Murkowski pitching proposals to legislators, public

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Frank Murkowski is pitching his budget, both inside and outside the Capitol.

Murkowski met behind closed doors Wednesday with the House Republican caucus for almost two hours. His commissioners and other staff are also fanning out around the state to explain the plan to community groups. And the governor has purchased 30 minutes of television time to talk to Alaskans on Sunday.

''A lot of politics is salesmanship, you know,'' said the governor's press secretary, John Manly. ''We want to tell our side of the story and answer the questions people have, so they have a complete understanding of what we're trying to do with these budget proposals.''

Murkowski has proposed a $2.2 million general fund budget for the 2004 fiscal year that cuts state spending by $55 million and calls for $113 million in new revenues.

He wants to take no more than $400 million from the constitutional budget reserve, a state savings account the state has been using for several years to fill the gap between spending and revenues.

Murkowski has put forward some unpopular ways to meet those goals, including raising gas taxes, cutting state support for education and eliminating the longevity bonus program, which provides monthly payments to some senior citizens.

House Republicans have balked at some of those ideas. The longevity bonus and gas tax measures have not cleared any House committees yet, and a House budget subcommittee restored cuts the governor made in education.

But Murkowski and House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, described the governor's meeting Wednesday with House Republicans as cordial and amiable.

''It wasn't 'If you don't do it, I'm gonna beat you up behind the wood shed.' It wasn't one of those kind of conversations,'' Kott said.

Kott said Murkowski told the caucus he's flexible about how they meet his budget goals, as long as they stick within his general guidelines of taking less than $400 million from the budget reserve and spending $55 million less than the current year.

Kott said the governor expressed support for one alternative lawmakers are looking at.

That's a proposal by Rep. Norman Rokeberg, to steer about $54 million more in oil taxes revenue into the general fund by reducing the percentage of revenue from some oil fields that goes into the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Murkowski also did not rule out other ideas lawmakers floated, such as a tax on cruise ship passengers, Kott said.

''I don't think he ruled anything out or anything in, except for an income tax or invasion of the permanent fund earnings reserve,'' Manly said.

The governor's 30-minute television address will air at 5 p.m. on Alaska's Superstation, which is channel 8 in Juneau, channel 13 in Anchorage and Channel 2 in Fairbanks.

The governor's office spent $4,700 to purchase the air time, Manly said.

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