Olson, Chenault, Wagoner town hall meeting lets public voice concerns

Posted: Sunday, March 29, 2009

From an in-state gas line to a bypass in Cooper Landing, Obama's stimulus package to a bike path in Soldotna; a wide variety of topics were discussed at Saturday's town hall meeting with Alaska Legislature representatives Kurt Olson, Mike Chenault and Tom Wagoner.

More than 100 Kenai Peninsula Borough residents packed into the Assembly chambers in Soldotna, some just to listen and others to make their concerns known to their representatives.

Teachers' retirement benefits was discussed by many in attendance at the meeting.

"I don't think this can wait two more years, I don't think this can wait two more weeks," said LaDawn Druce, speaking on behalf of House Bill 30 and Senate Bill 23, which seek to return to a defined benefit retirement plan.

Druce said retaining teachers in Alaska is a problem because of the Public Employees' and Teachers' Retirement System now in place.

"We need to look ahead to the future," said Pat Hawkins, addressing the legislators about a bullet line. "It is time for action now. We can't continue to live off of the oil taxes."

Olson said the Legislature is looking into a bullet line with Enstar.

"Enstar is not looking for any state money," Olson said. All the utility wants is to extend right-of-ways in certain areas.

"In the short hall we're in it with everybody else," Wagoner said, referring to the current economic situation. He said Alaskans, like the rest of the country, need to be careful with their money.

Wagoner said gas still remains in Cook Inlet and though it may be expensive to extract, it would still be less costly than transporting gas from the North Slope to the peninsula via a bullet line.

Both sides of the stimulus argument, those wanting Sarah Palin to accept the rest of the money and those siding with governor's decision to refuse about a third of the funds, were represented at the meeting.

Wagoner said throwing money at this problem is not the answer. He said he's concerned about the debt that will be left and for the future generations that will be stuck paying for it.

To better communications between legislators and constituents, Rep. Olson offered suggestions how this could be done during the meeting.

He said when e-mailing a question or concern, it's best to list as much personal information as possible, such as full name, address and a phone number. Olson said those that list more information are the constituents who will receive a response from their representative.

"I thought it worked real good," Wagoner said about the meeting. "I was pretty impressed by the wide variety of questions."

The large turnout and subject matter, too, impressed the senator.

"It was a somewhat different group of constituents than we generally meet with," Wagoner said.

He said legislators typically meet with other elected officials, but the town meeting gave them a chance to change it up from the norm.

"It was a good representation of the community," he said. "I think we'll do this on a more scheduled basis in the future."

Mike Nesper can be reached at mike.nesper@peninsulaclarion.com.

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