Wagoner recaps work in Juneau

Posted: Monday, June 11, 2007

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, delivered a recap of this year’s Juneau session to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Standing at the podium during the chamber’s luncheon, the senator touched on the financial trouble the public employees and teacher retirement systems are in, senior citizens benefits and Gov. Sarah Palin’s Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, to name a few topics.

Although he said the state Legislature did good things this term, he was quick to point out some problems he had with this year’s session, especially problems that had to do with PERS-TRS.

Dissatisfied with the state’s handling of it, Wagoner said he would like to see a long-term solution come out of Juneau that would take the pressure off cities and boroughs.

“We don’t know if we’re at $8.5 or $9.5 billion (liability),” he said. “(We) went from $4.5 to $5.5 (billion) to that level in five years.”

He said the capital budget is the second largest in state history and we’re much better paying off the liability payments while we can afford it. The governor already put $1.8 billion into paying the PERS-TRS liability, he said.

On school funding, the area cost differential that dictates how much money the state gives each school district was flawed. In order to address this problem, he said, Gov. Sarah Palin asked the Legislature to set up a special committee to come up with a new formula.

Reps. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, are on the committee and looking after our interests, he told chamber members. He added that, on a high note, the district’s student to teacher ratio is low and the district doesn’t have to lay off any instructors this year.

One of the things the Legislature left undone this session is passing benefits for senior citizens. Wagoner said he was part of a minority who wanted to extend the session for 10 days to address the issue, but said a special session will be held in Anchorage instead. (see related story below)

“This could be done by executive order,” he said. “There’s no need for a special session.”

When he reached AGIA, one of the first things he said was “the governor’s on a roll.” This version of AGIA, he said, is much more transparent than the last one negotiated under Gov. Frank Murkowski, and passed unanimously in the Senate, with only one dissenting voice in the House.

“If it works, great,” he said. “If it doesn’t, we’re back to square one.”

He said oil companies could start building a natural gas pipeline right away, but wanted large amounts of money from the state in order to do so. Under the past administration, he said, the state would pay $11.2 billion for the oil companies to pump more than 35 trillion cubic feet of gas.

“They want the state to build it for them,” he said. He blames the past administration, and looks at the Legislature to make sure Alaska gets its share, Wagoner said.

ExxonMobil bore the brunt of his dissatisfaction. He said the chief executive officer of Exxon told the government that the $16.2 billion price tag to build the gas line was too expensive without government subsidies.

“(And then) they want Alaska and other states to subsidize them,” he said. “Why should we subsidize banana republics?”

At the end of Wagoner’s address, Soldotna Mayor David Carey thanked Wagoner for helping the chamber support the military.

“(He) saved us by reaching into his own pocket to mail hundreds of packages,” Carey said, refering to care packages sent to soldiers overseas in the Red White and Blue program.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.

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