Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

Q: Political observers have described this session as one of the most partisan in recent memory. Was that the case?

A: Well, it was my first session, so my perspective is different from those longtime observers. ... It was partisan in the sense that there was a Republican governor and a Republican Senate and a Republican House and a Republican Congressional delegation. And, therefore, there was a strong quote-unquote Republican agenda. ... Me personally, I tried to work across party lines. In some situations that's not always possible. ... Personally, I don't know if I really saw it as partisan as others.

Q: What was your biggest success of the session?

A: I think being a voice for Juneau in the Republican majority was something that was important for me and also important for Juneau. Juneau needs representation in the majority. ... If those observers were correct and it was a partisan year in the Legislature, then Juneau needs a partisan voice and somebody to speak in that partisan crowd about Juneau's interests. And Juneau's interests are diversification of the economy, maintaining the capital and keeping a strong state employee workforce and promoting as best as possible natural resource development and education. ...

Q: You gained a reputation in the Legislature this year for being a moderate Republican. Do you think that was the case and if so, did you end up butting heads with Republicans at times?

A: I guess if you want to pigeonhole me, you probably could put me in moderate, although in some I was more conservative even than people in the majority, and some I was far more, quote, liberal than some in the majority. Some times I voted with the Democrats, and sometimes I voted against the Democrats. I think I was all over the map, politically.

Q: What was your biggest disappointment of the session?

A: Failure to come to a fiscal reality. Failure of the Legislature to step up and pass revenue measures. We're positioned next year to do that. We are positioned next year to address some of the constitutional concerns that people have on spending and use of percent of market value with the permanent fund. I think there is going to be a howl in the state when the governor exercises his executive authority and cuts the budget. We cannot in this state continue to receive a permanent fund dividend, have no taxes, receive all the state services we've become accustomed to and get all the government programs we want without paying for something. The fiscal reality is we can't do it.

Q: The big issue at the end of the session was the statewide sales tax. Where did you stand at the end of the session when that bill was about to come onto the House floor?

A: I was appointed to the Ways and Means Committee as one of my committees and dealt with revenue measures, (the) spending cap and the percent of market value (approach to the Alaska Permanent Fund). And the major revenue measure we dealt with was the sales tax. And the sales tax was promoted as the first line of offense because the governor indicated that he would not support an income tax. Now I don't think an income tax or a sales tax are great, and nobody wants to sit around and talk about how great it is to have a certain kind of tax. And I don't think an income tax should be completely off the table. I think it has to be part of a mix. So, therefore, I think the governor is mistaken in simply dismissing an income tax.

The sales tax had in with it an increase in the gas tax, and I pushed to get that on the floor for a vote because I felt that if they were putting the longevity bonus on the floor for a vote and it failed, then I think the Legislature should have been on record for seeing who supported and who opposed a sales tax by their vote.

Q: There was little talk this session on the issue of subsistence. You had a couple of bills that attempted to address the subsistence issue. Do you think that the administration and the Legislature are avoiding the issue?

A: I introduced an amendment to the constitution, which was House Joint Resolution 2. That was amending the constitution on subsistence. I did it as a way to start the discussion again and have something in the process that we could start dealing with the concerns over ANILCA and concerns over federal and state management of our resources. That is not going to go anywhere until we get some leadership from the (administration) and what they want to do.

Q: At the beginning of the session the administration made the Department of Natural Resources the lead agency for project permitting. They also moved the Division of Habitat over to DNR and made changes to the Coastal Zone Management Program, taking away authority from coastal zone districts. Are those streamlining measures or is this an attempt to reduce environmental oversight?

A: I think that the proof will be in the pudding. I think the Legislature was willing to give the governor some leeway on trying to make a change in state government in how we review and permit projects, and they were willing to give the governor the benefit of the doubt to see if this would work. And it was also a recognition that we need to do two things in this state. One, we need to increase resource development and make it a business-friendly climate for those companies that want to do resource development here. No. 2, if we can attract resource development to this state in a way that ultimately helps us close the budget gap through resource development, then we should do everything we can to promote that because ... if you get businesses to develop resources and those businesses to pay income to the state through the form of resource development or severance taxes, then we should do that. So I am concerned about the movement of (the Habitat Division) from (the Department of Fish and Game) to the Department of Natural Resources. I am less concerned about DNR being the lead agency. I am concerned about the Coastal Zone Management changes made in House Bill 91. But I want to see what happens, get some feedback from those who are subjected to these changes, those who are monitoring the changes and if necessary introduce legislation that does fixes later.

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