Parnell, Berkowitz debate Alaska taxes, resources

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2010

FAIRBANKS - Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and Democrat challenger Ethan Berkowitz disagreed on oil and gas development at a forum hosted by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.

Parnell's economic development policies have amounted to "standing still" while oil production declines, Berkowitz said at the forum Tuesday.

"He did support the biggest tax increase in history, that's ACES" - the 2007 Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share act - "and he has supported the largest state budgets that we've seen over the last 40 years," Berkowitz said.

Parnell called Berkowitz's development plans "half-baked" and said the state should push federal officials to help developers tap natural resources.

"Unless we're willing to unlock our resources, do it responsibly (and) fight the federal government when they stop us from doing it, we're not going to see our economy grow," Parnell said.

The forum included Berkowitz running mate Diane Benson and Parnell running mate Mead Treadwell, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Wednesday.

Parnell and Berkowitz are both lawyers who served in the Legislature. Parnell was lieutenant governor when Sarah Palin stepped down in 2009.

Berkowitz has pitched major tax changes and large-scale natural gas development on the North Slope.

Parnell says the Democrat's tax plan is potentially destabilizing.

Berkowitz criticized Parnell's endorsement of U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller, a decision Berkowitz said amounted to putting "party first, before Alaska." He blamed both major national parties for producing a "totally dysfunctional" atmosphere in Washington and said he'd look beyond party affiliations as governor.

Berkowitz also said that he'd "stood up" to the state Democratic Party on the 2007, Palin-championed Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. He said more of the same is needed to abandon the status quo and "get this economy up and moving again."

Berkowitz pinned a "failure" flag on the prospect AGIA will spur construction of a long-discussed natural gas pipeline. On Tuesday he backed a smaller "all-Alaska" option aimed at delivering gas to tidewater, partly for export.

"We've got a plan to get us a natural gas pipeline. We've got a plan so Alaskans can own a piece of the pipe," he said. He said the principle could apply to other major energy projects such as a hydroelectric project.

Parnell defended the AGIA process for helping attract significant commitments from potential customers, a major predevelopment requirement.

"This is historic territory for Alaska," he said. "This is not the time to sweep that off and say sorry, ... this is the time when all the options have to be on the table for Alaska gas, Alaska investment."

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