Q: What do you consider your biggest success of the session?
A: As far as personal legislation this was a very successful session for me. I was co-prime sponsor of the credit scoring bill that was passed. I was co-prime sponsor of the military reservist bill that passed at the end of the session. And I had the Senate companion piece to establishing a Coast Guard (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program ... in the Juneau High School, Kodiak High School and the University of Alaska Southeast campus.
(The Coast Guard's) duties are now far beyond the traditional duties of search and rescue, fisheries patrol, port security. ... Now that they are part of the Homeland Security Department their duties have expanded greatly, and what Rep. Bob Lynn (an Anchorage Republican) and I wanted to do is set up kind of an officer training corps program.
Q: What was your biggest disappointment of the session?
A: Well, I think the biggest disappointment was that once again we kind of hit the wall and went splat on fiscal gap issues. ... One of the things that happened that I thought was an abdication of the legislative role was that we did pass a budget, but we know it's not the budget. We passed a plan that essentially said to the governor, "OK, now you work your will. We know you are going to take $133 million to $188 million out." I think that it's the responsibility of the Legislature to produce a final budget and not leave the final budget up to the governor or at least in that magnitude. ...
Toward the end of the session I was beginning to feel like maybe the Legislature was this Darwinian appendage to the executive branch that is kind of withering and wasting away. There wasn't an awful lot of independent assessment of what the vision for our future should be. We did some things that surprised me. For example, we passed an exploration tax incentive for oil companies. That could mean up to $400 million in foregone revenues for the state over the next four years. And we did it in two days. ... That doesn't say a lot for the Legislature as an independent body that brings its own analysis and studies the issues with rigor.
Q: Did you support the statewide sales tax and if not, how do we achieve the administration's budget goals so the state doesn't have to endure budget cuts in the future? How do we get new revenues?
A: I did not support the statewide sales tax. I represent a community that has its own local sales tax. You layer a state sales tax on top of the Juneau sales tax and you're getting up into the stratosphere when it comes to taxing purchases. And I have a real concern that when you get up to 7 or 8 percent in sales taxes that are assessed by local business in our town, you are encouraging movement of sales out of town. I think there'll be more people buying from Amazon.com, that are ordering from Land's End or Eddie Bauer ...
From my point of view it's also a more regressive tax than other broad-based taxes. There has been this strange path that we have since the campaign rhetoric of last year to the end of the session this year. Clearly, I think that Alaskans bought the notion that we were going to develop our way out of the fiscal gap and that it wasn't going to require any financial pain on the part of any individual Alaskan. Soon after the election we began hearing that there might be some fees that make sense, and we collectively started talking about those at the beginning of the session. And then in the middle of the session, of course, the governor brings in his final budget. He's talking about a seasonal sales tax, and then all of a sudden that becomes a year-round sales tax. It didn't seem too much like the development of a plan. It seemed more like we're ad hoc-ing our way into a fiscal policy. ... I was much more comfortable with the approach that we took in the last session when we had the fiscal policy group.
Q: Then if the Legislature can't develop a long-range fiscal plan, then do we just not pass any ad hoc taxes and go off the cliff?
A: I don't think it's undoable. I think the fiscal policy caucus from the previous session showed how things can be done. A group of legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, met over an eight-month period, had public meetings in every major community across the state and a lot of the smaller communities. (It) came back together just prior to the session that began in January of 2002, and put together a package that included a broad-based tax. At that point it was an income tax. It included additional revenues from the oil and gas industry. It included revenues from some specified sectors. There was a motor fuel tax and discussion of a cruise ship head tax. But they came together with a package.
Q: Do you support generating revenue through electronic gambling machines or a statewide lottery?
A: I don't. I think those that have characterized legalized gambling as a tax on people who are dumb at math is exactly right. I don't think in a state of 600,000 people that it is realistic that we can provide a revenue stream to the state that is sustainable. And certainly I don't think it provides a revenue stream that is adequate to address the increased social ills that come with gambling.
Q: There was little talk this session on the topic of subsistence. Do you think that the administration and the Legislature are avoiding that topic?
A: We can't avoid it. We can not talk about it, but we can't avoid it. As each year goes by the federal toehold in the management of our fish and game resources becomes larger and larger. The other thing that happens as every year goes by is I think there are some people who depend upon subsistence that are becoming more and more comfortable with federal management and in fact feel they have a greater voice in federal management than they do in state management.