Knowles gets 1 more session request

Lancaster wants to see long-range fiscal plans made

Posted: Wednesday, June 05, 2002

"It ain't over till it's over," said Rep. Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna, quoting Yogi Berra, the famous New York Yankee.

In his speech to the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Lancaster stressed that 6 1/2 months remain in the year during which the current governor and the Legislature can still affect change in Alaska.

Those gathered at the meeting were the first to hear of Lancaster's request to Gov. Tony Knowles that a special session be convened in Anchorage to move forward on a long-range fiscal plan for the state.

Knowles already has called a special session set to begin June 24 to consider reauthorizing the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, approving $2.6 million more in funding for a veterans initiative and finding a solution on subsistence.

Lancaster, who has announced he will not seek re-election, said a separate session is needed to address the state's financial health.

"I cannot imagine what is more important," he said in an interview after the meeting.

Prior to the noon meeting, Lancaster left a message with the governor's office and faxed him a formal letter outlining the reasons he thinks another special session is needed before the next Legislature and administration are saddled with the responsibility of resolving what Lancaster said is the most important issue facing the state of Alaska -- its fiscal viability.

"There is no need for the Legislature to stop working," he said.

In the 120 days of the regular session, Lancaster said he did not see a responsible government addressing the issues that needed to be looked at.

"This was the perfect year to get out of there in 90 days," he said in answer to a question from the audience. "No one works together. Everybody works in a vacuum down there. "

The bipartisan Fiscal Policy Caucus, of which Lancaster was a member, proposed several ways to bridge the state's fiscal gap during this legislative session. Some of their recommendations, including a controversial state income tax, passed the House but not the Senate.

"Let's have an agenda to move this state forward responsibly before the savings accounts are all spent and the corpus of the permanent fund is all that is left," Lancaster wrote in his letter to Knowles.

Last year the state spent $900 million from its "savings account" and, according to Lancaster, if this is repeated in the next fiscal year, only $500 million will remain.

"What is more important?" Lancaster asked the audience. "Nothing revolves without a financial plan."

Lancaster is asking Knowles to use the remaining time the elected officials have in office by calling a session to order in Anchorage -- thus killing two the proverbial two birds with one stone.

"A lot of Alaskans think that the capitol should be in Anchorage anyway and this is the perfect opportunity to test that," Lancaster said in a later interview.

In addition to testing out the legislative move initiative that will be on the ballots in November, legislators would have the opportunity to make some decisions regarding Alaska's economic future.

"We do not have a vision or mission statement for the state. Without any plan or any vision, what is next for Alaska?" asked Lancaster. "It's not even all about the money. Businesses don't come to Alaska. They need some reason to come."

Lancaster said it is the governor and his Cabinet's job to ensure that Alaska is enticing for businesses that are looking to relocate.

"There are lots of things that we don't ever pursue," he said. "I just believe that the state could do a lot more to encourage businesses to come to Alaska."

Lancaster mentioned as examples Boeing, which he said was never approached by the state when the company was looking to relocate from Seattle, and Kinetic Aviation, which would like to build its factory in Alaska and has been working with Lancaster to do so over the past four years.

"The state hasn't done as much as I would like to bring that to fruition," he said.

While Lancaster may not be returning to Juneau for the next term, partly because he is frustrated with the legislative process, he still has plenty of goals for the remaining months.

"There is a momentum to do what is right," he said in his letter to Knowles. "... I believe Alaska is truly at a crossroads and we need to have a special session ... for the state to move forward."

Lancaster will address this and other legislative issues again today at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, the governor's office had not returned phone calls for comment.

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