Old ad becomes part of Fairbanks senate race debate

Posted: Sunday, November 03, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- As Tuesday's election approaches, an advertisement that is more than three years old has become part of the debate in the Fairbanks Senate race between Democrat Rep. John Davies and Republican Ralph Seekins.

Seekins appeared in the 1999 ad urging voters to support a proposal by the governor and Legislature to allow the use of some Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to pay for government.

In his current campaign for Senate District D, Seekins is running campaign spots that in part criticize the role Davies had in a proposal earlier this year to use some permanent fund earnings for that same purpose.

The 1999 measure proposed to restructure the permanent fund to create a new account, then withdraw a certain amount each year from that account to be split equally between paying for government and for dividends.

The change would have dropped 2001 dividend checks to about $1,340; dividends would have stayed at that level as a base and gradually grown with the fund.

Voters statewide were asked only whether they supported using a portion of fund earnings to pay for state government; they were not asked to vote on the plan itself.

The measure failed resoundingly at the polls, receiving less than 17 percent support.

A 1999 newspaper advertisement paid for by the Vote YES! Committee featured statements by 29 prominent Fairbanksans all over the political spectrum in support of a 'yes' vote on the measure.

The list included Seekins, William R. Wood, the then-mayors of Fairbanks, North Pole and the Fairbanks North-Star Borough, University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton, and current Republican House member Hugh Fate.

Seekins' Senate campaign ads this year make it clear that he does not favor the use of permanent fund money for government. ''I don't agree with a personal income tax or a reduction in your dividend money,'' begins one Seekins commercial. ''I don't want to take hard-earned money out of your family checkbook.''

Seekins argues that weighing his stance in 1999 against statements from his current campaign is comparing apples and oranges. He says that the fiscal gap at the time was estimated at more than twice what it is at present.

Seekins also notes that the 1999 measure was just an advisory vote and that his further decisions on the subject would have depended on specifics.

''It would not have resulted in any law, it was merely to give the opinion of the people to the Legislature,'' he said.

Davies also supported the 1999 measure, but Seekins' criticisms of Davies in advertisements center on Davies' support of a plan in the House this year that would have used some fund earnings to pay for government.

Seekins argues that the difference between the 1999 proposal and this year's House plan is that the 1999 plan required a popular vote.

''What I'm saying about Mr. Davies is, he had no vote of the people,'' he said. ''He just took it.''

Davies argues that Republican proposals to fill the budget hole through restraint and new revenues are unrealistic and that their inevitable result would be use of fund earnings at a far higher level than the one Davies supported.

''In the long run, if we do nothing-according to the Republican plan-they'd have to use the entire dividend to balance the budget,'' he said.

Seekins says he does not oppose using fund earnings if it becomes necessary and in fact says he would favor that over an income tax if it came to it.

But he argues the state still has enough in its budget reserve to give it time to try to solve the budget gap through economic development, budget control and other means.

''I don't agree with taxes or a dividend reduction right now,'' he said.

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