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Candidates discuss resources, finance

Posted: Thursday, October 28, 2004

MICHAEL L. YOURKOWSKI

(Democrat)

3059 Kachemak Drive

Homer, AK 99603

Phone: (907) 235-2628

Marital status: Married

Children: 2

Employment-business: Fisher

Age: 52

Education: Oregon State University

GARY L. STEVENS

(Republican Incumbent)

P.O. Box 201

Kodiak, AK 99615

Phone: (907) 485-4205

Marital status: Married

Children: 3

Employment-business: Retired college professor

Age: 62

Education: PhD and Master of Fine Arts from University of Oregon.

1. What do you think are the most important issues facing your constituents and what do you intend to do about them.

MICHAEL YOURKOWSKI: The fiscal gap. Making sure we have efficient government is the number one priority. We can increase revenue by restructuring the ELF (economic limitation factor). We're paying high prices at the pump, but companies are not paying a fair share for our oil.

There's a bill that's been proposed that does do that. I would work hard to get that bill through. It could add $300 million to $500 million to revenues.

Budget cuts. We have reached a limit on how much we can cut. Funds to education and senior care have been cut. There have been cuts to municipal revenue sharing, DEC, Fish and Game, Health and Human Services.

GARY STEVENS: Our fiscal problems, education and fisheries most concern the district and have been the focus of the work I've done in the last four years.

We need to put the POMV on the ballot and ask the public what they think of it as a management tool in 2006. That's part of the long-term solution.

We only have three or four years before the Constitutional Budget Reserve account runs out. By that time, we will have a half-billion dollar hole in the budget. We have got to pull our heads out of the sand. We have time.

Education is always at the forefront of my concerns. We added $82 million last year and we are making strides to solve some of the problems caused by lack of funding.

We have not yet revisited the foundation formula. It needs to be done.

Fisheries are crucial to the area. We must look closely at helping industry. It is important that we get as many of the limited entry permits back in Alaska as we can.

We've made some steps in salmon. We are getting in a better position to compete with farmed fish.

2. The fiscal gap facing the state has yet to meet a solution the Legislature couldn't kill. What new suggestions do you offer to the debate that might move lawmakers toward that solution?

YOURKOWSKI: One is to get our fair share of the high oil prices and restructuring the ELF. Two, streamline government and make it efficient. Three, as an absolute last resort, institute some kind of broad-based tax.

STEVENS: I was one of five senators who voted for the POMV (ballot measure). The House passed it. It was to be put to a vote of the public. Since that didn't happen, we have to wait until 2006.

I think the biggest reason (why there was no fix) was the enormous spike in oil prices. The crisis was backed off a couple of steps. We know it's not going to stay there. We can't balance our budget on the price of oil.

3. What are the prospects for your district with regard to the Pebble mine project and what are you prepared to propose to bring some of that business to the Kenai Peninsula?

YOURKOWSKI: The city of Homer is already working closely with Northern Dynasty Inc. The council has instructed the city manager to pull out all the stops and let them (Northern Dynasty) know we appreciate the opportunity to be of service.

We've showed them around the area. They are excited about using Homer's dock. The mayor has talked with them personally. We have given the manager instructions to go the extra mile to make sure Northern Dynasty knows it is welcome in our community.

The Pebble mine is a huge economic opportunity for our area. The project needs to go through, but it must be done right. It puts the salmon runs of Bristol Bay at risk.

There should be a special appropriation to DEC to oversee the project. There are environmental risks involved in a project of this size. We must make sure DEC has resources to monitor water and air quality in area.

STEVENS: This is a pretty exciting opportunity. It will last 50 years and produce maybe 800 jobs. It's enormous.

The Kenai Peninsula is in a good spot. Homer could serve as a service center.

My concern is that communities on the Alaska Peninsula be involved in this. What do they want in their communities? It could have an impact on that portion of the state with schools, housing and development.

The other issue is the environment. My big concern is that the project be studied carefully. I'm concerned about water quality and the effects on fisheries of a proposed slurry line.

The mixing zone issue is part of this.

4. Next year it is likely that despite the price of oil there will be calls for cuts in state expenditures. Where would you cut the budget? Explain your understanding of the effects of those cuts on the people dependent on programs losing funding?

YOURKOWSKI: We are always looking to make government more efficient, but I don't know that we can cut anymore. People are leaving our communities because education programs have been cut.

We have hit the end of the road as far as cuts. We are failing in our obligation to educate and protect children, take care of seniors and make our communities safe. There have been cuts to environmental protections and fishermen.

STEVENS: We have to prioritize what is important and less important in education, fish and game and the others. That's a tough thing to do.

Cuts will likely come across the board. There is no sacred cow. I can't even say if education will be above the cuts. Travel budgets are a place to cut, though it could make jobs harder to do.

Other things Stevens said could be considered include cuts to personnel, a hiring freeze, reduced Legislative spending, limiting purchases and a reduction in roadwork.

5. Where do you stand with regards to state involvement in a future gas pipeline? Royalties? Percent ownership?

YOURKOWSKI: I have gotten feedback (from constituents) to be a part owner, and that we missed that boat with the oil pipeline. I won't take position until I know more about it, but we need to make that pipeline happen.

Ownership should be a public option. The pipeline should benefit Alaskans with clean, cheap energy.

STEVENS: Royalties are important. We will do well from a pipeline. I'm cautious about state involvement, however. Nothing is certain, so I'm very cautious about investing. Where would the money come from? The permanent fund? Are we willing to put it on the line to invest in a pipeline?

6. What would you propose for protecting the environment of Alaska?

YOURKOWSKI: Throw the governor's mixing zone proposal right out the window. That's not an appropriate tool for a state that depends on its image of a pristine environment and fish. Move habitat (a division now in the Department of Natural Resources) back to the Department of Fish and Game. Increase funding to DEC so they have the manpower and resources to effectively manage their responsibilities.

STEVENS: Make sure the Pebble mine doesn't deteriorate water quality or our fisheries. Mainly protect fisheries.

7. What would you propose to expand business opportunities and jobs in Alaska?

YOURKOWSKI: One is build the gas pipeline so we can get cheap energy into some of our smaller communities so they can expand job opportunities and add value to other resources. Too often, we are shipping unprocessed resources out of Alaska.

Another would be to have fiber optic cable run to our remote areas, including Kodiak, so they can participate in Internet commerce.

Third, enhance marketing of our tourism and brand name fish so fisheries can expand.

STEVENS: Make sure the Pebble mine is done properly so there will be jobs there. On the peninsula, Agrium is an issue. We need to make sure we find a way to provide the resources they need. A bullet line (natural gas) from the North Slope to the Anchorage area is needed.

8. Other concerns?

YOURKOWSKI: My big deal is protecting the dividend. The Legislature is making an attempt to erode dividend. The Legislature and my opponent already took the Longevity Bonus. Seniors are hurting. That's not right. Now they want to take your dividend too. They want to take the dividend from my children.

STEVENS: I have supported taking a close look at the economic limitation factor (ELF). We are giving away resources we shouldn't be. There are two issues. Make sure we are getting our fair share and with these high oil prices we are not and second, making sure we don't kill the golden goose (oil company presence in Alaska). I don't know where that line is.



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