Murkowski: Get this state moving

Ulmer: Administration record being distorted

Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2002

U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski wants Alaskans to build roads, cut timber, catch fish, mine metals, drill for oil and export natural gas.

As governor, he said he would reverse a trend that culminated in a recent year with Alaska ranking "dead last" in economic performance among the states. He would do that in part, he said, by building a variety of roads, including one out of Juneau, increasing development options and allowing for the faster transport of goods to market.

Murkowski, the leading Republican candidate in the gubernatorial race, made a campaign stop in Juneau on Saturday, meeting with reporters and attending public events, including Gold Rush Days at Dimond Park.

He said his likely fall match-up with Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer presents voters with a clear choice.

"You're going to see a campaign where if you like the status quo, you're going to have an opportunity to look at what the last eight years have developed, and if you're satisfied with it, you're going to have an opportunity to vote that way," he said. "If you share a vision that we're going to get this state moving again, we're going to take advantage of our greatest resource, which is our children, providing challenging opportunities."

Ulmer, in an interview, said Murkowski's pitch "ignores two realities." The state has had steady growth and achieved its lowest unemployment rate ever in 1998 and its second lowest in 2001, and is experiencing the fourth-fastest per capita income growth rate among states, she said.

"Mining has experienced a boom in Alaska over the last eight years," she said. "We have over a thousand new jobs in the category of oil and mining. ... We've had an extremely aggressive policy for leasing oil and gas."

The Knowles/Ulmer administration pushed former President Clinton to open up the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and opposed his "roadless policy" for restricting logging, she said.

"Let's talk about what's not happening: ANWR, the gas line, Tongass (National Forest)," Ulmer said. "Those are federal issues. ... I think Sen. Murkowski needs to rethink what he can do in Congress, and what he hasn't done."

Murkowski says he had nothing to do with recent "issue ads" on television that have hammered at the Knowles/Ulmer administration for allegedly mismanaging the economy and driving young people out of state looking for work. Those are themes of his campaign, as well, but he said he hadn't even seen the ads.

A Virginia-based group called Americans for Job Security paid for the ads, but under current law the group doesn't have to disclose its contributors because the ads don't explicitly urge a vote for or against a candidate.

"I think there is a lot of resentment against it," Ulmer said. "Why are they helping Frank Murkowski? What has he done for them, or what do they expect he will do for them? ... If Frank asked them to stop, I have no doubt they'd stop."

Murkowski said he favors "full disclosure" but said Outside attack ads are here to stay.

"Clearly it represents something that Alaskans find unacceptable," he said. "On the other hand, it's a reality. We've had it before, and we're going to continue to have it. ... We're subject to the influence of outsiders."

He said he expects to see the League of Conservation Voters, a group usually not friendly to Republicans, get involved in the race, as well.

Stepped-up development of the state's natural resources is the cure not only for what ails the economy but also the state budget, Murkowski said.

While the state is faced with a recurring fiscal gap of $860 million to more than $1 billion, "I don't believe the objective should be increasing taxes," he said.

That would stifle business investment, he said. "I'm not ruling it out, but it's not the objective."

He suggested that someday he might be able to support a cruise ship head tax or a sales tax. He floated the idea of an income tax aimed at nonresident workers, under which taxes paid by residents would be refunded through permanent fund dividends.

Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles proposed an income tax, cruise ship head tax and alcohol tax increase this year. All that passed was the hike in the alcohol excise tax, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Murkowski, an Anchorage Republican and daughter of the gubernatorial candidate.

Ulmer said during the legislative session that she supported the governor's approach generally, but she has hinted that this summer she will offer a revenue package with some differences.

Murkowski's news releases often refer to Ulmer's support for taxes.

"A candidate who says 'no new taxes' is basically saying 'I'm going to take away your permanent fund dividend,' " she said. "He's misleading people if he tells them to expect pain-free solutions."

Abortion could be an issue in the race.

Knowles vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature that would have tightened the definition of "medically necessary" abortions in the Medicaid program, in an attempt to make sure that no elective procedures were being financed. Ulmer joined Knowles in a news conference during which they condemned the bill as a would-be violation of poor women's privacy.

Murkowski said he has consistently opposed federal funding for abortions, except in cases of rape and incest and to protect the life of the mother. But he said the bill Knowles vetoed "wasn't very good" because it lacked an administrative mechanism for reviewing decisions made by doctors on certifying medically necessary abortions.

"I don't think it's an appropriate place for us to be legislating," Ulmer said.

Murkowski spoke out against the initiative on the ballot that would move legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough or to Anchorage.

"I don't think you're going to get necessarily any better government by moving the capital," he said. "Secondly, with the state's priorities, it seems to me and the fiscal realities of the state suggest that it would be irresponsible to expend the dollars that would be necessary to move it at this time."

But Murkowski blamed the current administration for what is known locally as "capital creep," a gradual migration of agency commissioners to Anchorage.

"I don't think President Bush would be very happy if a couple of his secretaries wanted to live in Chicago," he said. "The bottom line is I would want to keep my team as close to me as I could."

Ulmer, a 29-year resident of Juneau, and former mayor and state representative here, said that she agrees. "My preference is for all of the commissioners to live and work in Juneau."

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.



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