Torgerson sees busy Senate year

Posted: Monday, October 29, 2001

A natural gas pipeline, the budget gap and subsistence will be the hot topics when the Alaska Legislature returns to business in Juneau, Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, said last Tuesday in what may be his final appearance as one of Homer's legislators.

Because of reapportionment, Homer will soon share a Senate district with Seward and Kodiak, and Torgerson will remain with the central Kenai Peninsula.

"I don't think it's necessarily a bad alignment," he said of Homer, Seward and Kodiak. The coastal cities share certain characteristics such as a fishing economy, state ferry service and the like. But, he added, "Personally I'm sad not to represent you any more."

Torgerson is chair of the Senate Resources Committee, the Joint Committee on a Natural Gas Pipeline and the Community and Regional Affairs Committee, which should keep him in the thick of events in Alaska and Homer.

Torgerson said he spent much of his summer and fall in Washington, D.C., and Canada lobbying for a pipeline route that goes through Alaska.

The other possibility is an "over-the-top" route favored by oil companies that bypasses most of Alaska and goes directly to Canada.

"My message has been that Alaska doesn't get much out of that except maybe $50 million a year in royalties," he said.

If the line is built through Alaska, it provides not only jobs but cheap fuel to heat homes and create electricity for industry.

"There is a future out there," he said. "But if we go over the top, we lose this opportunity."

The Legislature will tackle the sticky issue of raising revenues this year, he said. Torgerson said he supports several smaller measures, such as a statewide seasonal sales tax, higher corporate taxes and bringing gasoline and diesel taxes up to the national average, but did not mention state income tax or capping the Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.

He also voiced support for new subsistence legislation.

"I hope something comes up that puts that before voters" to resolve. "We need to get that behind us."

Capital project needs could be satisfied with an enormous statewide general obligation bond, Torgerson said. "The key is geographical support," meaning every community would have reason to vote in favor because every community would have a project in it.

However, he cautioned, Homer would need to be specific about its top choice.

"If you give us a laundry list, your possibility of being in on the package gets less and less." Specifically, he said, "If the university is your No. 1 project, let's focus on that and get it done."

Torgerson said he would withhold comment on the annexation proposal from the Local Boundary Commission staff until the commission itself has decided. But, he added, "I'm certainly a lot happier with 3.5 square miles than with 25."

If the current reapportionment plan stands, Homer and Seward will be in House District 35 and would join with Kodiak and part of the Lake and Peninsula Borough to form Senate District R. That would require midterm elections next November to choose a new Senate representative. Until then, Torger-son is Homer's senator.

Legal challenges to the plan go to trial Jan. 14, said Philip Volland, who is representing the Alaska Redistricting Board in the case.

Joel Gay is the managing editor of the Homer News.

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