Democrats say halfway point lacks progress

Posted: Monday, March 24, 2003

Alaska House and Senate Democrats noted Wednesday what they called a remarkable lack of progress as the 23rd Legislature nears the halfway point of its first session, and they laid the blame on Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposed budget and the confusion it has caused within the ranks of the majority Republicans.

At a press conference Wednesday, Democrats handed out an analysis of Murkowski's proposed budget saying its call for a "raft of taxes and indiscriminate cuts to essential services" would have a dramatic affect on Alaska families.

According to the analysis, if all the cuts were applied, a family of four, with elderly grandparents, earning $57,400 a year, would see another 6 percent of their income go to cover new costs -- some $3,334.68.

Impacts on other segments of Alaska also were given in from several callers who testified on behalf of small business owners, commuters, students and the elderly, Democrats said in a press release.

By contrast, Democrats claimed their minority ideas would not penalize working Alaskans and that they were committed to jobs, better schools and healthy communities.

"Democratic ideas include permit streamlining, increased revenues to the state and innovative solutions to bridge the fiscal gap," House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said.

"Our Republican counterparts said they were waiting for marching orders from Gov. Murkowski," said Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage. "They have their leader's budget and are confused about what to do. We believe they should consider the impacts on working Alaskans."

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, disagreed with the Democratic assessment of legislative progress and the Democrats' characterization of the majority as confused.

"The governor has one idea to construct his budget," Wagoner said. "That's a recommendation to the Legislature. Republicans and Democrats have their own ideas. There's no confusion between the governor and Republicans, just differences of opinion."

Wagoner said the Legislature is demonstrating progress, noting bills in the works of importance to Kenai Peninsula residents, including measures to promote a gas pipeline, speed up natural resource permitting processes, boost the fisheries industry, and raise the exemption on real property. He said Democrats aren't backing some of those.

"There are lots of things going on in the Legislature that they wouldn't mention because they are not a part of it," he said.

Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, acknowledged there is concern among Republicans about some of the proposals offered by the governor's budget, but he also rejected calling the debate a case of confusion.

"I didn't hear the (Democrats') press conference," Chenault said. "I've been too busy to listen to propaganda. There is concern about some proposals the governor has made, but the Republican majority is looking at those proposals and either there will be a compromise or we'll agree or disagree with what the governor's proposals are."

Chenault said things have been slow, primarily because Alaska has a new governor and a new administration "and new people trying to put together a budget." He said he would like to have had things moving more quickly up until now, but the pace is about to pick up.

"By law, we have 120 days to finish our business," he said. "Within the next week or so, you will see a lot of movement as far as budget closeouts. Maybe in two or three weeks, you'll see the budget moved to the floor. It's going to get done."

Chenault said he has heard no talk about extending the session beyond the 120-day deadline.

"I certainly don't want to," he said.

At their press conference, Democrats provided what they called the governor's "invoice" to Alaska working families. According to the Democrats' analysis, the proposed 12-cents-per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax would cost a two-car family $167.68 a year, the studded tire tax of $10 per tire another $80, and upping the vehicle registration fee would cost the two-car family still another $76.

The education income tax on two incomes would add another $200 to the bill, while the business license fee increase would add $175. One in four Alaskans has a business license, according to the analysis.

The property tax increase likely to be needed in Anchorage due to a cut in municipal revenue sharing would cost a family there about $44 a year.

But the biggie, according to Democrats, would come if elderly parents lose their longevity bonus checks and families have to make up that loss. That could cost $2,592 a year, Democrats said.

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