Rep. Kelly Wolf, R-Kenai, held the second town hall meeting of his brief tenure in the Alaska Legis-lature on Saturday in Kenai, answering questions about the state's budget situation and telling residents what he thinks about a wide range of issues facing Alaska.
Following through on a campaign promise to hold several such informal meetings, Wolf led a free-flowing discussion that drew about 40 people to the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Building. He said the meeting was simply his way of connecting with his constituents.
"Bring your recommendations, or likes -- dislikes -- about what's going on down in Juneau, and give me an opportunity to tell what I'm doing down there," Wolf told the crowd.
Wolf said that so far this session, the House majority has tried to focus on how to ensure vital state programs are funded while still complying with Gov. Frank Murkowski's mandate that the proposed budget not take a large bite from the constitutional budget reserve. Wolf praised the governor's desire to cut the budget.
"He had the guts to stand up and draw a line in the sand," Wolf said. "He put proposals on the table and said, 'This is what I want to see.'"
Wolf said he's optimistic that some ideas coming out of Juneau will ultimately benefit the state's finances. In particular, he mentioned the proposed state lottery, a $100 per person income tax and the transfer of the Habitat Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game into the Department of Natural Resources as healthy steps toward a more prosperous future.
Wolf also spoke out on education, both at the local and university levels. Numerous people who attended the meeting expressed frustration about the way education is handled by the state, and Wolf generally agreed.
"Somehow or another, we have to put some stability in K-through-12 (grades)," said Bob Wiseman of Kenai.
Wiseman told Wolf he believes the Legislature should force the University of Alaska to generate more of its own budget.
"The university hasn't realized we need to start selling that (University of Alaska) land," Wolf said. "They need to start standing on their own two feet."
In particular, Wolf took UA President Mark Hamilton to task for pressuring the state into coughing up more money for the university.
"When Hamilton came in, he said, 'This is what I want,' and they gave it to him," Wolf said.
Wolf pointed out that Hamilton receives a salary nearly as large as President George Bush and applauded Hamilton's offer to work for $1 next year if the university gets its funding request.
"I'd be the first one to go down and buy him a box of Top Ramen," he said.
As for local education, one Nikiski parent complained to Wolf about the Kenai Peninsula Bor-ough School District's plan to consolidate two Nikiski elementary schools.
"Why should the children of Nikiski start to take the brunt of the whole problem," asked Nikiski's Jennie Hammond.
Wolf responded by saying he believes the best way to avoid similar measures is for the state to make a more solid commitment to funding kindergarten through 12th-grade education.
"Not all legislators understand these kids are our greatest resource," he said. "I'd love to see us increase the funding formula by $270 (per child)."
As for how to increase the state's revenue picture in order to fund programs like education, Wolf restated a familiar position he believes will eventually lead Alaska back to fiscal stability.
"We need oil, we need commercial fishing and we need tourism," he said.
Wolf concluded the meeting by telling the crowd his short time as a freshman legislator in Juneau has been a learning experience, but that he'll continue to speak his mind when it comes to cutting the budget, finding new revenue and seeking education funding.
"I say what I think," Wolf said. "I know I've stepped on toes down there. (But) if you don't like what I'm doing, don't rehire me."
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