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Chenault begins second term with education high on his list

Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Rep. Mike Chenault, returning to Juneau to begin his second term in the Alaska House of Represen-tatives, said he's not sure if the Legislature will vote on a long-range fiscal plan this session.

"There are people who will continue to work on it and I believe we need one, but I also believe we need to look for efficiencies in government and try to ensure people that they are getting the best bang for their buck," said the House District 34 representative.

He is not yet prepared to consider taxes or use of the Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to pay for government services, elements of past proposals for a long-range fiscal plan.

"I would rather look at resource development and other revenue sources before looking at taxes or a raid on the permanent fund," he said. "Can we do that overnight? No, I don't think we can. But with a pro-development administration, we may be able to see some projects. Even if they're small ones that only contribute small amounts to the revenue stream, we should try to bring them on line and try to slow down the curve of the money we are

taking out of the Constitutional Budget Reserve account."

Chenault said he hasn't shifted his priorities from those of his first term.

Funding for education remains high on the list. He said he wants to take a close look at the cost-differential study that is near completion. That review of the way the state spreads education dollars around through its education foundation formula is of keen interest to Kenai Peninsula Borough School District officials who believe the district is underfunded because of its provisions.

One thing he wants to see is certain grants, called Learning Opportunity Grants, become part of the foundation formula. If that happens, it would raise the cap that restricts the money local government can spend on schools. The cap is a federal restriction.

"Now (the grants) can only be used for certain things," Chenault said. "Putting them in the foundation formula would allow the local school districts to put that money where it is needed."

The Kenai Peninsula Borough, Chenault added, "has been gracious enough to fund up to the (formula) cap."

Also on Chenault's list of priorities is a future natural gas pipeline to the peninsula.

"We need to show the federal government that we are on board with this project and that Alaska is willing to step to the plate and do what's necessary on a state level to go forward," he said.

Asked just what that would entail, however, Chenault couldn't say.

"I don't think anyone knows," he said. "I guess we'll have to wait on the new (federal) energy package to see if there are incentives."

Chenault said he anticipates an easing of restrictions in the state permitting process that should speed up resource development projects.

"I haven't seen any particulars from the Legislature or the administration yet," he said. "But we all realize that if you drill the 100th well on a pad at Prudhoe Bay, it now takes the same amount of time to permit that one as it did the first one. It's redundant."

Chenault said he would pre-file a bill to combat cruelty to animals. He introduced a similar measure in the 22nd Legislature but it died in the Senate Rules Committee. The new bill would increase some penalties and, in some cases, give the court system the option of requiring psychiatric care or some kind of program for people convicted of cruelty to animals.

He's already pre-filed a bill banning so-called "credit scoring," a practice of some insurance companies who base premiums on someone's credit history.

Chenault said the idea that someone with a perfectly good driving record should be penalized with high premiums because of a credit problem is unfair.

He said he would continue to look for funding for Department of

Transportation operations on the peninsula.

"One of he high points of our jobs is to make sure our constituents are safe," he said.

He said he supports tourism, but thinks the industry should be paying much of its own advertising bill and not depend on state funding.

On the whole, while providing income to municipalities, the tourism industry doesn't provide the state with any income.

"The state pays for the highways, the ports and harbors, for campgrounds and other amenities needed by the industry," he said.

On subsistence, Chenault said if he had the answer to the subsistence

question, he'd be the Alaskan of the decade.

"I have concerns about going against the Alaska Constitution by making a different class of people out of rural, or even urban, residents," he said. "I'm willing to continue discussing the issue and looking at all options."

Fisheries, too, will be on his desk in Juneau.

He said he hopes Gov. Frank Murkowski's appointments to the state fish and game boards can move those boards away from politics and back to science-based decision making.

He said Kenai River guides should be treated like any other commercial user of the salmon resource and, therefore, subject to such things as limited entry where appropriate.



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