Editor's Note: The legislative session gets under way in Juneau today. As in the past, the Kenai Peninsula's legislative delegation has been invited to keep residents informed of what's happening in this column, which will run weekly during the session. Kenai Peninsula legislators will take turns writing the column.
I want to begin this legislative update with a hope that everyone had a pleasant holiday season. I know that we all look forward to a new year that will be free of the horror and turmoil of Sept. 11, and my thoughts and prayers go out to the members of our armed services who are protecting our freedom with their lives.
My staff this session includes the "veterans" many of you know: Mary Jackson, my lead staff person from the central Kenai Peninsula; Nancy Kosch, my scheduler and receptionist from Homer, and Darwin Peterson, my Resource Committee staff person from Cooper Landing.
My new staff member is Kurt Olson, longtime resident of the peninsula and most recently a member of the Soldotna City Council. Kurt will be working with several of the committees where I serve as a member, including my budget subcommittees.
Between us, we have almost 150 years of hands-on experience on the Kenai Peninsula. I also have an intern this year, Kim Ognisty, who will be working with me on various resource issues. She's a student at the University of Alaska and has an interest in resource matters.
I have two immediate concerns on the table -- annexation by the city of Homer and the natural gas pipeline.
The Local Boundary Commission ruled that some 4.5 square miles of land should be annexed into the city of Homer. The commission will present that determination to the Legislature around the end of January. We will then have 45 days to respond to the determination. I expect to conduct joint House and Senate hearings on this issue before my Community and Regional Affairs Committee.
As you know, I have been directly involved with the natural gas pipeline project. As chair of the Joint Natural Gas Pipeline Committee, I have spent much of the past year working toward that development, protecting Alaska's interests.
A primary concern has been that we have not had adequate information for projecting costs and revenues of the pipeline. Through the Legislative Council, we have contracted with a research team that will be working with me during the session to provide real numbers of this project to assure an unbiased basis for legislative decisions. I expect to be quite busy working with this team on the development of these numbers.
Two other issues that are always on the table are education and roads.
I have had numerous peninsula contacts regarding the effects inflation has had on our education. I share your concerns that inflation is eating into the funds that our children depend on for their critical education needs.
I have supported and will continue to support some sort of inflation-proofing for education. There were two bills before my Senate CRA Committee that dealt with education, and one, SB 42, was specific to an inflation adjustment. The bill passed out of my committee with three "do-pass" signatures by the members, which included myself as chair. I will continue to work hard on this issue and support legislation for funding to offset inflation's erosion of public school funds.
Transportation bonds, or GARVEE (Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle) bonds is another concern of some constituents, who have been told by some government agencies that this is the answer to Alaska's road construction problems.
GARVEE bonds are a fairly recent public funding process, and only 10 states utilize this funding approach. They take future years' funds and expend it all in one year's priority list. It is a "quick fix" approach to today's problems, but may cause harm to the future needs because there would not be funds available for those future needs.
To some degree, certain projects have been funded through "future" revenues, but typically those bonds were general obligation bonds that were approved by the voters. GARVEE bonds do not require voter approval, and I am very concerned about that process.
Another concern with the GARVEE process is that use of this funding process could "overheat" the contracting economy of Alaska, the result being higher bids for projects because there are so many projects.
For the reasons stated above, I do not support this financing method. I do support a general obligation bond which requires a majority vote of Alaskans, for both roads and schools. That way we will all have a voice in the fiscal future of our state.
This is just the beginning of the session and I expect to have many more issues come before us as the session progresses, and I look forward to reporting to you in this column.
Please don't hesitate to contact me at anytime -- call 1-800-964-5733.
Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, was first elected to the Alaska Senate in 1994. He represents Senate District D.
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