Democratic and Republican legislators reacting to Gov. Frank Murkowski's upbeat State of the State address Wednesday night agreed that he identified some of the state's biggest challenges - education, substance abuse and jobs.
Though Republicans gave him kudos for his positive outlook on Alaska's economy and for recent job growth, Democrats said Murkowski offered some faulty ideas to fix the state's chronic problems.
Some Republican majority leaders expressed caution about some of his proposed increases in state spending.
House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he was pleased with the governor's speech overall but displeased with the proposal to "spread the price of oil" to provide a two-year budget cycle for school districts. "I would expect our legislature to scrutinize that," he said.
Democrats said Murkowski's proposed education budget increase of $126 million isn't enough to meet the critical needs of school districts in Anchorage and Juneau.
Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said the governor implied in his speech that schools can improve under his proposal. But, Elton said, while it addresses inflation problems and retirement fund costs, the $126 million doesn't provide enough for textbooks, libraries and special education.
It isn't just urban school districts that face those basic problems, Elton said.
"The challenges in the Bush are incredible," he said. "We're talking about some schools with two teachers."
The Democrats pointed out possible flaws in two oil proposals unveiled for the first time by Murkowski.
They hammered Murkowski for his proposal to buy equity in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline while it is running half full. Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, called the idea "a strange form of Republican socialism." Others said it could lead to harmful financial liability for the state if oil prices tank.
Democratic leaders congratulated Murkowski for looking at the $1.3 billion disparity between oil producers' income and the state's oil production tax income. But they found his administration's decision to increase taxes only on Prudhoe Bay satellite oil fields a weak tonic.
That tax hike leaves out some of the state's most productive oil fields, said Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage.
Reacting to the Democrats' comments Wednesday night, Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, said the Democrats were being "negative, negative, negative."
"I think he has jump-started this state as he has promised to," Therriault said.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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