1. What will be your top legislative priorities during the upcoming session?
Liz Diament: My top legislative priorities for the upcoming session are to insure sustainable fisheries, help Alaskans get access to affordable health care and improve economic conditions in our state. I will work to make sure the Pebble Mine is not developed and that bycatch limits are lowered to preserve our fisheries. I will re-introduce legislation to create protection of wild salmon production in drainages affecting the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve. This will raise the bar on any future development in this region. As a legislator, I will push for a comprehensive evaluation of the permitting process surrounding the Pebble initiative. I will advance legislation to insure Alaskans get the best possible value from federal dollars being spent on health care. Our Medicaid program should cover women’s health and I will make sure it does. The legislature can advance the economy of the Kenai Peninsula by promoting investment in alternative energy, biotechnology and other business incubators in our region.
Paul Seaton: Lowering costs and securing stable energy for Alaska residents, businesses and communities is a continuing process of extreme importance to me. This includes natural gas supplies, conservation, and expansion of renewable energy. Controlling the budget while providing for local infrastructure needs is always important but it will be especially important to continue a course that keeps us out of any system built on deficit spending or withdrawals from our savings accounts. We need to increase production going through the TransAlaska Pipeline and remove obstacles to shale oil production which the first company drilling those prospects estimates could produce 100,000 additional barrels per day within 5 years. We need to have hearings on the King Salmon returns to examine if management philosophy or failures contribute to the economic disruption of the Kenai Peninsula economy. I will continue to promote good health among Alaskans by focusing on systems for prevention of disease.
2. Should the Legislature revisit Coastal Zone Management?
Diament: Yes. The State of Alaska has given up its voice in the management of our resources by allowing the Federal Government to manage our coastal zone. I believe in State’s rights to self-regulation. By giving up our voice in coastal management, we are one step closer to further Federal intervention in our state. While the people of Alaska voted against a Coastal Zone Management ballot initiative in August, I am optimistic that a solution can be reached this next session. I believe we can achieve a goal of having state input into coastal zone management without unnecessary bureaucracy and I will work with my fellow legislators in both parties to accomplish this.
Seaton: The Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP) became a very contentious issue in the last two years of the legislature because the program, as modified in 2003, was unworkable for coastal communities. Almost no local plans addressing meaningful concerns would be approved and the process became so complex that most local districts needed to hire contractors to navigate the system. Industry has indicated that they support a new program ONLY if does not allow local districts meaningful decision making. The voters disapproved an initiative based on the pre-2003 model. I do not believe that the legislature has a path forward that will provide function for coastal communities and meets industry ‘must haves.’ Neither group of Alaskans currently sees the lack of the weak ACMP as significant detriment, so the legislature should probably wait until there is an agreed upon need before reopening this contentious issue.
3. Between potential budget cuts and changes in policy, Alaska is likely to see changes in federal funding in the near future. What can the Legislature do to address the potential impacts?
Diament: We have been the recipients of tremendous resources from the Federal funding for a long time. I recognize federal resources are not now as plentiful for Alaska. I will continue to advocate for the federal resources we need to build our state infrastructure. I will also work at the state level to address the impacts of decreased funding. While the legislature cannot make up the shortfall of the declining federal dollars, it can work to make wise decisions in programs being cut. Specifically, I will work to make state investments in projects that will make our state more economically viable. These projects will include results that can lower the cost of living in Alaska like the development of alternative energy and increased production of food right here in our backyard. I will also work with the beneficiaries of federal funds to help fill the declining revenue streams through other means like foundation funding and investment in programs formerly funded by the Federal Government.
Seaton: The legislature will need to carefully consider the necessity to Alaskans of programs that receive reduced federal funding. Some may be provided through alternatives that are more clearly aligned to Alaska than a countrywide model and some may be eliminated. We must continue to be very cautious of backfilling programs. If a program is deemed critical to Alaska, we may be able to provide it more efficiently and at lower cost without the federal process requirements. Individual Alaskans and communities will need to be selective in their support for programs and the legislature should solicit ranking such proposed expenditures with the local proposed priorities.
4. Can members of the Legislature work together to pass meaningful legislation during the upcoming session?
Diament: Undoubtedly Yes. One of the biggest reasons I am running for state office is because I think that people with a common sense perspective are missing in the halls of Juneau. People with common sense don’t dismiss ideas because they come from one political perspective or the other. I will work with legislators from both sides of the aisle. We in Alaska have benefited greatly from leadership that worked across ideological divides and I intend to follow in the tradition of people like Ted Stevens who promoted this type of thinking. Alaska is currently infested with leaders who seem to think the ‘other side’ is the enemy. I will work to do away with that type of thinking.
Seaton: I believe members of the legislature can work together to pass meaningful legislation. However, that legislation must be seen by a broad spectrum of Alaskans as the right policy. We must be willing to consider multiple mechanisms for accomplishing the goal that will result in the fewest negative consequences. That is our committee process and we rely on participation by Alaskans. I send a weekly email newsletter during session of the issues each committee will consider during the next week to get your ideas — be sure to sign up.
If the term “meaningful legislation” is construed to equal “meaningful tax reduction” on North Slope oil, much will depend on the questions being asked. Will tax reduction be tied to increased production? Will the proposal lead to elimination of municipal/community revenue sharing? Will the tax proposal lead to deficit spending and depletion of the State savings accounts?