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Q: What do you consider your biggest success of the session?
A: I think our biggest success was, as Democrats in the minority and a particularly small minority, still standing up really strongly and still speaking out very strongly about issues that we know Alaskans care about, and continuing to not back down on them ... You can't just simply cut education. You can't just simply say you are going to take $140 million out of the budget and think Alaskans aren't going to say, "Wait a minute, that's going to start hurting people." ... Even though some of the legislation that passed is just not good legislation, like the coastal management legislation, I feel very proud of the minority's work to not only bring those issues to the forefront but now, for instance, the coastal districts themselves are forming their own organization.
Q: Changes were not only made to the Coastal Zone Management Program, but the administration also made the Department of Natural Resources the lead agency for project permitting. The Habitat Division of the Department of Fish and Game also was moved to DNR. Do you see those as streamlining measures or attempts to diminish environmental oversight?
A: All Alaskans care about their surroundings. They care about their environment. To be a good businessperson in Alaska, if you're in resource development, you care about the environment because you don't want to pollute it. You don't want to abuse it. You want it to be sustainable so that you can keep being able to develop, and this session is the area in which we saw the worst impact. We had not only the coastal zone, we had the public interest litigant legislation. ... Now there are some good people that I know are well meaning that are involved in it.
I happen to think that the Commissioner of Natural Resources Tom Irwin is a very honorable person. He's a mining person. He hasn't dealt with coastal issues. I'm hoping that when he sees some of the coastal issues, he will basically drop back and say we've got to be thoughtful about how we do things. But having said that, the legislation that went through just really, I think, just basically undermined sort of the whole last 25 years of permitting and development in Alaska. And the problem is you can't trash the system without having something built and ready to go, and that did not happen.
.... I think the bottom line is that's not going to help development either because now you are going to have confusion, and when you have confusion you are going to have lawsuits. And that's not the right way to go about it instead of just coming out and saying this is the way it is going to be in a very autocratic, top-down-oriented way. There should have been a lot more involvement. I think some of that got driven by the fact that I keep hearing that the governor is a one-term governor. And I think they think they've got four years, and if they don't come in and do this fast and do this now, they'll never see any progress in their mind. I don't mean to speak for them, but that's something that I assume is going on.
Q: Many have described this session as one of the most partisan in recent memory. Do you believe that was the case?
A: Sort of yes and no. I think it was one of the worst sessions I've ever seen. Maybe I shouldn't say that. It was at times very difficult because with such an overwhelming majority with the governor and both Houses being so heavily Republican ... it was difficult to see any real movement other than sort of a straight party line. So in that way it was partisan. But I will say that at the end of the session, in the House at least, that I feel like maybe the silver lining out of the whole thing was that there was some really good relationships built, particularly with the Speaker (of the House Pete Kott) and myself and (House Minority Leader) Ethan Berkowitz ... and those things may help us next year.
Q: Democrats opposed the sales tax. Is there any way that you would support it next session?
A: The only way I support a statewide sales tax is if we give credit back to the communities that already have a sales tax and we do similar to what Juneau does: we give exemptions to seniors, we give exemptions for prescriptions and maybe other medicines too. ... Finally, one thing Juneau doesn't do and should do is exempt food. So with very broad exemptions, I might consider it. I'm not going to say I'll accept it, but I might consider it. The problem is it won't make enough money. So you couldn't expect to do just that and fill the fiscal gap.
I think the biggest mistake is, unlike the fiscal policy caucus, this session Ways and Means and the administration ... they were not looking at this in a holistic manner. They did it piecemeal. ... Every time you turned around there was another tax coming at you.
Q: Did you support generating revenue through electronic gambling machines or a statewide lottery?
A: You can put me on the record for this; I'm philosophically opposed to those. ... I think it brings on a whole host of other social ills.
Q: If the Legislature is unable to put together a cohesive plan like the one proposed by the fiscal policy caucus in 2002, will Democrats support piecemeal taxes to avoid going off the cliff?
A: Do I want to see us go off a cliff? No. Have I worked hard so that that wouldn't happen? Yes. Am I in a very tiny minority that this session was completely shut out at the end by the Republican majority's move to just do something so weird with the budget that not even our financial analysts can tell us for sure what the impacts will be? That's the problem. I mean, if I had control of things, you know, and we had a majority, I don't think this would be happening. ... That's an awful hard thing for me to say, or for any Democrat to say. But it truly was, this year, up to the Republican majority.