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Alaska editorial: Governor's State of the State address surprises

Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2005

This editorial appeared in Friday's Anchorage Daily News:

High oil prices give Frank Murkowski the chance to be an old-fashioned democratic socialist - more money for education, kids, seniors and social workers, plus higher taxes on the oil industry and state ownership of the means of production. All that popped up in a surprising State of the State address last week in Juneau. The big question now is how much of it a Republican Legislature steeped in anti-government rhetoric will see fit to give him.

For most of his 57-minute address, Gov. Murkowski sounded like a Democrat out of 1960s Alaska. He surprised everybody - and irritated the oil industry - by announcing an administrative change effectively raising taxes on Prudhoe Bay and satellite field production. Just as remarkably, he asked legislators to consider buying a part of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline - an idea not seriously discussed in Juneau since former Gov. Bill Egan mused over state ownership of the pipeline in the late 1960s. He even picked up a line from his predecessor, Tony Knowles, to declare that Alaska is open for business, adding, fatuously, that "it means something now."

He repeated his call for $126 million in new K-12 education spending. He asked for 30 new social workers to help the Office of Children's Services lower its caseloads. He called for new spending on seniors. He rooted all of these initiatives in a framework of natural resource development fueled by high oil, mineral and fish prices. The commodities markets have smiled on this governor, and he has pushed to open them further to Alaska's resources.

He admonished legislators that prices and budgets are only temporarily high. He called once again for a fiscal plan either along the lines he proposed last year - which relied on tapping Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to support state services - or one of their own design. He was surely sincere, but his fiscal call did not occupy the central position of last year or of previous administrations. Revenue problems simply aren't as pressing.

As the governor pointed out, his Republican Party controls the levers of power in Juneau and Washington - and will be held responsible for results. What nobody expected was how much his proposals would look like those of the other side. It's amazing what a few months of high oil prices will do.



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