Alaska Lt. Gov. Loren Leman said Friday that the Murkowski administration's initial focus is on making government more efficient and clearing roadblocks to natural resource development.
"Initially, we'll work to streamline and make changes for a more efficient government," Leman said in an interview in Kenai. Both Leman and Murkowski were on the Kenai Peninsula to attend the Governor's Inaugural Ball, held in Soldotna.
Leman said the changes will include finding ways to make Alaska's oil and gas resources more easily accessible to industry.
"The initial focus is on permitting," Leman said. "We want to realign and eliminate duplication that adds time, confusion and money to the process."
Leman said the administration is keenly interested in ensuring new oil and natural gas development is pursued. In order for that to happen, he said, companies should not have to fight through endless amounts of red tape to develop Alaska's natural resources.
That doesn't mean oil companies will get free reign to do whatever they please, only that permitting processes will be less complicated, he said.
"It's not so things can get rubber stamped, but so there can be a logical system for permitting," he said.
Leman said numerous state and federal laws already provide ample environmental protections, and that streamlining the permitting process will not lead to environmental abuses by oil companies.
"We're not going to sacrifice the environment," Leman said. "We still have environmental laws."
Natural resource development was the cornerstone of the Murkowski-Leman gubernatorial campaign, and Leman said he still believes the future of Alaska's economic health lies in bringing more oil and natural gas to market.
"We'll do everything we can to increase revenues from oil and gas," he said.
However, he also noted that money from natural resource development won't do much for Alaska's current fiscal situation. He said the administration's initial focus will be to limit state spending until new revenue sources can be identified.
"We'll have to be fiscally frugal," Leman said. "In the short term, we'll draw from the (constitutional budget) reserve. Longer than that, it gets more complex."
In addition to developing more oil and gas, Leman said there are several other issues he'll be working on as lieutenant governor. One of his biggest goals is to find ways to allow faith-based charities and service organizations to receive state funding for providing public services.
Leman said faith-based organizations often are better equipped to provide basic social service programs than other groups and should not necessarily be excluded from receiving government support simply because they are affiliated with a particular religion.
"We need to ensure faith-based organizations have an equal chance," he said. "What we want to do is see what changes we can make to bring in this whole group, what barriers we can remove to help them function better."
As lieutenant governor, Leman's main job will be to oversee the Division of Elections. During his short time in office, he's already had to make a couple tough decisions regarding citizen-led ballot initiatives.
Leman ruled last month to block two such initiatives -- one to decriminalize marijuana, the other to limit the Legislature's ability to use money from the Alaska Permanent Fund. He said neither decision was based on personal feelings, but rather on the letter of the law.
"There's a difference between what the heart is saying and what the constitution says," he said. "(The fund initiative group) wants to see a further protection of the fund from what they perceive as a potential draw by future legislators. There's merit in pursuing that. But you have to look at what the law says, and the law says you can't amend the constitution and you can't appropriate money by the initiative process."
As for the marijuana petition, Leman said more than 7,000 signatures were ruled invalid by the Division of Elections -- thus giving him no choice but to deny the petition.
"My views on marijuana had nothing to do with this," Leman said. "We just have to follow the law."
Leman -- who grew up in Ninilchik -- concluded the interview by saying he was happy to be returning to the peninsula for the inaugural festivities. He said he was looking forward to seeing numerous friends and family members at the event, and that he still holds a special place in his heart for the area.
"This is home," he said.
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