Commentary: Back to the Capitol — what awaits?
The Legislature begins its return to the Capitol soon — and although the landscape has changed many of the key players have only changed committee positions. The clear result of the election, however, is that backers of Gov. Sean Parnell’s policies are in the driver’s seat.
Republicans are inviting some Democrats to caucus with the majority — we can only hope this is a small break in the ice dam of partisan gridlock that has marked the last two years in Juneau’s halls of power.
It’s time for Alaska’s Legislature to settle some important questions so we can move forward with securing Alaska’s future as a player in the oil business, as well as being a state that funds education and helps to meet the needs of rural areas with soaring fuel costs that cripple local economies.
Our nation has been through a grinding election season, one that surprised some not only by the intensity of feelings on both sides of the traditional two-party system, but by the intensity with which Ron Paul supporters made incursions into the state Republican Party.
While Mitt Romney took 51 percent of Alaska’s vote, 41 percent of voters with almost all the votes counted voted to re-elect Barack Obama.
This state has changed a bit in four years, and the political polarization that has emerged across the nation has its impacts here as well. All is not well. The status quo in many cases has been upset.
While our Legislature can’t save the world, it can get to work on Alaska.
The Legislature faces some big decisions, decisions the public cares a great deal about. Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan to reduce taxes on oil companies needs some serious consideration, and this time around we expect the governor to bring to the table some hard facts and hopefully some promises for oil companies that they will indeed ramp-up operations here is the tax climate is made more favorable.
Sen. Hollis French, a member of last session’s bipartisan coalition and a leading opponent of the governor’s plan, has held onto his Anchorage District J seat, according to preliminary results, by just 56 votes as of the most recent count. His challenger backed the tax reform package.
We hope that French and others who have opposed the plan will take a look at the facts and do what is best for Alaskans, not what is best for a partisan agenda. And we hope this issue is not all the Legislature talks about and acts upon.
There are other key issues that need attention:
• Alaska needs a proper Coastal Management Plan that gives our state a seat at the table where decisions about our natural resources are being made. We need a plan that makes sense and serves as a one-stop shop for permitting so our interests are protected and business still gets done.
• The Legislature has a chance to have a say in development of the Pebble Mine. We hope for statewide leadership on this issue, and we elect legislators to lead. A bill to give the Legislature say over that went nowhere last session. This is not the kind of question that should be settled by a ballot initiative where serious policy is decided in a popularity contest oiled with special interest money from all sides.
• Cities and villages need access to natural gas, and the Legislature should provide incentives to get natural gas flowing as an alternative means of fuel for cold Southcentral winters.
• Power supply is a crucial issue for Southcentral’s economic future. The hydroelectric project on the Susitna River must keep moving forward as long as it is proven the dam will not hamper salmon spawning.
• Juneau needs permanent state offices for many departments housed in a patchwork of offices across Juneau. Build a new state office building here, and continue funding the new State Library and Archives project in Juneau as well. It’s time to centralize scattered state offices, in Downtown or in the valley.
We look forward with optimism that, now that the silly season has passed and power has peacefully begun the process of transferring on national, state and local levels across our nation, that a new urgency to get down to business will strike the Legislature, and the bickering and posturing that led to very little will vanish like a faded campaign sign caught up in a Taku gust.