House District 33 primary election candidates faced off Tuesday in Soldotna fielding questions on everything from the budget crisis and taxes to tourism and how to invest the Alaska Permanent Fund.
The occasion was the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Two of the three Republican candidates were on hand, including Kelly J. Wolf, of Kenai, founder and director of the Youth Restoration Corps, and Mel Krogseng, of Soldotna, an owner Krog's Kamp Fishing Lodge and former legislative aide. Absent was David L. Richards, of Soldotna, who operates Richard's Kenai River Charters. Business obligations left him unable to attend, he said.
Also at the forum was Hal Smalley, a retired teacher and former member of the Alaska House of Representatives, who is running unopposed on the Democratic Party's primary ballot.
Krogseng is a 32-year resident of Alaska who has owned a business on the peninsula since 1984 and has resided here since 1990. She worked for former Rep. Ramona Barnes from 1989 to 1993, before serving for several months during 1993 in the administration of Gov. Walter Hickel in the Department of Corrections and Department of Health and Social Services, She then returned to work as chief of staff for Barnes when Barnes became Speaker of the House. She later worked for Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell.
Wolf has been in Alaska since 1975 and is a graduate of Kenai Central High School. In 1997, he launched the Youth Restoration Corps, a nonprofit organization that gives young people hands-on experience restoring habitat and promoting stewardship of the environment.
Smalley has lived in Alaska since 1970 and on the peninsula since 1974. He spent 27 years as a teacher in Kenai and in the Bush. Among other things, he served from 1998 to 2000 in the Alaska House, and earlier as a member of the Kenai City Council. He has been a director of the Alaska Municipal League.
Asked what their top three goals would be if they were elected to the House, Wolf said he'd work to make government more accountable.
"State agencies believe they control the Legislature," he said.
He pointed to the Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation decision to close state parks in reaction to budget cuts.
He also said the state needs to put more of its land into private hands and to generate more revenues.
Krogseng said that while others are important, only three things require immediate attention.
"Cut spending, enhance revenues through resource development and protect the Alaska Permanent Fund," she said.
Smalley said that while it would be nice to go to Juneau with a slate of issues, getting the state's fiscal affairs in order is primary over everything else.
"There's been a lot of talk," he said, "but little action." He also said he would push for "quality affordable and accessible government."
The candidates were asked what they could offer to the Kenai Peninsula specifically.
Smalley returned to the need for a long-range fiscal plan. He also said he would work to fund borough and city projects and ensure "solid public safety and transportation in our communities."
Wolf said he was "a real strong supporter of funding our classrooms, of public safety and of roads."
Krogseng said she had to offer her experience.
"I've worked for both the private sector and the public sector," she said. "I'm a nurse and a former U.S. Air Force officer." She said she'd bring "honesty, ethics and integrity."
On tourism, Wolf said the state needed to help the industry so it would generate revenues.
Smalley agreed, saying tourism could be marketed more and that winter tourism continued to grow.
Krogseng said she supports government help to the industry but believes it should be geared toward the mom and pop, small-scale operations, not only the cruise ship lines and airlines.
"However, we are in a spending deficit," she said. "I don't think at this time, without knowing that we are going to see an immediate return, that we can afford to spend more money."
A major issue among candidates is the proposed long-range fiscal plan. The candidates spoke about what they thought such a plan should include.
"I believe we can develop a fiscal plan and generate revenues by working with small businesses within the state and the industries we have here right now, first. From there, we can look at Outside interests," said Wolf.
Smalley said a plan must be "fair, close the gap, and have the most minimal impact on the state's economy." He said the state cannot just cut spending but must put revenue enhancement programs in place.
Krogseng said any fiscal plan should include zero-based budgeting. That means not writing annual budgets by starting with the previous year's and adding and subtracting sums. Every department should begin with a blank slate and justify every dollar, every year, she said.
"We haven't zeroed out the budgets and had the departments build their budgets from scratch in a very, very long time," she said.
A fiscal plan must include promoting a pipeline and building roads into new areas to develop resources.
A questioner from the audience wanted to know how the candidates felt about investing the Permanent Fund in Alaska.
Each said they would support investing more than the current 1 percent of the portfolio in Alaska.
Krogseng said money could be used to build a bridge across Turnagain Arm.
Wolf said he saw no reason why the fund couldn't invest in struggling small businesses.
Smalley said he thought the managers of the fund had done a good job, despite the rocky stock market. He wasn't opposed to upping the amount invested in Alaska, but he also said investment decisions should be left up to the Permanent Fund Corporation, not the Legislature.
On taxes, Wolf said he favored a sales tax primarily because it would take less government bureaucracy to manage than an income tax.
Smalley said he favored an income tax.
Krogseng said there was no need for an income tax. What was needed was to consolidate services and shrink government while promoting resource development.
Krogseng said she would be a "strong conservative voice" for the district.
Wolf said the bureaucracy was out of control and that change was needed.
Smalley said he would work for that which led most residents to choose the Kenai Peninsula as their home -- "the quality of life," he said.
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