Juneau delegation gears up for session

Fiscal gap, education tax, subsistence among top concerns

Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Juneau's state lawmakers Tuesday speculated on the attention they expect the fiscal gap, subsistence, education and a Southeast caucus to receive in the legislative session that begins on Jan. 21.

Rep.-elect Bruce Weyhrauch, a Republican representing Lemon Creek, the Mendenhall Valley and points north, and Sen. Kim Elton, a Democrat representing all of Juneau, shared their predictions at the luncheon meeting of the Downtown Rotary Club.

Elton, who will serve on the Resources Committee and the Community and Regional Affairs Committee, said state government is under a cloud of campaign rhetoric that was devoid of talk about taxes during the election season.

"Many legislators and the main gubernatorial candidates all kind of ran on a platform that everything's kind of hunky-dory," Elton said. "So that campaign rhetoric takes awhile to disappear."

Weyhrauch, who will serve as chairman of the State Affairs Committee, co-chairman of the Administration Regulation Review Committee, and as a member of the Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee and the Legislative Council, said new revenue measures would not happen quickly this session.

He predicted a Ways and Means Committee originating in the House would formalize the process of developing new revenue measures.

Weyhrauch added that he is considering authoring a bill that would reinstate a $50-per-person tax for education that was repealed in 1982.

"It's small but I think it's a symbolic statement that everybody puts something into education and has a stake in it," Weyhrauch said.

Both lawmakers stressed the importance of building coalitions with other Southeast lawmakers through a regional caucus.

Elton said he assumes that all eight lawmakers in Southeast would want to participate to provide a unified voice for the region. Weyhrauch vowed to work with communities to develop resources so they can continue to thrive and in turn support Juneau.

"These small communities are what I came up to Alaska to be part of, and they're critical to the backbone of the state. We're the state of Alaska, not the state of Anchorage," Weyhrauch said.

On the issue of capital projects, Elton predicted that with a new governor and high turnover of lawmakers following the general election in November the Legislature will pass a restrained capital budget.

Last session Juneau captured capital-improvement money for harbor upgrades, road construction and maintenance, and a combined National Guard armory and University of Alaska Southeast recreation center.

"I don't think you are going to see anything on that magnitude for Juneau or any other community," Elton said.

But with U.S. Rep. Don Young sitting as head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Washington, D.C., Alaska might see an influx of federally funded transportation projects this year, Elton predicted.

Weyhrauch said he would do everything in his power this session to make sure the capital-move issue is dead. He said he intends to work with Rep. Bill Williams, a Saxman Republican, on a bill to require initiative petitioners to collect signatures from across the state. Under current law, initiative sponsors can collect enough signatures from population centers like Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough to put a measure on the ballot.

Weyhrauch also plans to form a commission to determine what improvements can be made to the Capitol such as better parking, greenbelts, affordable housing for lawmakers and staff, and covered walkways.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.

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