Juneau legislators wanting to discuss their initiatives in the upcoming Legislative session during a luncheon instead went on the defensive after being blamed for not stopping the loss of state government jobs known as capital creep.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, Sen. Kim Elton and Rep.-elect Cathy Muñoz attended Thursday's Chamber of Commerce luncheon as guest speakers, but Kerttula and Elton ended up being grilled by former state commissioner Greg O'Clary instead.
O'Clary, who served as the commissioner for the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development under former Gov. Frank Murkowski, blamed the two politicians for not standing up to Gov. Sarah Palin while more than 200 state jobs left Juneau since her term began.
Elton and Kerttula were quick to point the finger in another direction - at Palin.
"That was Sarah Palin, not I," Kerttula responded. "We wanted to see those jobs stay in Juneau. ... (Palin) has been a disaster in keeping jobs in Juneau."
Elton, who has conducted extensive research on his own regarding the exodus of state jobs from Alaska's capital, said Juneau's elected officials are doing everything they can to prevent the loss of more jobs, which he estimates is about $6 million in payroll per month.
"I don't want anyone here ... thinking the Juneau delegation isn't doing anything," he said.
Elton said he has been vocal about the impact job losses are having on the community, and Kerttula advised residents to start calling on Palin to stop capital creep. Currently 11 of Palin's 14 commissioners also live outside Juneau.
Former governor Murkowski and others required commissioners to do their jobs in Juneau. Palin has instead run the state from Anchorage, where she commutes each day from her Wasilla home.
The Legislature could react to Palin by tightening up on the state's budget, Elton said, adding that the biggest loser would be "the people who these agencies serve."
Getting the state's budget in order, he said, will be the Legislature's biggest and most difficult task since oil prices dropped from more than $140 a barrel last summer to current rate of $43 a barrel. The supplemental and capital budgets will be the hardest hit, Elton said.
"I suspect the capital budget will be very small," he said.
A federal stimulus package will help offset the state's monetary shortfalls, he said, with $87 billion being used to cover Medicaid costs and $79 million in aid for Alaska school districts.
Kerttula wants the money to be used for intensive-needs students, "something we can't afford to cut." She also intends to make another run at having a bill passed that will allow for child care facilities in state office buildings, a bill that failed a few years ago by a single vote.
Muñoz, said she will lobby for the construction of the Lynn Canal Highway and educational reforms, such as extending the dropout age to 18 and focussing on more vocational training for young workers to prepare them for jobs in the oil and mining industries.