Both candidates running for the state House of Representatives District 33 seat told Soldotna business leaders the natural gas pipeline contract is the most important issue facing the Alaska Legislature right now.
Speaking at a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce candidate forum, incumbent Kurt Olson and challenger Pete Sprague, who is a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, agreed on a number of subjects posed by moderator Evy Gebhardt, chamber president.
Olson credited Gov. Frank Murkowski with being able to get oil and gas producers to sit down and talk about a gas pipeline that would bring North Slope natural gas to market, and said currently ConocoPhillips “is the only one that wants to get up and get moving” on the project.
While Sprague agreed that the pipeline will be the biggest issue facing the Legislature, he said he is “concerned about the state getting its royalties in gas and not in cash.”
Linking the gas line contract with the governor’s petroleum production tax, which passed early last summer, Sprague said the tax needs to be rewritten, basing the tax on oil company’s gross production, not net.
Both candidates agreed that Proposition 2 on the Nov. 7 ballot would hamper efforts by oil and gas companies to move stranded North Slope gas to market. The measure calls for taxing companies annually for gas reserves still in the ground until a gas pipeline is built.
“If an oil and gas company explores even if it isn’t developed they will be taxed,” said Sprague.
“This will seriously hamstring exploration and development,” he said. “If they can’t explore, they can’t develop.”
“Proposition 2 will push the (gas) pipeline back eight to 10 years,” said Olson.
He pointed out that ExxonMobil has contributed $400,000 and ConocoPhillips $250,000 toward a current advertising campaign opposing Prop. 2.
When asked about ethics reform, Olson said a proposition passed by the state a year ago limiting campaign spending to $500 “didn’t go far enough.”
“I don’t take my donor list with me when I go to Juneau,” he said, adding he would not accept a contribution from “the Big 3 (oil companies).”
“We the voters changed the spending limits, not we the state,” said Sprague.
“At the (borough) Assembly level, I passed an ordinance that made conflict of interest black and white,” he said.
Sprague also said he wrote an ordinance that mandates elected borough officials take one year off after leaving office before they can be hired into a paid borough position.
When asked if they agreed with a lawsuit asserting inadequate funding for education, Olson said a suit is “not a satisfactory way to address the issue, but all the other means have been tried.”
“The plaintiffs are suing for adequacy in education funding,” said Sprague.
“We need (equity) in education funding, not adequacy,” he said.
“Unless we get our equitable share, we’ll never be on the same playing field,” Sprague said.
In closing remarks, Olson said he has the most experience working on the gas pipeline project and on Alaska’s public employee retirement plan financial problems.
“I look forward to representing you again for the next two years,” he said.
Saying, “I was your mailman for many years,” Sprague likened the qualities and values needed in a mailman to those needed in an elected state representative.
“I have a willingness to listen and to help,” Sprague said.
“We need to get rid of closed caucuses, get rid of closed primaries. Do you want the FBI investigating your Legislature?
“It’s time for a change,” he said.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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