1. What will be your top legislative priorities during the upcoming session?
Mike Chenault: Legislation to get an in-state gasline moving to provide a long term energy source to Alaskans;
Finding a way to increase oil flowing through TAPS that will benefit the state through increased revenues while at the same time making our tax regime competitive with other states and countries. This can be done without giving away the farm so to speak;
Legislation to conduct performance review audits of our state agencies to ensure they are operating efficiently and not wasting state funds; and
Ensure the legislature provides the quality of life Alaskans are accustomed to while at the same time not infringe on individual rights.
Kurt Olson: 1. At the top of the list will be resolution of the oil tax issue. How soon and to what degree we are able to accomplish that will depend on the makeup of the Senate.
2. Monetizing our North Slope gas is also important. Getting that gas to Cook Inlet for both in-state use, value added products, and export as LNG to Asia will revitalize Alaska and provide long-term and high salary jobs.
3. Finding a solution to fish allocation. This may be as complicated as the oil tax issue.
4. Control the runaway budget. Most people agree it is not sustainable.
5. Put in place an infrastructure that will allow us to develop our mineral resources without sacrificing the environment in the process. This would include improvements to our transportation systems, streamlining our permitting processes and making Alaska a more efficient place to do business.
6. Find a long term solution to our budget process.
Peter Micciche: My foremost priority is to help create a Senate that can learn to work more effectively together as a body of 20, ensuring that all Alaskans are well-represented by a team open to creative solutions.
Specific priorities include:
■ Fiscally responsible, flat operating/capital budgets with no increases in either budget from the last fiscal year.
■ Development of an in-state gas pipeline to the Cook Inlet grid to provide clean, natural gas energy for the majority of Alaskans.
■ Development of a long-term, state-wide energy plan to match the needs of Alaskans to the most efficient energy sources in each particular region.
■ Solutions for unfunded PERS/TERS liability to protect our children and grandchildren from significant future debt.
■ Improvements to ACES to ensure sustainable future revenue for all Alaskans.
■ Effectively and efficiently educating our young people to prepare them for the future.
■ Public safety and improved Peninsula roads.
2. Should the Legislature revisit Coastal Zone Management?
Chenault: No, I believe the voters of this state have made it clear they do not want to continue the program. The House passed a bill 40-0 two years ago that would have allowed continuation of Coastal Zone Management. We agreed with the Senate on 5 changes they wanted to incorporate into the bill but the Senate insisted on more changes with which the House disagreed. The additional changes they offered would have been detrimental to resource development and supersede state authority.
Olson: No. It died in the Legislature after a simple extension of the old program failed to gain support in the Senate. It died on the ballot and was rejected by 75% by the voters in District 29.
Micciche: As I discussed during the primary, I did not support Proposition 2. In my opinion, the initiative left many unanswered questions and didn’t adequately quantify the expected cost of implementation. I am clearly not a supporter of unnecessary, burdensome regulations that do not deliver clear value in the protection of Alaska’s natural resources.
However, it is imperative that we understand the impacts of the absence of an active plan, prioritize significant critical impacts and determine which should be placed into either an earlier, simplified version of CZM or another form of minimal regulation.
The lack of leadership and time management skills that allowed the plan to simply expire only reinforces the public’s lack of confidence in the commitment of their elected representatives for the people of Alaska. Essentially, I support working toward an acceptable solution to Coastal Zone Management that represents the conservative will of the people of District O.
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?
Chenault: The Legislature is going to have to review impacts on programs and communities and decide whether or not the program or funding provides an essential state service. Too many times in the past, we have received federal funds for specific needs and programs, only to watch the funding dry up leaving the state with having to increase its budget to cover the costs that were once paid for by the federal program. We are going to have to be more judicious on how we are going to assess additional spending.
Olson: For several years we have noticed that much of the federal funding has come with strings attached. The funding may be available for one year or two years and at that point either partial or total responsibility falls to the State of Alaska. This includes social programs, state-wide communication systems, and medical insurance plans. The Administration, Legislature and State agencies need to determine the long-term fiscal responsibility Alaska may assume before accepting the initial Federal funding.
Micciche: I believe that the philosophy of highest intrinsic value for elected officials should be the positive legacy left for our children through carefully considered and responsible legislation. Most Alaskans understand that our federal and state spending addiction has irresponsibly challenged the economic well-being and quality-of-life of future generations.
I observe a simple financial philosophy at home, in business and in government. I categorize spending into two categories: what we need to provide essential services, and what we want. Considering the essential relationship between revenue and expense, as well as considerations for a proportion being secured in savings for a “rainy day,” we must live within our means by first satisfying the essential needs of Alaskans. Left over revenue should satisfy minimal savings objectives, and finally, remaining revenue invested for prioritized “wants.” Other than in the case of clearly-specified bond issues, debt should never be employed as a governmental funding mechanism.
Can members of the Legislature work together to pass meaningful legislation during the upcoming session?
Chenault: Yes we can. The House Majority has worked with the House Democrats to pass meaningful pieces of legislation. However when those bills were sent to the Senate, they were either not taken up or addressed. The Senate Bipartisan group was immobilized by its own membership and could not bring major legislation to their floor. I believe that if the Senate becomes a Republican led group, both bodies can address major issues while working with the Democrats to address their concerns and district needs.
Olson: I am optimistic, but that really cannot be answered until after Tuesday, November 6th.
Micciche: A fundamental element necessary for our form of government to function requires electing leaders willing to work together effectively. In the business world, those that refuse to play nicely with others rarely succeed. Elected officials must operate under similar expectations.
I chose to accept the challenge to run for statewide office primarily due to the frustration I share with many Alaskans. Party politics have replaced progress and meeting the responsibilities of elected office with barriers presented by personal differences. Alaska’s constituents must let their voices be heard to clarify that those unwilling to put aside petty political differences for the good of those they represent will be replaced.
I look forward to working with the other 19 Senators that have been entrusted to represent their respective districts and I plan to use our differences to find the most effective solutions to get our great state moving in the right direction.