District 33 candidates promise different paths to House

Posted: Monday, October 28, 2002

Divergent political philosophies separate the two candidates running for House District 33, and they've given voters plenty to think about on Nov. 5.

Republican Kelly J. Wolf and Democrat Harold "Hal" Smalley seek to represent the geographically small but relatively densely populated area that includes the cities of Kenai and Soldotna and stretches south to Coal Creek. They have promised to take different paths if elected to the Alaska House of Representatives.

Wolf proposes more rapid development of the state's natural resources by building roads into wilderness areas to reach them. Resource development should be a cornerstone of any plan to reduce the fiscal gap, he said. He wants to see administrative positions cut in state government to reduce costs, and he opposes taxes to raise revenues.

Wolf said he would not touch the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program without a vote of the public.

Smalley said the state needs a long-range fiscal plan that will be fair, close the gap and do it with as little impact on the state's economy as possible. It also must stop the drain on the Constitutional Budget Reserve Account, which lawmakers have tapped repeatedly over the past several years to make up for annual budget shortfalls.

Building a workable long-range plan means considering everything, including taxes and the permanent fund, he said. However, Smalley also said he would not vote to tap the fund or change the dividend program without a public vote and taxation should be "next to the very end" of the discussion.

Smalley said he, too, supports resource development but wants to protect Alaska's environment. He has said building new roads also carries a maintenance cost.

Wolf said the state could save money by eliminating what he called redundancies in the state permitting processes that he said exist in the Department of Fish and Game, the Department or Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Conservation and others.

"Sen. Ted Stevens years ago developed the Kenai River Center, bringing agencies together in a one-stop shop," he said. "That streamlined the process for habitat restoration or anything having to do with the Kenai River. Why are we not doing the same in oil and gas and resource development, too? I feel strongly that we need to do away with certain redundant permits. If we make each permit process the same, you can eliminate positions. You don't need people in each and every agency doing the same thing."

Smalley said there is probably some streamlining to be done, and he pointed to the oil and gas industry specifically, where he said some time savings might be found where multiple permits cover the same areas. But state permitting rules have a place.

"Permits are a reflection of the concern for the environment," he said. "I want to believe the oil industry is concerned for the environment, too. They live in Alaska as well as many of their employees do."

Smalley said he doubted whether speeding up the permitting process would translate to real cost-savings for government, however.

A retired teacher, Smalley said funding education, kindergarten through college level, would be a priority. He supports adjusting the state's foundation formula, by which it doles out dollars to school districts.

But Smalley said inflation is a major concern.

"I've noticed inflation is eating up the state budget, and the education budget is no different," he said. "In the last 12 to 15 years, inflation is up 30 percent. The Legislature has kept up with about 5 percent. That's a net loss of purchasing power of 25 percent. We can't continue to operate and fund school programs with that happening."

Smalley proposed that school funding be inflation-proofed.

Wolf said education was a top issue for him, as well. He said funding for schools could be found today if the University of Alaska were to sell its land holdings.

"I'm not talking about putting it all on the market, but we need to look at it," he said.

Wolf also thinks the myriad of nonprofit agencies that receive state aid need to be weaned.

"The party's over," he said, adding that American corporations have plenty of money available for the asking.

He would gradually pull nonprofits back from the state trough, he said, weaning then over time.

"I don't know if that's necessarily appropriate," Smalley said. "You need to look at it on a case-by-case basis."

Many nonprofits, such as United Way, he said, do a remarkable job. It and other nonprofits do solicit and receive corporate donations as well as individual donations and help from state government. But when times are tight for individuals, they are for corporations as well, and that can affect donations, he said.

"The nonprofits are working for our citizens," he said. "Do I think (state aid) is onerous? No."

Smalley said he would push for legislation to broaden public access to health insurance programs available to government workers.

Wolf said he opposes increasing the size of the government bureaucracy that such a program might require.

Smalley has said he doesn't think the state spends enough to promote Alaska as a tourist destination and said he would work to increase state expenditures in support the industry.

Wolf said the state is spending enough and that businesses in the tourism industry should do more to support each other.

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