Increased funding for state programs was a recurring theme Tuesday night at a town meeting coordinated by the transition team for Gov.-elect Frank Murkowski.
More than 100 people turned out to the first of two meetings at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School to give recommendations to the incoming governor on tackling state issues. The second meeting will be held at the school from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday.
Similar meetings are being held in Anchorage, Fairbanks and other communities. The transition team is accepting e-mailed comments at email@example.com. All recommendations will be forwarded to the incoming administration.
The Tuesday forum broke into six groups covering resources and the environment, transportation, human resources, education, public safety, and revenue.
Retiring Juneau Rep. Bill Hudson and his wife, Lucy, coordinated the meeting.
Hudson, one of the founders of the bipartisan fiscal policy caucus, helped pass a variety of revenue-generating measures in the House last session only to see them die in the Senate.
He said the revenue breakout group discussed many of the same issues lawmakers dealt with the last session, such as imposing taxes and using earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for state government.
"The people in revenue were struggling with something we've been struggling with on Capitol Hill for a long time and that is, where do you go for new revenue?" Hudson said.
Hudson said Murkowski needs time to implement some of his plans for development of oil, timber, mining, fishing and other natural resources.
"Ultimately he may have to go to some of the revenue enhancement that we've all discussed," Hudson said. "I think he will."
At the resources breakout group, citizens discussed fishing, timber and tourism. Group leader Scott Petsel, vice president of Alaska Miners in Juneau, said Friday's meeting will focus on oil and gas, mining and conservation issues.
On Alaska's deteriorating fishing industry, many in the group agreed the state must provide the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute with increased funding to market wild Alaska salmon more aggressively to the rest of the country.
"I can't overemphasize the fact that we need education, because I run into people all the time that just have no concept of why Alaska fish are unique (and) the problems with fish farming," said Chris Zimmer, a recreational fisherman in Juneau.
Zimmer recommended that Murkowski continue an aggressive push against Canadian fish farms unless they can prove that farmed fish will not affect the wild stocks in Alaska.
Bruce Weyhrauch, who recently won the legislative seat for House District 4 in the Mendenhall Valley, suggested tying permanent fund dividend payouts to resource development in the state.
"So if the dividend goes down or there is no dividend, then they realize that we need to invest more in timber, tourism and marketing," he said. "On the other hand, when we reap the benefits from the state because of resource development, improved tourism, improved salmon markets and other fishing markets, the dividend goes up."
The education breakout committee, led by Juneau School Board member Mary Becker, was one of the most highly attended groups, with about 40 people.
Becker divided the forum into smaller groups addressing the education budget, school safety, and what local schools and the school district can do to improve education.
"From many of the groups there was really a feeling that funding is very, very important," Becker said.
She said there was a strong emphasis on smaller class sizes, early education programs such as Head Start, and promoting parent involvement.
Making advancements in technological infrastructure, providing good teachers, acknowledging the rural-urban divide in school funding, and working to prevent drug and alcohol abuse among students were other areas of importance to attendees.
Carl Rose, executive director for the Association of Alaska School Boards, said the school safety breakout group recommended that the administration take notice of the correlation between overcrowded schools and poor student performance.
"What we subject our kids to is critical if you're talking about overall safety," Rose said.
Rose said the group also will advise that the Murkowski administration support a measure allowing schools to survey students, when they register for classes, without parental consent to help identify potential problems and solutions within the school system.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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