A new year, a new millennium, a new menu and a new venue greeted members of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce as they met at the Old Town Village Restaurant in Kenai Wednesday.
The regular weekly luncheon moved from Paradisos restaurant, where it was held for two years.
The first speaker of the new year was Robert Shoaf, chair of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce and a vice president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. in Anchorage.
The state chamber is comprised of 38 local chambers of commerce and 3,700 businesses and individuals around the state, he said.
Shoaf talked to the chamber crowd about the state organization's goals and purpose.
"They include trying to ensure the government does not interfere with private enterprise, and we believe the state needs a long-term fiscal plan," he said. "We also support education on all levels, to provide a quality work force."
He also said sustainable natural resource development, increased tourism and national defense are other chamber priorities.
For the legislative session that begins on Monday, Shoaf said the chamber's membership submitted a list of priorities, which were whittled down to 26.
"Then we picked five to focus on with the Legislature," he said.
They include some items similar to the organization's goals, such as a fiscal plan.
"The oil (price) drop reminds us that we just got a break," Shoaf said. "But we can't bank on it. It's as critical as ever to balance the budget.
"It's the members' view that we tackle the issue now."
He also said privatization of nonessential government services should be addressed this session.
"The Privatization Committee suggested several hundred ways to privatize, but last year the Legislature took no action," he said.
Shoaf said the chamber also wants the state to work with industry on trying to get the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge open for oil and gas exploration, and to get involved with selecting a route for the proposed North Slope natural gas pipeline.
He said the state chamber itself voted 20 to 14 not to endorse a particular route, saying there was not enough information concerning the competing plans.
He also called for funding for resource management research.
"We support the fishing industry and believe decisions have to be based on good science," he said.
"Right now there's not enough funding."
He cited the ongoing problems with declining Steller seal lion and Cook Inlet beluga whale populations as threatening commercial fishing and other resource development.
One of the questions from the audience came from Jim Fisher, who asked if the state chamber has considered supporting additional revenue sources, so the dependence on the oil and gas industry can be broken.
Shoaf said the chamber had floated the idea of a statewide income tax two years ago, but it was not received well.
"We need to try to figure out what possible effects a plan would have and come up with a solution," he said.
"With the new Legislature, I hope they will be more receptive."
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