Alaska’s senior senator began her talk at the chamber lunch last week with her intention to talk about something the crowd hadn’t heard before. However, national hot-button issues like sequestration and partisanship couldn’t be kept down.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski addressed local business leaders at Juneau’s Chamber of Commerce Business Roundtable Thursday afternoon. The senator had good things to say about Juneau’s businesses.
“I see so many around the room who we’ve worked with,” Murkowski said. “You are making things happen.”
Murkowski went with the good news first — sort of.
Alaska’s unemployment rate continues to fall, Murkowski said. Compared to the nation, Alaska is doing well in terms of unemployment, she said U.S. unemployment bumped up a tenth of a percent in January.
“It’s always interesting to see where we fall,“ Murkowski said. “Our economy tends to lag here.”
However she said Alaska’s good fortune is shaded by a turbulent nation. Intense partisanship in Washington, D.C. stifles Congress’s ability to govern.
“What we are seeing in the Congress,” Murkowski said, “from impasse, to crisis, to kicking the can down the road and then we start all over again. That injects uncertainty into our economy. It has gotten to the point where it is about winning instead of governing.”
She asked voters to hold Congress accountable.
Murkowski said this uncertainty results in the nation’s recent sluggish economy. If businesses can’t predict future taxes, don’t know the effects of changes to health care through the Affordable Care Act “when you don’t know, the best thing to do is hunker down,” Murkowski said. “Not investment in your business, not hire those new employees.”
Sequestration cuts are across the board, Murkowski said. She said she doesn’t know where the ax is going to fall.
“My beef,” Murkowski said, “is that it is absolutely indiscriminate.”
A third of the state’s budget comes from the federal government. And federal lands predominate in the form of the Tongass National Forest here in Southeast Alaska.
And Alaska is home to substantial military installations around the state. These federal agencies all face cuts from sequestration, Murkowski said.
Should sequestration come to pass “if you have a restaurant, if you have a business that relies on [federal funds],” Murkowski said, “all of a sudden you are going to feel that impact.”
The National Forest budget “is pretty important to this community,” Murkowski said, “pretty important to this region.”
The Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture are going to see across-the-board cuts, Murkowski said.
“It is coming,” Murkowski said. “What it will actually mean to us I simply can’t tell you with any degree of confidence.”
Murkowski said she believes that targeted cuts are preferable to across-the-board cuts.
“Let’s try to lessen the pain,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski said, when she was asked what changes to tax policy could help with the federal government’s sequestration issue, “Just give some certainty and then folks can move ahead. Even if the news is bad. If you know what it is you’re dealing with, you can manage it.”
Murkowski said she would like to see D.C. return to regular order. “Where the process works,” Murkowski said. Where ”… members with diverse visions come together for the better of the country.”
Murkowski then rattled off a list of her pet issues.
On genetically modified salmon:
“I hate ‘Frankenfish,’” Murkowski said.
On Japan tsunami debris:
“This is not going to be cheap,” Murkowski said. “But we all agree that this is necessary.”
Murkowski said she is pursuing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association for help with cleanup.
“Who owns the coast line?” Murkowski asked. “All around us is the Tongass.”
On the North Pacific Groundfish Observer program:
Murkowski recommended electronic monitoring “instead of putting another human being on a cramped vessel.”
On the confirmation hearing of former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary:
“My view is his performance ... was really quite concerning," Murkowski said. “I don’t think we ever equivocate on Iran,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski said one of the major difficulties of representing Alaska is that many people don’t understand the state’s unique needs.
“They say they’ve seen Alaska” as tourist, Murkowski said. “But they don’t know us.”
• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.