Legislative contingent plans town hall meeting

Posted: Friday, March 27, 2009

Local legislators still are planning to return to the central peninsula Saturday for a town-hall style meeting.

"We're willing to talk about whatever the subjects are of whoever comes to the meeting," said Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski.

"We don't have a set agenda, we're not coming to Kenai to talk, we're coming to listen," he said.

Chenault, Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna and Sen. Wagoner, R-Kenai, plan to attend a town hall meeting at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Building in Soldotna from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

Concerns over the erupting Mount Redoubt have put the meeting in jeopardy, but all three legislators said they'd do their best to make it home for the event.

State legislators are eager for a chance to weigh in on how much of the stimulus package currently being offered to Alaska from the federal government the state will accept.

Gov. Sarah Palin's stated rejection of $288 million worth of the $930.7 million slated for Alaska sparked concern among lawmakers in Juneau last week.

"I was a little surprised at how much money she turned down, but not totally surprised," Chenault said, explaing that he had several conversations with the governor on the matter.

Olson said he wanted a better look at what was being offered to the state through the stimulus package.

"What we're trying to do is take a look at all of it. You want to look at the whole menu before you chose what you want. We're working on a resolution to give us the ability to see the whole thing," he said, referring to House Concurrent Resolution 13, certifying the state "requests and will use any funds provided to the state, a state agency, a municipality, or a political subdivision of the state under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009."

Olson said he and other lawmakers were stuck between not wanting to lose out on any money being offered by the state, but also not wanting to accept funding that could cost the state later on down the road.

"I don't think there's any risk of losing out on the money but that's the crux of issue," he said.

Olson called the s situation a "balance."

Wagoner said the Legislature is still learning more about the stimulus, but he agreed with Olson and did not want to accept money that could expand the state's operating budget.

"The budget is built on $80 a barrel of oil and oil is still only at $50. That being said, why would we want to grow the budget?" Wagoner said.

"We'll be living on savings for years," he said, cautioning that adding further costs to the state was unwise.

Wagoner said he was excited about some parts of the stimulus package, particularly money that could help Alaskans weatherize their homes.

"Those monies could be used positively through the state of Alaska to reduce the need for heat in winter and conserve the need for gas and electricity," he said.

He said he was also interested in money offered for education, but again emphasized the need to exercise caution against creating new unsustainable programs.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.

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