Croft: Leave Amerada Hess funds alone

Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 2005

In the face of mounting pressure from Alaska municipalities, Gov. Frank Murkowski has called for a community dividend program tapping Amerada Hess money in the Alaska Permanent Fund.

That’s a big mistake, said Eric Croft, an Alaska House member from Anchorage who is running for governor.

During a three-day campaign swing on the Kenai Peninsula that’s expected to wrap up in Soldotna today, Croft said he’s heard from Alaskans facing taxes and higher fuel and water costs.

“That’s true all over,” he said. “It’s important to understand why that’s a double whammy here. Frank Murkowski and this Republican Legislature cut municipal assistance and revenue sharing. Combine that with the fuel costs and the loss of the Longevity Bonus, and it’s making it difficult for seniors to stay here.”

Croft said Alaska has an obligation to restore assistance to Alaska communities, and that it should have “kept our word” on the longevity program.

Alaska is different than some states that have state and local sales taxes. Here, at a state level, Alaskans rely on revenue from resource development.

We have this wealth that is supposed to provide for all of us, and we aren’t sharing,” he said, adding he would introduce legislation to do that and keep pressure on the governor, who he said had “set up this horrible dichotomy that the only way he was going to accept municipal sharing is as a raid on the permanent fund.”

Croft said the longer he stays in the Legislature, the more fiscally conservative he becomes so far as the fund is concerned. He is convinced the Legislature would not spend that money wisely if given access.

There are, of course, legitimate state interests that should be funded. Schools, for instance. Croft said he intends to push legislation that would provide a funding incentive to districts that would encourage smaller class sizes. That’s most important in elementary school.

Croft envisions a grant program phased in over several years that would pay larger per-student allocations if districts would designate schools where class sizes would be limited to 18 students.

“It would be a dramatic increase in funding, but for a concrete reason,” he said. “If implemented fully, it would be somewhere between $150 million and $200 million additional funding to education per year,” he said.

Alaska can afford that, he said.

“We have been sold a bill of goods by politicians on both sides of the aisle who say if you want quality services you’ve got to give up your dividend. That’s bull,” Croft said.

Croft said he is focusing on three main issues in his campaign: Building a gas pipeline, reducing class size in K-3 classrooms and protecting the dividend.

Beyond that, the six-term state lawmaker said he's worried about the influence special interests have over elected officials.

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