Senate candidates differ on what needs to be done

Posted: Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, seeking his second term as the senator from District Q, will meet Independent candidate Robert Merchant of Kenai in the Tuesday general election.

Both are longtime Kenai Peninsula residents.

Merchant, a commercial fisher and retired construction worker, says he does not believe the Legislature has explored all avenues toward cutting the budget and says lawmakers should be exercising more fiscal discipline.

Closing the gap between revenues and expenditures will require a plan, he said. Among other things, that would mean cutting government employment and reducing paperwork, he said.

Merchant also has said he would reduce legislative expenses through attrition, reorganization and consolidating services. He said he would not vote to increase taxes while the general fund and Constitutional Budget Reserve have funds available.

Merchant has been a resident of Alaska for 35 years, but has lived on the Kenai Peninsula continuously since 1973. He has been a member of the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee, serving as its chair in 2003. He was director of the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association from 1999 through 2002.

Wagoner, also a commercial fisher and an owner of rental property, acknowledged that the state did face a serious fiscal gap as late as last year, but that the current level of world crude oil prices, now more than $50 a barrel, has changed the equation.

What had looked like a sizable shortfall in January would become a surplus by the end of the session, and that trend is likely to continue, he said. The Legislature did not so much fail to reach agreement on addressing the fiscal gap as find itself in a healthier financial position than expected, he said.

Wagoner promised that while his fiscal conservatism might lead him to challenge most proposed expenditures, he says he is a moderate when it comes to funding schools.

Wagoner also has lived in Alaska for 35 years and been in Kenai since 1969.

During his term in the Senate, which began in 2003, Wagoner has served as chair of the Community and Regional Affairs Committee, as co-chair of the Transportation Committee, and vice chair of the Resources Committee, among other legislative posts. He served three years as mayor of Kenai and three years on the Kenai City Council.

Columns by the candidates can be found on page A-4. Candidate questions can be found on page A-6.

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