Sen. Murkowski offers her first bills

Posted: Thursday, February 06, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced her first three bills this week. All are initiatives her father had pursued when he was senator.

The first measure would vastly expand the budget of the Denali Commission by allowing it to fund up to $450 million a year in transportation projects.

The second would extend indefinitely an Alaska exception to the Medicaid formula that has the federal government paying for about 60 percent of the program. In other states, the cost of the health care program for the poor is split 50-50 between the state and federal governments.

The third would allow Eskimo whaling captains to take tax deductions for the costs of outfitting their boats and crews.

Her transportation bill, which would quintuple the budget of the Denali Commission, is aimed at building roads and other transportation links between communities and to natural resources.

''You can't do any kind of economic development -- development at all -- if we don't have ... the transportation access to it, so this is all about access,'' she said.

The bill is co-sponsored by Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who created the Denali Commission to improve the infrastructure of rural Alaska, just as the Appalachian Regional Commission does in its 13-state area.

Murkowski's staff said the bill authorizes $450 million a year through 2009 because that is the amount the Appalachian Commission receives for transportation projects.

''Roads aren't cheap in Alaska. We all know that,'' she said. ''So it looks like a lot of money on the surface, but I think you would be surprised when you actually start building the roads.''

The bill would only authorize the program and set a financial cap. If it passed, the funding would still have to be written into an appropriations bill each year.

The measure is very similar to a proposal Frank Murkowski introduced in the Senate in October, a few weeks before he was elected governor.

The Medicaid bill, which also applies to the Denali Kid Care program covering medical costs for children, would save the state about $40 million a year in health-care costs. It would make permanent the temporary formula changes Frank Murkowski won in 1997 and 2000.

Lisa Murkowski said the federal government should pay 60 percent in Alaska because health care costs there are higher -- 71 percent higher, according to her figures. Next year, the Alaska Medicaid program is expected to cost $850 million, for which the state will receive $555 million, Murkowski's office said.

The tax deduction for Eskimo whalers, which her father sought for 10 years, would be capped at $10,000.

Whaling captains shell out thousands of dollars on the subsistence hunt, and then share the whale with the village, she said. If the whaling crew were a business, or if the recipient were a charity, the captain could deduct the costs, Murkowski said.

The bill, introduced Tuesday with the other two bills, got a boost Wednesday when the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, added it to a larger bill concerning charitable organizations. The committee then passed the bill.

Murkowski, who was appointed to the Senate in December by her father, held her first campaign fund-raiser Wednesday evening.

To keep her post, Murkowski will have to win election in 2004. So far, she has no opponent. Many have speculated that former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles will run, but he has not made any announcement.

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