Juneau's unopposed delegation outlines their agendas

Posted: Monday, November 01, 2010

Members of Juneau's legislative delegation aren't facing any challengers in this year's election, but they're still making public what they want to do in the new terms of office they're certain to win on Tuesday.

And each is promising to continue to represent their constituents as they have in the past, representation that has not prompted a single candidate to run against them.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, who represents downtown and Douglas, also serves as Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives and is looking at both Juneau issues and statewide issues in her minority leader role.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, who represents Mendenhall Valley and out the road, is entering her second term looking at both Juneau issues and for ways to help other Southeast communities.

Sen. Dennis Egan, whose Senate district is made up of both Juneau House Districts, was unavailable for an interview due to medical reasons but had said earlier he continues to serve as he has in the last year in his new term.

Muñoz said she'll be "reaching out to the other legislators in Southeast about their issues."

Many of Juneau's fellow Southeast communities aren't doing as well economically as the capital city, and Muñoz said assisting Juneau's neighbors can pay dividends for her hometown.

"We may need them to assist us on capital move issues" at some time in the future, she said.

Muñoz said during the last legislative session she was able to use her position as co-chairwoman of the Community and Regional Affairs Committee to stave off any capital move efforts.

She said she was assured by House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, that if any capital move bill was introduced it would be referred to her committee, where she'd be able to kill it. That likely kept any from being introduced, she said.

"If I'm the chair of a committee, as I was in the last legislature, it really takes that issue off the table," she said.

Muñoz said she also expects to work on new office space for government employees in Juneau, following the failure of last session's effort to construct a new building on the subport property.

That bill passed the House but died in the Senate Finance Committee. It had originally been supported by the Palin-Parnell administration, but that support was pulled without explanation.

"It's really too bad that it didn't get through the process," Muñoz said.

Instead, some money was appropriated for a study of possible building locations, which is now underway. It is looking at properties in the downtown, Lemon Creek and Valley areas, she said.

She's also concerned that the state's oil tax law, Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share act, is discouraging investment in Alaska, and will look at whether the "progressivity," which raises the tax rate at higher prices, should be capped.

"The oil industry has expressed concerns that the progressivity has been a deterrent to new development," she said.

The Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, under which TransCanada Corp. was given state backing to develop a natural gas pipeline, is expected to be before the legislature again in 2011, and Muñoz said she'd like to be part of those debates.

"I'd like to be a member of the resources committee," she said. "That would give me a great opportunity to dig into resource issues."

Kerttula listed some of the same issues as Muñoz, but not always on the same side.

Kerttula said she expects oil and gas issues, both oil tax rates and natural gas pipeline development, to be active issues in the next session. While she'd be open to some changes to the state's oil tax law, ACES, she wouldn't agree to the wholesale rollback she expects the industry to seek.

"We have suffered for decades before we changed the oil tax (to ACES) and history can repeat itself," she said.

After hearing from oil industry representatives during the adoption of ACES, the legislature established a higher tax rate at higher prices, but Kerttula said she was unable to get a "floor" on tax rates, so the state continues to receive income even if oil prices drop significantly.

"I don't think that's the kind of change Parnell's talking about," she said. "I think he's talking about giving more back to the corporations and I don't think that's necessary."

Kerttula also said that she's expecting additional attempts by the cruise industry to roll back environmental regulations.

"I expect them to take a run at it, but I don't think the state should be reducing its standards at all," she said.

Kerttula also said she'd like to return Coastal Zone Management Act authority back to the local communities. That's one of the bills that has been blocked by the Republican leadership, but which she said could get moving with a few more Democratic members.

Helping struggling communities around the state get to more sustainable power sources, which in Southeast typically means either new hydroelectric power dams or interties to connect to existing hydroelectric dams, will also be a priority for Kerttula.

She also said she'd be working to find ways to "keep Juneau a wonderful capital city," including a new office building and improving child care in state facilites to encourage young families to stay.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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