State House candidates campaign in Kenai

Posted: Thursday, August 12, 2004

Three of four Republicans hoping to win their party's nomination for the Alaska House seat from District 33 in the Aug. 24 primary, along with the lone Democrat the winner will face Nov. 2, presented their visions for the state's future Wednesday at a political forum presented by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce.

Rep. Kelly Wolf, who holds the District 33 seat, announced earlier this summer he would not seek re-election after serving only one term.

The Republicans in the race who attended the forum included Kurt Olson of Soldotna, who recently resigned his job as an aide to Sen. Tom Wagoner; John "Ozzie" Osborne Sr., a retired resident of Kenai; and Melva "Mel" Krogseng of Soldotna, a business owner and former legislative aide.

Another Republican hopeful, David "Dave" Richards of Soldotna, did not attend.

Representing the Democrats was former House member Hal Smalley of Kenai, a retired teacher.

Olson said he's lived on the Kenai Peninsula since 1982, including 13 years in the Kenai area and nine more in Soldotna, making him the only District 33 Republican candidate to have lived in both communities. He has served on the Soldotna City Council.

"My three priorities for going down to Juneau would be adequate funding for education, public safety and road maintenance," he said.

For the past few years as a legislative aide, he has focused on efforts to bring a natural gas pipeline to the peninsula.

Osborne said he would not support the recently discussed percent-of-market-value approach to managing the permanent fund but could get behind a cap on state spending.

"I'd support no new taxes or fee increases," he said, but he would support "responsible spending for schools, transportation and public safety."

He said he would support a natural gas pipeline to the peninsula.

Krogseng, who is a delegate to the Republican National Convention in New York, said she's been a resident of Alaska for 34 years and of the peninsula for more than 14. She said she has the experience to do the job.

"I know how the system works, and I know how to work the system," she said. "My diverse background has taught me how to bring people together. It's time to get our fiscal house in order. Balancing the budget, though, does not mean taking your permanent fund dividend, nor does it mean imposing new taxes."

She said the government must be downsized to a level consistent with the revenue stream. That can be done by consolidating services and eliminating unnecessary overhead and privatizing where cost-effective, she said.

Krogseng called for an education system "second to none," but added that money alone would not solve all problems. She would "get back to basics" and get parents back in the classroom, she said.

She supports opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and called resource development critical to the state.

Smalley said he's been involved in municipal or state government in some form for about 27 years. He offered his vision for the state.

"It's a vision of hope," he said. "We need to work on the things that we can do, promote those that we can do, not what we can't do."

He said he would work to protect the Alaska Permanent Fund earnings and develop a fair long-range fiscal plan that closed the gap between spending and income and has the least impact on the economy.

Alluding to proposals to limit the dividend, Smalley asked if it seemed fair to take the same amount from a preschool child as from the CEO of a corporation.

"I don't think so," he said.

He, too, said he would work hard to get a new gas source piped to the region.

"The statement shouldn't be, 'Can we afford to do this?' It's 'Can we afford not to do it?'" he said.

Asked whether it would make a difference which of them were elected, Krogseng reiterated her experience and said she could make hard decisions.

"I'm tough, I've been there. I know how it goes, and I know how to get the job done," she said.

Osborne acknowledged he would "be new down there" and wouldn't have the experience some others might have.

"They are going to have to put up with somebody new with my ideas," he said. "I'm pretty conservative and would not compromise too much on some things, and on some things I will."

Smalley said there were differences in philosophy and work ethic.

"I think it is time to send a representative to Juneau who has a record of leadership, who is experienced and has integrity," he said, adding that what was really important was to send a candidate willing and who "has the guts" to work with everyone.

Olson also touted his experience.

"I can only speak for myself," he said. "I won't have a learning curve."

When asked, the candidates said they would not support a statewide sales tax.

Smalley, however, added that in searching for a workable long-range fiscal plan, all ideas should be considered as "on the table." He said he supports municipal sales taxes, but would not vote on a state sales tax.

"The overriding factor is that Anchorage does not have a sales tax," Olson said. "If we had a statewide sales tax, we would still be losing business to Anchorage."

Osborne and Krogseng also said they would not support such a tax.

None of the candidates said they would back legislation limiting the number of fishing guides on the Kenai River. Krogseng pointed out there has been no significant increase in the number of guides since the mid-1980s.

The candidates also were asked about the impact of federal dollars on the state budget. Most agree federal money was important to the state and gave credit to Sen. Ted Stevens for bringing federal dollars to state projects, such as roads.

They also agreed that federal dollars often come with strings attached, and that sometimes the programs they create end up becoming a drain on state coffers when the federal dollars dry up.

"We have to take a very hard look at all the programs in which there is federal funding," Krogseng said. "Frequently, we are enticed with a carrot to start a program with federal dollars and then two years down the road the next thing we know is those federal dollars disappear and all we have left are the state dollars we are pouring into those programs."

She said she once had occasion to compare budgets from 1983 and 1993.

"You cannot believe how this government had increased. It's kind of like splitting atoms and building the domino effect," she said.

Smalley said it is hard to turn down federal dollars. Alaska is where it is today in transportation because of that external revenue stream, he said, adding that by some estimates, Alaskans see a 9-to-1 return on what they pay in federal income taxes.

"But nothing is free," he noted.

Olson said Alaska gets about $808 per capita when the national average was about $35 to $40, and added that problems will arise when Stevens, with his vast amount of accumulated seniority and power, is no longer there. Osborne predicted about "28 years worth of payback" as the demands of other parts of the country reduce Alaska's take.

Osborne agreed that federal dollars come with strings attached.

The candidates were asked about funding for borough schools and the impact of the formula used to determine how much state aide goes to each school district. All agreed the current formula ignores the fact that several borough schools are in remote locations but are treated as if they are urban. All called for an increase in state aide to the borough school district. Some suggested cost savings might be found through consolidating school districts around the state.

Asked whether they could support a statewide income tax, all said no. Smalley said the idea should be considered when it became necessary, but he would not vote on one if one were proposed in the next session of the Legislature.

Olson said he would vote against one primarily because, from what he has heard, only about 38 percent of Alaskans likely would pay an income tax.

All four candidates were in agreement when asked if Alaska should adopt a unicameral legislature, that is, combine the House and Senate into one body. All said no, noting that the current system provides a check and balance.

Asked their stands on abortion and gay marriage, Osborne said he was against both, Krogseng said she opposed gay marriage but noted that Roe v. Wade made access to abortion the law of the land. She said she opposed government funding of abortion.

Smalley agreed that Roe v. Wade was the law and said abortion was an issue between a woman and her doctor and not a place for the government to be involved. He said a state law already on the books dealing with marriage needed no change.

Olson said he opposes state or federal funding for abortion and was personally opposed to the practice, but said it was the law of the land. He said he opposed gay marriage.

Olson said if he were elected he would serve no more than three terms, adding that it takes that long to gain the experience and seniority to be effective. He said he believed he could make a difference.

Osborne said being retired gives him all the time necessary to put into the job.

Krogseng said she wanted to be a state legislator, but not because she needed a job. She said she wanted to streamline government one that needs to get its fiscal house in order.

Smalley said he is well-qualified and understands the system, a system he said has not been working well.

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