Legislature 2001: Wise grants or industry welfare?

Lawmakers debate allocating money to help industries lobby

Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2001

Nonprofit corporations would receive state money to lobby and advertise for oil and gas development, mining, timber and other extractive resource industries in Alaska under a bill being considered by the state Senate.

"We're a resource state," Sen. John Torgerson, chairman of Senate Resources Committee, told the Anchorage Daily News. "If we don't promote our own selves, nobody else is going to do it."

Environmental groups are calling the legislation the "Resource Industry Welfare Bill." They say it's a poor use of state dollars during fiscally tough times and that private companies won't be held accountable for how they spend public money.

"We believe most Alaskans will not endorse the idea of taking state revenues that could go to improving education, social services, road maintenance or other needs and use those monies to do promotion and advertising work that the resource industry can easily do themselves," said Sue Schrader, spokeswoman for Alaska Conservation Voters.

The bill follows passage of an emergency funding bill that included $1.85 million for a private group, Anchorage-based Arctic Power, to lobby for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploration and drilling.

SB 136 would create a resource development board assigned to award grants to private nonprofit groups. Grant money would come out of a resource development fund. About $2.6 million annually would be put in the fund, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

That Senate Resources Committee passed the bill last week with only Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat, voting against it.

"It's a bill that takes off-budget grants and gives them to a board that's dominated by the resource industry people," Elton said Monday.

"This is money that's available for pupil transportation," he said. "But it's taken off the table and given to a loosely defined purpose designed so that the Legislature can avoid the embarrassment of doing the kind of promotion that it did with Arctic Power."

"If we don't continue to educate Alaskans on how you do it right," Sen. Drue Pearce, an Anchorage Republican, said at the hearing last week, "how you can be both an environmentalist, a conservationist and at the same time believe in developing our resources in a proper manner, we won't have any revenue that's going to pay for the schools or for the potholes or any other services in the state."

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