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July 5, 2002 The Voice of the Times blames Gov. Knowles for economic slump

Posted: Monday, July 08, 2002

Gov. Tony Knowles, to his credit, took office 7 1/2 years ago by declaring that Alaska was open for business. But not much came from the declaration and today Alaska's economy is sagging more than it is soaring.

In some parts of the state, we're far worse off than we were before. Wrangell and Ketchikan, for example, have suffered crippling economic blows because of environmental activism that has shut down timber operations.

An opportunity to stimulate the economic future by providing tax assistance to offset financial risks in building a new natural gas pipeline foundered in the last Legislature. The governor let the matter slide, not adding it to his call for a special session.

Meanwhile, oil production from the North Slope ebbs as the older Prudhoe Bay fields continue to mature -- and exploration of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is stymied by Democratic leaders in the Senate who have cast their lot with the environmental brigade.

The ''open for business'' banner has lost its luster.

On the other hand, Seattle business leaders -- fearing more economic blows similar to that which came when Boeing moved its headquarters to Chicago -- have turned up the heat on state and local political leaders. A new report by the Seattle Business Climate Coalition says the mayor and City Council need to start doing things that must be done if Seattle is to be ''a superior choice'' over other cities ready to eat its economic lunch.

''We'd better not take anything for granted anymore,'' said Steve Leahy, president of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. ''You've got to be competitive just to keep what you've got.''

The coalition made more than two dozen recommendations, including one that calls for approval of a $7.7 billion statewide transportation package that will be on the November ballot -- to be funded by a 9 cents-a-gallon increase in gasoline taxes.

Another opposed a new city parking tax being proposed by the president of the City Council, Peter Steinbrueck. Rather than new taxes, the coalition said an existing city business-and-occupation tax on research and development should be repealed.

The report follows on the heels of comments from John Warner, the Boeing executive who led the aerospace company to move its headquarters and 400 high-paying executive jobs to Chicago.

To get Boeing, Warner reminded Seattle, Chicago and Illinois promised $63 million in tax incentives -- and prevailed over competing bids from Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver.

Meanwhile, Alaska, floundering in its quest for new business, spent a lot of time during the last Legislature talking about imposing new taxes. Not a good way to advertise for new business.

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