Knowles to ask for $21 million to market salmon, tourism and oil

Posted: Monday, January 21, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles will ask the Legislature for $20 million to aid the state's salmon and tourism industries in marketing plans.

Knowles will also ask for $1 million in state funds to pay a nonprofit group to continue lobbying Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

The plan would set aside $10 million each for tourism and seafood marketing in this year to attempt to stave off economic problems from anemic salmon prices and the fallout from the Sept. 11 attacks.

''The fishing, tourism and oil and gas industries provide the highest number of jobs in Alaska and drive our economy statewide,'' Knowles said in a letter to the Legislature. ''Slumps in these industries ripple down to the local level in diminished revenue for fish, sales, and bed taxes.''

Knowles, a Democrat, will ask the GOP-controlled Legislature for ''fast track'' approval of the funds early this year, before lawmakers complete their work on the fiscal 2003 state budget. Legislative leaders were quick to express skepticism for the plan on Monday, accusing Knowles of buying goodwill with the fishing and tourism industries.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute -- which is funded through taxes on the fishing industry -- would receive $5 million for general marketing of Alaska salmon.

The state Department of Community and Economic Development would use another $5 million for regional, international and niche marketing grants.

A glut of farm-raised salmon has depressed prices and caused hardships for Alaska fishermen. Knowles declared western Alaska's commercial fishing season a disaster in August.

The state's tourism industry is also threatened by an expected decline in travelers this summer following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Knowles proposes giving the Alaska Travel Industry Association $9.8 million -- $2.5 million less than it requested -- for an emergency marketing campaign.

Jeff Bush, Community and Economic Development deputy director, said the funds would be used for a post-Sept. 11 advertising campaign promoting Alaska as a safe alternative to foreign destinations.

Early vacation bookings to Alaska are down by 30 to 50 percent and the industry expect the terrorist attacks to result in fewer travelers this year, said Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, who announced the plan. Knowles was out of state Monday.

Las Vegas has earmarked $13 million in emergency tourism marketing funds, Canada has put aside $15 million and the Caribbean plans to spend $31 million, state officials said.

Norway will spend $40 million to market its farm salmon annually, while Alaska hasn't contributed to salmon marketing since 1993, officials said.

Knowles will ask for another $200,000 to be set aside for the Alaska Marine Highway System to promote ferry travel in the state.

The plan was met with skepticism from Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, co-chair of the influential House Finance Committee. Mulder said Knowles was pandering to special interests.

''While we recognize the difficulties these industries are facing ... I don't think it will be well received within our caucus. Most of them will view it as election-year glad-handing,'' Mulder said.

Knowles is in his final year in office and cannot seek a third consecutive term. Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer is running as the Democrat nominee for governor.

Knowles also proposed giving $1 million to Arctic Power to continue its lobbying efforts before Congress to open ANWR. A similar Republican backed plan is expected to clear a House Finance Committee and receive a floor vote on Tuesday, Mulder said.

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