, plus $30 million in one-time funding. Senate Finance is currently working on its own version of the bill.

The Senate, in its version of the operating budget, proposed an additional $75 million toward education on top of the $25 million that was in the bill and $100 million for the following year, as a placeholder of sorts for discussions on education funding.

“I think we’re going to get to a place with the House and Senate where there’s new opportunities created and significant new funding this year,” he told The Associated Press.

The bill, HB278, contemplates increases in the base student allocation over three years, so it would not be just a “one-time shot,” he said.

Groups like the parent-supported Great Alaska Schools, Alaska Federation of Natives and NEA-Alaska, a major teachers’ union, have called for a bigger boost in the base student allocation than what the House included. Parnell himself had proposed a roughly $200 increase over three years, though he has said that was a starting point for discussion.

During the live streamed event, Parnell took a wide range of questions, generally submitted by email or social media, touching on topics like Medicaid expansion, a proposed Juneau access road and his favorite type of pizza. It’s meat pizza, by the way.

He said he will sign into law a bill, passed by the Legislature this week, further defining medically necessary abortions for purposes of Medicaid funding. He said it is a way to be accountable and responsible with public funds; he also said he was a “pro-life” governor. Critics of the bill say it puts government between a woman and her doctor and raises constitutional concerns. Regulations similar to the bill, adopted by the state health commissioner, are currently being challenged in court as unconstitutional.

On the issue of the oil tax referendum, scheduled for the August primary ballot, Parnell said the tax cut passed by lawmakers last year as SB21 is working. Parnell himself championed the tax cut, which critics consider a giveaway to industry with no guarantee for what the state will see in return.

“If you repeal SB21, you’re going to kill oil production. You’re going to kill the jobs of Alaskans currently,” he said. Companies are committing to billions of dollars in new investments, and there’s been a flurry of industry-related activity, he said.

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