With foreclosures and unemployment increasing, and wages and production decreasing, Americans are reminded daily of the current economic recession.
So when U.S. Sen. Mark Begich came to Soldotna to give an update of the goings-on in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, it was no surprise that a majority of his hour-long speech focused on the economic stimulus package.
"There was not one positive indicator in January or February," Begich said about the economy to a crowd of more than 150 people at the Soldotna Sports Center. The luncheon, sponsored by both the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce, was just one of several stops the senator made around the state within the past two weeks.
Begich said today economic indicators are mixed, some positive and some negative.
"It's a good, mixed view," he said. "That's a positive thing for this economy."
Begich said there is no such thing as a perfect bill, the stimulus bill being no exception. However, the government is the largest, single entity that could put money back into the economy.
"I was very proud to cast a vote for the stimulus bill," Begich said.
Because the bill had no earmarks, Begich said he worked with the state Legislature to ensure Alaska's needs were met. He said he wants to continue to work with the Legislature and avoid the past practice of separating state and federal government.
Alaska will receive a total of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion from the federal stimulus bill.
On the Kenai Peninsula, $15 million will go towards repairing roadways from Soldotna to Coho Loop in Kasilof, $2 million for water lines in Seward and $2 million to Central Peninsula Hospital for electronic medical record equipment.
"These are projects that will happen now," Begich said.
Small businesses, too, can take advantage of new tax breaks. In the upcoming year, business owners can write off up to $250,000 for equipment expenditures as well as carry back loans.
A carry back loan allows a small business that has suffered losses this year to carry back its tax credit up to five years. The business owner can apply their tax credit for a past, profitable year and earn money back.
Tax cuts also exist for first-time Alaska homeowners or for those who haven't owned a home in the last three years. First-time buyers can receive an up to $8,000 tax credit from the Internal Revenue Service, Begich said.
Begich said when the economy is on the decline as it is now, crime seems to increase. Because of this inverse relationship, $10 million in the form of grants will be distributed to the state to increase public safety.
Begich said the one area of the stimulus bill that most were in agreement on was military spending. Alaska will be receiving funding for 100 military-related projects, Begich said.
As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Begich will be traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan within the next two months.
"We're totally under-resourced there," he said.
In terms of a gas pipeline, Begich said it's on President Obama's list of top five green projects.
"Gas is a huge future for us in this state and this country," he said.
With 75,000 veterans in the state, Begich touched on a two-year budgeting plan to do more for those that have served this country.
"We don't want the (Veterans Administration) shoveling paper back and forth; we want them providing services."
Begich said he wants to introduce Alaska to others in D.C.
"People know Alaska, but they don't know a lot about Alaska," he said, citing the large amounts of coal in the state, the large fish harvest and technological developments in the oil and gas industry.
Though he's spent just 90 days in office, Sen. Begich said it's felt like 10 years. Over the next eight months, he said providing accessible and affordable health care will be at the forefront of issues.
Mike Nesper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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