Hawkins: Alaska cannot cut its way out of budget crisis

Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2002

If he's elected in November, Senate District Q Democratic Party candidate Patrick Hawkins said he would put away the kind of partisan politics that he believes has helped stymie development in Alaska.

While the Soldotna resident said he isn't "out pounding the podium" for oil development and for turning state land over to private ownership, as he said incumbent Sen. Jerry Ward has, he does recognize that opportunities have been missed.

"We have had a Republican majority in the Alaska House and Senate and now a Republican president, but we haven't seen ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) developed. We need action now. If they don't do anything, your Alaska Permanent Fund will be taken away. It doesn't take a rocket scientist."

Hawkins said he would seek consensus on difficult issues, an approach that should have been applied to the state's looming fiscal crisis. While the Republican majority in the Senate avoided compromise, the state is within two years of exhausting the dwindling Constitutional Budget Reserve account, he said.

"We haven't solved the fiscal problem," he said, because "politicians are posturing for re-election."

Hawkins said he would support an income tax to generate new revenue.

While he would continue looking for ways to streamline government, he said one thing must be recognized.

"We are not going to cut a billion dollars from the budget," he said. "If (voters) want to believe in the tooth fairy, elect the same people. Then we'll fall off the cliff in two years."

Doing nothing -- that is, enacting no income or sales taxes, no increases in user fees and facing an inability to cut enough to cover the $1 billion fiscal gap -- will put even more pressure on lawmakers to eye the earnings of the permanent fund for revenue.

It's time to start looking at other revenue generators, including such things as seasonal sales taxes, a fuel tax, a tax on cruise ships and a state lottery, he said.

Hawkins faces one challenger in the primary, Kurt Loyal Melvin of Nikiski, though he said he has not heard much from his opponent. But he's less concerned with Melvin than with the state's new primary balloting system. He said he is working to get nonpartisans and undeclared voters to vote for him, but needs voters to pick up the Democratic Party ballot. The Republican race for Senate District Q has drawn three candidates, including the incumbent, and could draw many voters to select the Republican ballot instead.

Hawkins said he does not consider the Senate a full-time job. He would take a leave of absence from his job with Safeway, but come back to the Soldotna store when the Legislature is not in session.

Among the things Hawkins said he'd like to change is the amount of paperwork various government functions take. He said he thinks citizens and government

workers alike must negotiate a "paperwork maze" to get anything accomplished.

"Instead of bashing state employees, we should go to employees for suggestions on how to save money," he said, adding that some sort of cash incentive for cost-cutting suggestions might work.

Hawkins has lived in Alaska since 1966 and in Soldotna since 1987. His only previous elected office experience is as a member of the Central Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board.

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