'Budget can be reduced': Sen. Wagoner reflects on Legislature's first session

Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2009

The budgets approved by the Alaska Legislature this year were still "too high" in Sen. Tom Wagoner's opinion.

Wagoner, R-Kenai, back on the peninsula Tuesday, reflected on the conclusion of the first session of the 26th Legislature.

Wagoner said it's not a matter of if the state will have to start cutting back, but when.

"Everybody says it's almost an impossibility to reduce the budget," Wagoner said.

"It can be reduced though, there's different methods. It's not a pretty process, but if you don't have the revenue you have to reduce the operating and capital budgets," he said.

Wagoner explained that without cutbacks, the state would have to increases taxes.

Though he doesn't support that, he criticized senate Democrats saying, "I think that will happen given the make up of the senate."

Wagoner has been critical of the senate majority throughout the session.

"They won't take on any hard philosophical issues, both left and right, so you have a middle of the road Legislature doing middle of the road things," he said.

He noted for example, he would liked to have seen a vote on whether or not to provide legislators with a pay raise.

The Legislature instead took one without a vote.

"We gave ourselves a raise without even voting on it. I'm not saying whether its right or wrong, (the Legislature) hasn't had one in 20 years, but we should have been able to stand up and take a vote," he said.

He also noted that the abortion issue remained locked in committee and off the floor.

Such inaction in his opinion, is proof that the 90-day session length is sufficient.

"I don't know if there's anything that happened this year that convinced me that we need more than 90 days," he said.

He cited the passage of Senate Bill 58, that will make Feb. 2 Marmot Day, as an example, saying, "I voted against the Marmot Bill. If that's all we've got to do are those kinds of things then we don't need 90 days, we only need 60."

The Marmot Bill wasn't the only measure Wagoner voted against.

He also opposed the governor's appointment of Wayne Anthony Ross to the position of state attorney general.

He said that while Ross had some qualifications for the job, he couldn't support him after Ross became embroiled in Wagoner's 2004 campaign. Wagnoer explained that the former AG nominee supported Wagoner's opponent.

Not everything that came out of the session was bad news though.

Wagoner touted the progress being made on an in-state gas line.

"We got money to do more surveys and permitting on an in-state gas pipeline and right now everyone talks about getting it done," he said.

He noted however that it would be years before any gas starts flowing.

He is concerned about future development, and said he was disappointed Friday when an appeals court in Washington, D.C. threw out the federal government's five-year offshore lease program citing a need for more environmental studies to be done.

That's an issue he plans to tackle during the interim, along with the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

He plans to attend a state legislators' conference in D.C. with colleagues from different parts of the country later this year where he'll advocate for offshore development and the opening of ANWR.

"The reason I'm going down is to make sure we don't have a bunch of people from the East Coast that are urging Congress to shut down ANWR," he said.

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

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