While a long-range, comprehensive financial plan is Alaska's No. 1 need, there are lots of other projects clamoring for lawmakers' attention this legislative session.
As might be expected, uppermost on legislators' minds is a natural gas pipeline. Lawmakers and the Knowles' administration agree now is the time to jump-start this project. In studying and debating how best to make a pipeline a reality, peninsula lawmakers have the added responsibility of keeping the idea of a Nikiski terminus before the decision-makers and the rest of the state.
Peninsula legislators are working on several other projects of statewide interest and importance. For example:
Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, is working on what he calls a "fish-cal" plan. Although the details remain to be written, Scalzi's goal is to make Alaska's commercial fisheries a viable industry for the future, as they have been in the past. Such a plan is of vital importance to the peninsula, where allocation battles between user groups are as legendary as Cook Inlet's fish runs.
Rep. Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna, is working on streamlining government in general and the legislative process in particular. Lancaster has already introduced a bill calling for 90-day sessions, instead of the current 120 days. He also is questioning current practices and has what seem like practical suggestions for improvement. For example, instead of commissioners of every department giving their budget presentations to several legislative committees, Lancaster wonders why commissioners can't give their departmental presentations one time to all legislators.
Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, has proposed legislation that would appropriate $1 million to pay for the design of a Knik Arm crossing and establish an Alaska Toll Bridge and Causeway Authority. Ward, whose Senate E District includes Kenai, Nikiski and South Anchorage, also has suggested the possibility of a Turnagain Arm crossing. Ward said he wants to hear what his constituents think about a Turnagain Arm crossing before he introduces such a bill.
A private prison on the peninsula, annexation issues on the south peninsula and the proposed incorporation of Nikiski are other issues with which peninsula legislators are likely to be involved. Peninsula legislators, including those newly elected ones, are in prime positions to influence legislation this session.
Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, chairs both the Senate Resources Committee and the Community and Regional Affairs Committee. He also serves as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Legislative Ethics, the Labor and Commerce Committee, and the Legislative Council.
Ward is the vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Transportation Committee. He serves as a member of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, the Committee on Committees, and the Health, Education and Social Services Committee.
Scalzi is co-chair of the House Resources Committee and serves as a member of the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee, the House Special Committee on Fisheries, and the House Transportation Committee.
Lancaster serves as a member of the House Finance Committee and chairs the subcommittees reviewing the budgets of the departments of Community and Economic Development and Administration. He also is a member of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee.
Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, chairs the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs. He is a member of the House Special Committee on Oil and Gas, the House Resources Committee and the House State Affairs Committee.
So diverse are their assignments, it's hard to imagine any legislation that won't be considered up close by a member of the peninsula delegation.
Insiders to the legislative process say members of the 22nd Alaska Legislature have hit the ground running. Finance committees began meeting the first week of the session and lawmakers appear to have a new determination to improve the system. Early signs show promise of a productive session.
As they tackle the business of the state, we ask lawmakers to keep the doors open to Alaskans. They can do that not only by responding to constituent requests and holding constituent meetings, but also by making sure they speak the language of Alaskans and not government bureaucrats when they talk about what's happening in the Capital City.
They also can do much to make government more accessible to all Alaskans by resisting the political pressure to work behind closed doors in party caucus sessions. Legislators would do well to remember that most Alaskans don't register as either Republicans or Democrats. They want their elected officials, regardless of party affiliation, to work together.
Excluding "the minority" from decision-making effectively disenfranchises those Alaskans who put "the minority" in office. Since all legislators should be looking out for the interests of all Alaskans, such practices just don't make sense if the goal is good government.
And any other goal is the wrong reason to be in Juneau.
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