Editor's Note: The Kenai Peninsula's legislative delegation has been invited to keep residents informed of what's happening in Juneau in this column, which runs weekly during the legislative session. Kenai Peninsula lawmakers take turns writing the column.
I consider it an honor to serve you. I look forward to and appreciate each letter, e-mail, public opinion message and phone call. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome and appreciated.
High on the list of concerns again this year is our budget deficit. Budget shortfalls are caused by a slower economy and an increase in spending. While experiencing a decline in revenue growth, spending is exceeding current budget levels.
In order to work toward a "healthy" economy that encourages economic growth, creates jobs and increases revenue for education and other government services, we need to hunker down, keep spending under control and make budget cuts early in the fiscal year.
I have a clear agenda regarding the budget deficit that I am striving to achieve:
1. Cap government spending;
2. Protect the permanent fund;
3. Shrink government;
4. Encourage economic growth; and
5. No new taxes.
Before the Legislature this session is Senate Joint Resolution 23, the constitutional spending limit bill. Setting a spending cap is an important first step in getting the state spending and growth under control. Having a spending cap or budgeted dollar figure will force both legislators and departments to prioritize programs and control growth as we go through the budget process each year. SJR 23 has passed through the Senate and is now being considered in the House.
Along with capping government spending and slowing the growth of government spending, we must consolidate duplicate government services and encourage economic development. I have introduced two bills this session with that goal in mind.
Senate Bill 271 would create a combined Marine and Railroad Transportation Authority and endow 500,000 of our over 100 million acres to the marine highway. SB 271 would allow the Alaska Marine Highway system, which is currently operating in the red, to become a self-sufficient entity. It would give the system the opportunity to fully fund itself without placing increased fiscal burdens on the state's general fund. The state would benefit through more efficient management and operations, better coordination of the state's transportation needs and reduced costs.
Education funding is and will continue to be a major concern. How to reasonably fund schools and educational programs in order to provide a quality, meaningful education for our young people is a very difficult and complicated endeavor. As a constituent recently pointed out, "Our children will be running our world one day. We cannot afford to skimp on their training and development."
I introduced Senate Bill 188 that addresses this problem by establishing an education fund and land endowment. The principal of the fund would consist of legislative appropriations, gifts, bequests and contributions from individuals as well as 5 million acres of land. The benefits of SB 188 are twofold. First, the net income of the fund may be appropriated only for public elementary and secondary education, and, secondly, it would promote development of our land.
There are some positive signs on the horizon for major economic development for our state. The development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a natural gas pipeline are two of these. This past weekend I had the privilege of being introduced to President Bush by Sen. Frank Murkowski. Both President Bush and Sen. Murkowski reaffirmed their support of the development of ANWR and a natural gas pipeline. Most importantly, I appreciate their support of our military and their families who have served and are now serving our country.
We will solve our budget problems by working together. It is the Alaskan way. It is the American way. If I can be of assistance to you or your family you can reach me by calling my Kenai office at 283-7996 or by e-mail at Senator_Jerry_Ward@legis.state.ak.us.
Sen. Jerry Ward is a Republican from Nikiski. He represents the Kenai-Nikiski-South Anchorage area.
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