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Egan and Muñoz offer Juneau Chamber a legislature preview

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2010

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, and Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, gave the Juneau Chamber of Commerce a taste of what's on the way for next month's legislature.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Egan gave a lively, cordial appearance despite his recent triple bypass surgery. The senator showed no signs of ailing as he address the Chamber luncheon Thursday.

He and Muñoz explained the committees they will work on, with Egan chairing the Labor and Commerce Committee plus retaining his seat on the Finance Committee. He said one thing both committees will address is problems with state pay.

"Along those lines again I'm going to be wrestling with the idea of reintroducing a bill to get state employees back on defined benefits and retirement system," he said. He said he would also be addressing the pay of state workers.

"You can't afford to live here, and we'll be working on that."

Muñoz said she's seeking chairmanship of the Community and Regional Affairs Committee. Her other committees include Resources, Transportation and the Economic Development, Trade and Tourism.

"The committee assignments I sought are committees that I think have the greatest impact on economic issues that affect not only our region but Juneau as capital city," she said.

Egan said other Senate committees won't be finalized until after meetings on Jan. 7 and 8.

Several projects were brought up as a concern for the Legislature, such as the State Library, Archives and Museum Project, which they said has $18.5 million through the bond package approved in November. However, they said it is already estimated to go beyond the $100 million range so will take many years to get funded.

Egan said he's very concerned with this project because it will house archives for the entire state in Juneau.

Besides this project, Muñoz said she is working on other big infrastructure projects like a new state office building, which would house three departments of state government and also the State Library and Archives and Museum.

She said this project stalled last year in the final Senate committee, but she will continue it as she still believes it was the right project for Juneau and the region.

"However, we are in a situation now where the state is assessing four or five different possibilities and what we need to do is we need to get the administration to focus in on what site so that we can then go to the legislature and seek funding for that site," she said.

She also touched briefly on progress of work on Lynn Canal. She said construction on a three-mile extension is being bid out and will begin in the summer of 2011. She said this project is state-funded so it stands alone from the larger Juneau Access Project.

Other legislative concerns they discussed as priorities were job creation, maintaining high-level government jobs in the community, keeping operational spending down, continuing to support alternative energy developments, building of infrastructure, keeping pressure on for in-state gas delivery and kindergarten through 12th grade education.

Getting more funding from the Legislature is also a top priority of Egan's.

"Just from my standpoint it's apparent that the Juneau delegation is going to have a lot of work to do to restore some funding issues."

Egan broke down several new budgeting delegations, including some small amounts for Juneau improvements.

A big statewide concern was $5 million for harbor improvements, which Egan said he will work to get increased.

Muñoz said the state's Permanent Fund is at $36 billion, the constitutional budget reserve is at $10 billion and statutory budget reserve is at $1 billion.

"Our fund balances are great. Our biggest challenge, though, is with the production on the North Slope and the amount of oil that's flowing into the TransAlaska Pipeline," she said.

She said the line is currently at a third of full capacity with about 620,000 barrels a day, and three new developments that are coming online should keep that amount pretty constant until about 2018, at which time a sharp decline is predicted. She said the big concern will be when production gets to 400,000 barrels a day and the pipeline becomes non-marginal, so new developments must be encouraged.

Both commented on how the bipartisanship of the delegations makes them work well in the Legislature while protecting the capital and the economic base. They said such bipartisanship has made them the envy of other legislators.

Muñoz said with 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, the state Senate's composition is very similar to how it was before the elections. She said the House picked up two Republicans, making a total of 24 plus 16 Democrats. The Republican-led majority includes 22 Republicans and four rural Democrats that represent communities in northern coastal areas.

"The four Democrat members tend to be more fiscally conservative. They're pro-business. But most important for the caucus, it's very important to have the rural voices in the majority caucus to allow the urban legislators to have a better understanding of the priorities of rural Alaska," she said. "But also it's important for the regional balance that it provides to have more voices in the majority leadership outside of the major populations."

A 16-member coalition called the Senate Working Group, which includes Egan, controls the Senate and elected Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, as Senate President.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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