First elected in 2000, Rep. Mike Chenault is aiming for his fourth term in the Alaska House.
With no opposition candidate to face, the District 34 Republican, construction business owner and 40-year Nikiski resident is a lock for re-election. He is the current co-chair of the powerful House Finance Committee.
One of Chenault’s prime focuses has been securing education funding. That won’t change, he said in an interview Oct. 18.
“We need to continue to put pressure on other legislators to reopen the foundation formula, and address concerns from areas such as ours, and others, that deal with cost differential,” he said.
As to the chances the foundation formula problems would get addressed next session, Chenault said he didn’t know.
“There is room for movement there,” he said. “It’s a matter of working through the system and putting together a package.”
He said he hadn’t held out much hope early last session that additional education funding would be forthcoming, but by the end of session about $43 million more had been added than he had expected, thanks, he said, to a lot of support from House and Senate members.
Regarding a natural gas pipeline deal, Chenault said it was hard to tell how things would shake out next year without knowing who would be residing in the governor’s mansion.
“I would hope that as a legislature that we offer all the assistance we can to whichever candidate is elected,” he said. “It’s important to move forward to a gas line project.”
Chenault said he expects Republican nominee Sarah Palin to win, but added that as far as oil and gas issues were concerned, he’d have no problem working with Tony Knowles, a Democrat.
Chenault said Gov. Frank Murkowski’s work in getting the big three oil companies to sign onto a pipeline plan was “a feat in itself.” A lot of work has already gone into the process, he said.
“There are things I’d like to see changed certainty, surety and I’d like to see a date to start the project, but until the industry players go through it to see if it is viable, I can’t see tying them to a (date),” he said.
Another major issue facing the state is how to address the accumulating debt to public employee and teacher retirement systems (PERS/TRS). Chenault said bonding might be an option. He also said he does not see the debt as the crisis some suggest.
“It’s not a crisis,” he said. “Yes, $6.9 billion (the existing debt) is a huge number, but you have to look at it over the life of the retirement system which is roughly 25 years. We can only guess at what the stock market is going to do or what health care costs are going to do. Those are the issues we need to look at.”
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