Lieutenant governor candidates speak out

Parnell, Ward voice positions on oil tax, fishing issues

Posted: Thursday, July 27, 2006

Neither of the two Alaska Republicans running for the post of lieutenant governor who spoke at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday thinks a 20 percent petroleum production tax is high enough.

Neither supports Proposition 2, a ballot initiative aimed at taxing cruise ship passengers $46 per voyage, and they feel electronic voting machines must print out receipts to ensure election results can be verified at a later date.

Both also said a spur line to the Kenai Peninsula from a proposed pipeline for North Slope natural gas is essential to the area’s energy future, although only one was willing to shoot down any proposal that doesn’t require such a line.

It was on such issues — and the thorny issue of the Kenai River’s weak sockeye return — that candidates Sean Parnell, of Anchorage, and Jerry Ward, of Nikiski, spoke at the chamber’s forum, which represents the first election-related luncheon leading up to the Aug. 22 primary.

Gubernatorial candidates Sarah Palin and John Binkley will be at the next chamber meeting, set for noon Wednesday at Paradisos.

It was the sockeye issue upon which Ward seized first. Ward, a former Alaska state representative, used his opening remarks to thank Pastor Rick Cupp for his mention of the weak run’s effect on families during the meeting’s opening prayer.

Ward cautioned, however, that state officials must be prepared to deal with the consequences of worldwide problems, as well.

“It’s important that the fish run didn’t come back, but I think events going on in the world will eventually come back to us even in Alaska,” he said in a reference to the turmoil gripping the Middle East.

Parnell, a lawyer from Anchorage who served with Ward in the Legislature, noted during his opening remarks that he hopes to preserve job opportunities for Alaska’s future generations.

“I see Alaska as a place of hope and opportunity,” Parnell said.

He told the chamber he came to Alaska as a fifth-grader and has stayed since because of the opportunities available here.

“I’m running for lieutenant governor to preserve those opportunities.”

After opening remarks came the forum itself, during which the candidates were given one minute to answer each question posed by moderator Merrill Sikorski.

When asked what could be done to prevent such a disastrous sockeye run in the future, Ward said regulations need a strong biological basis. Those engaging in subsistence fishing, he said, should be considered before commercial groups with political clout.

“I think the Board of Fish should do their management based on biology, not based on the ballot box,” he said. “I feel for the commercial fishermen, but whoever puts the fish on the table has priority.”

Parnell did not mention a specific strategy or user group in his response to the sockeye question, instead saying cooperation between the governor, lieutenant governor and state officials is the key to tackling fisheries policy.

“Have the lieutenant governor and the governor ever gotten along? No. I think we can change that,” Parnell said.

When the proposed natural gas pipeline issue arose, both Ward and Parnell said setting a profits tax at 20 percent, as Gov. Frank Murkowski has proposed, is a mistake. The rate should be at least higher, Parnell said, and the state should retain its ability to change the tax rate.

Murkowski’s proposal, which was part of negotiations on the building of a gas pipeline through Canada to the Lower 48, locks in the oil tax rate for 30 years and gas tax rates for 45.

Still, in order to secure investment for Alaska, oil companies need a tax regime on which to base investment decisions, he said.

“The longer we wait, the greater the instability is,” Parnell said.

Ward said he agreed with a 23.5 percent profits tax and said he believes a locked-in tax rate will snuff any tax bill.

“I don’t think the Legislature will go along with a 30- or 40-year giveaway, and I think the governor is recognizing that.”

Ward also said a pipeline contract that doesn’t require a spur line to deliver gas to the Kenai Peninsula would never have his support.

“If there is not a spur line going down to the Railbelt, it should not be passed, period,” Ward said.

Parnell also pointed to a need for certainty on the gas line contract. The current contract does not levy penalties if work on the pipeline doesn’t start — even if the tax structure Murkowski negotiated with oil companies passes intact.

“It needs some work,” Parnell said of the contract. “It needs some work commitments.”

Ward and Parnell are the only Republicans running in the Aug. 22 primary for a spot on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

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