In what she said would be the first of several speeches and position papers on state issues, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fran Ulmer on Thursday called for inflation-proofing of the state education funding formula.
Outlining a campaign theme of "families first," Ulmer, the lieutenant governor for the past seven and a half years, also proposed a system for rating child-care centers and empowering the state to negotiate with drug companies for more affordable prices.
"People ask me why I want to be Alaska's next governor," Ulmer said in the prepared text for a speech to supporters in Anchorage. "Let there be no doubt: As governor I will make Alaska the best place to raise a family."
Ulmer is considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor. U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski is a heavy favorite for the Republican nomination, and he was the target of several of her remarks.
Ulmer said her "first order of business" will be introducing legislation to inflation-proof education funding.
"We've raised standards and required accountability, but without resources, reform is just rhetoric," she said. "We must push to lower class sizes and integrate technology into the curriculum to prepare our kids for the future."
Murkowski spokesman Dan Saddler said inflation indexing isn't appropriate because the inflation rate might not always be the best measure of cost increases. There's also a question of how well the school districts use the money they're given, he said.
"We shouldn't be looking for new ways to lock in increased spending," Saddler said.
Ulmer's second initiative calls for a voluntary "five-star" rating system for licensed child-care facilities.
"The facilities that agree to participate will be graded on quality services, staff training, supplies and equipment," she said. "The better the care the higher the rating. This is an exciting program that will empower parents with knowledge and confidence in the quality of care their children will receive, at little cost to the state."
Saddler said the rating system seems at odds with Ulmer and Gov. Tony Knowles "dragging their heels very much on the issue of grading schools."
Ulmer said she'd work to reduce the cost of expensive drugs for seniors that aren't covered by Medicare.
"I think it's time someone broke the stranglehold pharmaceutical companies have on Alaska families," she said. "I propose to take the state in a new direction by working toward a prescription drug benefit plan ... a plan that gives the state the ability to use its power to negotiate affordable prescription drug prices."
Ulmer didn't give specifics of the plan but said Murkowski has voted against prescription drug benefits.
"Insurance and drug companies have been financing his campaigns for years," she said. "Do you think it's coincidence these companies are attacking me under the phony name Americans for Job Security? ... Why is Frank Murkowski helping them?"
Saddler said Ulmer is using "innuendo" to suggest a link between Murkowski and the Virginia-based group, which has paid for televised "soft-money" issue ads criticizing the performance of the economy under the Knowles-Ulmer administration.
If Ulmer has proof of a connection, she should bring it forward, Saddler said. "Put up or shut up."
Saddler also took issue with Ulmer's attack on the Murkowski voting record on the minimum wage, Medicare, Head Start, student loans and other issues.
For example, Ulmer says Murkowski voted 11 times against raising the minimum wage.
"He didn't have a problem voting nine times to increase his own six-figure salary," she said.
Saddler said Ulmer is using "fuzzy sound bites" to obscure the record. On final passage in the Senate, Murkowski has voted for a majority of minimum wage increases since he was elected in 1980, Saddler said.
And far from opposing increased Medicare coverage for seniors, Murkowski helped secure an additional $40 million a year for Alaska for five years, Saddler said.
Ulmer said in the next several weeks she'll be laying out positions on the economy, education reform and the state fiscal gap.
"We'll lay ours out at the proper time and the proper place," Saddler said, declining to elaborate.
Bill McAllister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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