In a gubernatorial campaign that is growing more bitter by the day, Republican Frank Murkowski on Thursday angrily accused his Democratic opponent of distorting his stance on the Alaska Permanent Fund.
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Murkowski said television ads airing statewide by Fran Ulmer take out of context comments he made during an appearance on a talk show and incorrectly suggest he would use permanent fund earnings for state government.
Murkowski called on Ulmer to quit airing the spots. Ulmer refused.
"I think if you look at the facts and you look at his unrealistic 'don't worry, be happy' approach, that's the only conclusion one can draw," said Ulmer spokesman Jason Moore.
The ads show former Gov. Jay Hammond, a Republican who supports Ulmer, warning that the Murkowski administration would imperil the popular dividend program.
The two candidates have sparred frequently on vastly different plans to bridge a budget gap expected to top $1 billion within three years.
Murkowski has pushed for a series of measures to spur oil and gas production, which makes up about 80 percent of state revenues. Ulmer has warned that this is unrealistic and will create a fiscal crisis that forces the Legislature to use earnings from the $22.3 billion permanent fund for state government.
Both candidates pledged to fight attempts to use permanent fund earnings to balance the budget without a vote of the people.
Ulmer's television ad asks which candidate will protect the permanent fund dividend program, then portrays comments from Murkowski to suggest he is cavalier about the program.
The isolated comments were from "Capital Focus," which aired on ABC stations in Alaska on Sept. 8.
Murkowski is quoted as characterizing the program as an entitlement and saying, "It was there for a rainy day and it's raining outside."
The Republican senator fired back on Thursday during a press conference in Anchorage in which he said the comments were taken out of context.
He aired both the commercial and his more lengthy comments on the television show for reporters that attended and those listening through a teleconference.
In the talk show, Murkowski said the dividend is important to many Alaskans and that the state should expand its oil, gas and other resources.
"I think it's unethical and certainly not in the spirit of traditional Alaska politics," Murkowski said during a press conference in Anchorage on Thursday. "This is desperation."
Also, he criticized the Alaska Democratic Party for airing what he calls "soft money" ads that attack his voting record during his 22 years in the U.S. Senate.
Then Murkowski launched an attack on Ulmer, saying her past record shows she is willing to use the permanent fund to balance the state budget.
As a state representative, Ulmer sponsored two resolutions in 1988 seeking voter approval to tap the permanent fund earnings for state government.
Ulmer also sponsored an income tax proposal in 1987 and supported another when low oil prices threatened to drain state coffers, the Murkowski campaign said.
As lieutenant governor, Ulmer endorsed Gov. Tony Knowles' plan to use $4 billion in permanent fund revenues to close the state budget gap in 1999.
"I have no record of introducing anything anywhere to touch the permanent fund. She has a record," Murkowski said.
The Ulmer campaign had no immediate response to Murkowski's most recent claim, but Moore said her administration would stand by its pledge to protect the fund.
Ulmer has proposed a "parachute plan" that would automatically trigger new taxes to raise revenues if the state's budget reserve falls below $1 billion.
Murkowski has said no new broad based taxes are needed. He proposes a plan to increase oil production by 3 percent and spur other resource-extraction industries.
But Ulmer, who has served as lieutenant governor for seven years, warned that the plan is unrealistic and could cause a more serious budget crisis.
"If you run out of money and if you don't support broad-based revenues, there is only one option," Ulmer spokesman Moore said.