Incumbent Democratic state Sen. Kim Elton and Republican challenger Cathy Muñoz sparred over taxes, development projects and building a Southeast caucus Friday at a candidate forum held by the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.
Muñoz said she would work toward balancing the budget, improving education funding, returning state jobs to the capital city, and keeping Juneau as the state's capital.
Elton said he has worked with Republicans and Democrats as a state representative and senator on issues like the statewide bond that would trigger funding for a new high school in the Mendenhall Valley.
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The forum focused heavily on building ties with Southeast lawmakers and communities. Elton and Muñoz are running for Juneau's state Senate seat in the Nov. 5 election.
Elton said efforts have been made at creating a Southeast caucus, but added that Sen. Robin Taylor has not wanted to participate. Elton would continue to pursue forming the caucus if re-elected, he said.
Muñoz said partisan fighting has prevented Southeast from building the solidarity to achieve a caucus and that she would reach out to leaders in Southeast communities on regional projects such as roads, the intertie and improvements to regional ferry service.
Muñoz said Elton's failure to be appointed to the powerful Senate Finance Committee hurt Juneau.
"I think it was a lost opportunity for this community, and if I am appointed or recommended for a position on the Finance Committee, I believe that I will be confirmed," Muñoz said.
Elton said he did receive approval from his Democratic colleagues on the committee.
"I wasn't selected to serve by Senate President Rick Halford because he wanted to cultivate Sen. Donny Olson," Elton said.
Muñoz has maintained throughout the campaign that she would bring a more moderate voice to the Senate if elected.
"I think one of the problems, though, that we have is that we often jump to criticize others when we disagree with them," Muñoz said. "I think we have the reputation for that here in Juneau, and that is something that I pledge to change."
Muñoz also said she would support statewide development projects, like opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. She noted that Elton has voted against resolutions in support of ANWR.
Elton said he has opposed resolutions because they are not closely linked with conservation measures. Although Elton said he does support oil exploration in ANWR, the bill must be tied to tighter Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards.
"We have talked only about ANWR," Elton said. "We have not talked about conservation, and we need to link the issues."
When asked their positions on the recently passed dime-a-drink tax on alcoholic beverages, Muñoz said the measure should remain in place to see how revenues are applied toward drinking-cessation programs before considering changing it. She noted that she does not favor any additional taxes.
Elton took an opposite position.
"I believe that we ought to revisit it, and I believe that it ought to be higher," Elton said, calling it a bipartisan issue. "We raised a tax for the first time in two decades this last session."
He said he authored a different version of the bill that would have made the tax 25 cents a drink.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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