Commissioner meeting ends with blueprint

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Frank Murkowski's commissioners emerged from a three-day cabinet meeting -- the first since he took office in December -- with a blueprint for how to pursue his ambitions for Alaska.

Cabinet members are working on a specific two-year action plan to fulfill some of the goals set out in Murkowski's State of the State speech. The cabinet meeting lasted from Monday to Wednesday and was an opportunity for appointees to hold discussions about the governor's plans.

''As of today these individuals represent the administration; they represent my thinking,'' Murkowski said.

Commissioners said they would pursue ''relentless'' cooperation between state agencies to build roads into areas with natural resource potential.

''To turn this state around, to grow the jobs, grow the economy, so that we as a state can meet the responsibilities that we have to Alaskans,'' is how Cheryl Frasca, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The Cabinet presented itself to the Capitol press corps and was open to questions, but the commissioners were often vague about details. They plan to formulate a 15-point plan to achieve several of the governor's goals.

Ernesta Ballard, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, laid out one example in the governor's call for roads to be built to areas in the state where access could lead to job opportunities.

Acting Transportation Commissioner Mike Barton offered examples of roads that could be built to remote gold mining prospects such as Donlin Creek near Bethel and Pogo outside Delta Junction.

Barton raised the idea of extending a road from the North Slope village of Nuiqsut a few miles east and west to reach state oil leases.

Murkowski said a Nuiqsut road could increase the value of the state oil leases so ''we can conceivably see for the expenditure a relatively immediate return.''

Ballard, along with Commissioner of Natural Resources Tom Irwin and the acting Fish and Game Commissioner Kevin Duffy, examined how their agencies could pursue streamlined permitting for the road projects.

Also, Ballard said, the Cabinet members challenged Revenue Commissioner Bill Corbus to hunt for novel ways to pay for the projects.

''To go beyond the concept of waiting for federal financing and to look at toll roads, to look at local improvement districts, to look at municipal bonds, and private investment as ways to finance these roads,'' Ballard said.

Murkowski campaigned on resource development, particularly oil, as the prime solution for the state's budget shortfall that runs annually in the several hundreds of millions of dollars.

Oil brings in most of the state government's general fund dollars. Murkowski has basically identified oil development as his main revenue plan.

Irwin, appointed Natural Resources commissioner on Jan. 17, did not provide specifics on how the oil companies could be encouraged to boost Alaska production. But he said he is working hard on that question.

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