Republicans: Murkowski good for resource development

Posted: Friday, November 22, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The new speaker of the House and the new Senate president said Thursday that having Frank Murkowski as Alaska's next governor is a good thing for resource development.

Under the Murkowski administration, a new message will be sent -- one that hasn't been realized in the past eight years under Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles, said Rep. Pete Kott, an Eagle River Republican chosen to be House speaker.

''It is not business as usual,'' Kott said. ''We in fact are open for business.''

Kott and Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, the newly-chosen Senate president, spoke at The Resource Development Council's annual meeting in Anchorage.

''The new Murkowski administration, doesn't that have a wonderful ring to it?'' Therriault said at the start of his speech.

During his campaign, Murkowski rejected the idea of new taxes to fix the state's budget crisis. He said resource development -- mainly filling the trans-Alaska pipeline with more oil -- is the key to bridging the budget shortfall, estimated last month to be $826 million by year's end if prices remain the same.

He promised as governor he'd push to get a natural gas pipeline built to deliver North Slope gas to the Lower 48 and get the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge opened to oil drilling.

Alaska relies on oil royalties and taxes for 80 percent of its $2.3 billion general fund budget. But with the aging of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, the pipeline carries about half the amount of oil it did at its peak 14 years ago.

The state faces difficult fiscal times, which will only worsen if the state's $2.2 billion Constitutional Budget Reserve is drained and empty within two years, discouraging new business in Alaska, Kott said.

With the state's largest revenue source in decline, the state is faced with figuring out how to pay for increased education funding and rising health care costs, he said.

Kott encouraged members of The Resource Development Council to move slowly and give Murkowski time to set his own agenda.

''We don't want to get too far out in front of the new administration,'' he said.

Kott strongly criticized the Knowles' administration, saying it talked as if it supported resource development but ''absolutely nothing took place.''

Not so, said Knowles' spokesman Bob King. The governor was instrumental in streamlining leasing that led to a record number of acres leased on the North Slope and the mining industry in Alaska for the first time topped $1 billion.

Knowles negotiated the Alpine and Northstar projects, he said.

''Look at all the work we put in on the gas line project. Knowles has been pushing that since taking office,'' he said. ''I think a lot of progress was made toward the gas line and I think it is going to happen.''

Knowles will get his chance to address The Resource Development Council on Friday, King said.

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