My Turn: Alaska Democrats won't rubber-stamp proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2005

This is the year to stop talking and start doing. This is the year to move ahead on energy development, on education and on balancing the state budget.

This is the year to stop talking about building a gas pipeline and take the steps necessary to build it, in the way that delivers the most benefit to Alaskans.

This is the year to stop talking about timely and adequate education funding and start providing it.

This is the year to stop talking about balancing the state budget and start doing it.

Democratic legislators look forward to working with Gov. Frank Murkowski and legislative Republicans. But we're not going to just rubber-stamp whatever they trot out. We're going to look for what's good for Alaskans, now and in the future. Where we find that, we'll work for it. Where we don't - like the governor's jet idea - we'll say so, and fight against it.

Last month, Gov. Murkowski announced a proposal by the major oil and gas producers on a gas pipeline. Negotiations with the producers could lead to an agreement that must come to the legislature for approval.

The terms of the proposal and the negations are secret. We don't know what, if anything, we'll see this session, but any gas line agreement must include at least these points to win Democratic support.

Access in. Other companies must be allowed to ship their gas through the pipeline. Otherwise, there will be no competition in exploring for and producing gas.

Access out. Alaskans must be allowed to take gas out of the pipeline at a fair price. Otherwise, Alaskans may pay more to heat their homes than Chicago homeowners, and any natural-gas-based economic development in Alaska will be doomed.

A firm start date. Without one, the contract could be an academic exercise that raises the hopes of Alaskans with no certainty of fulfilling those hopes.

Alaska hire. Alaskans must be assured of training for and employment in good-paying pipeline jobs, and Alaska contractors must be assured of contracts as well.

No concessions on oil revenues. The governor must not give away our oil revenues to get a gas line.

As it stands right now, the governor's budget proposal raises more questions than it answers.

The state probably won't get as much oil revenue as the governor hopes. Oil prices have been falling steadily below state estimates. If prices stay down, the governor could spend the entire windfall. Is that what he wants to do?

We are happy the governor is proposing a bigger investment in education. Quality public education is important for many reasons, including the role an educated work force plays in economic development. That's why we pushed for last year's $82 million increase, and why we think two-year funding, which allows schools more certainty, is a good idea.

We also support several other things the governor proposes - more help for senior citizens, substance abuse programs, health insurance for some children. But we want to see the specifics.

And we wonder, where will the money for these programs come from after this windfall is gone? Several of the governor's proposed spending increases are to solve problems created when he and the Republican majorities cut or eliminated programs. When the windfall is gone, will they be cut again?

And what about the long-range fiscal plan? Windfall or no windfall, we think a long-range plan is necessary, and that it must include more than just spending Alaska Permanent Fund earnings. You can count on us to protect the permanent fund. You can also count on us to push for a balanced-budget amendment to the state constitution.

We have the chance this session to make decisions that will help Alaskans for years to come. We're going to work hard to make the right decisions, and to get Alaska moving forward.

• Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, who represents downtown Anchorage, is the House minority leader. Sen. Johnny Ellis, who represents midtown and downtown Anchorage, is the Senate minority leader.



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