Under review: Lawmakers discuss results of legislative session

Posted: Thursday, May 13, 2010

The central Kenai Peninsula state legislative delegation addressed a joint luncheon with the Soldotna and Kenai chambers of commerce to provide a wrap-up of the legislative session Wednesday.

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, spoke about Senate Bill 309, a piece of legislation sponsored by Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, that was approved by Gov. Sean Parnell in Kenai on Monday.

Included in the bill are incentives that were the basis of another piece of legislation Wagoner introduced to stimulate drilling deeper into Cook Inlet.

He acknowledged that while Houston-based Escopeta Oil and Gas won't follow through on comments given to the Legislature earlier this year that they'll begin exploration in Cook Inlet by this summer, he was hopeful for next spring.

He noted that Escopeta is not the only company looking at taking advantage of the incentives either.

"There are others that have been looking and may be making a play for some acreage in Cook Inlet and others that have acreage," Wagoner said.

Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, spoke in large part about budgetary spending and natural gas issues.

He noted the operating budget is up about 4 percent over last year, and attributed this largely to increased program spending for Medicaid and school foundation funding.

"We're probably going to see more of that, the feds have been cost shifting items on to us," he said.

He also noted the jump in the capital budget this year compared to last.

"We're going to be unable to sustain that," Olson said.

He said however that much of the budget was aimed at needed projects, and pointed specifically to improvements to the Sterling Highway, among others.

In regard to Southcentral's waning natural gas supplies, Olson said he stands behind a bullet line.

"It's my feeling that we're probably going to see a bullet line sooner than we're going to see one of the two big lines," he said. "We need gas in state."

Olson said he also spent the session focused on a number of pieces of housekeeping legislation in areas like accounting, contracts and insurance among others.

For Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, natural gas was a key priority this session.

Parnell signed off on House Bill 280 on Wednesday, aimed at improving the region's natural gas supply through exploration and storage.

Chenault was a sponsor of the bill along with fellow Republican Mike Hawker, of Anchorage.

Chenault has been bullish this session, too, on the establishment of a bullet line to supply the region with North Slope gas, arguing that a spur line from a larger pipeline won't be ready soon enough.

Late last month Parnell approved Chenault's House Bill 369 to speed work on a separate 24-inch pipeline as a contingency to a larger export line.

Chenault also spoke of the state's finances, justifying the current spending levels, but saying that long term the state needs to moderate or find new revenue sources.

"I think the Legislature has done a fairly good job of looking after the state of Alaska's money," he said. "Unfortunately were going to see the operating budget continue to grow, and the reason we're going to see it continue to grow is because there's no jobs in Alaska for Alaskans."

Chenault said the budget has been masked by the price of oil, but as North Slope output declines, so does that source of revenue.

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

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