U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski stressed pro-development themes Monday in his first trip to Juneau since declaring his candidacy for governor.
Murkowski, in an interview at the Empire, said he wants more resource extraction to stabilize the economy and state budget. And he wants more state infrastructure, including a road out of Juneau.
But the Republican veteran put off specifics on how he would close a $1 billion-plus deficit in the state general fund.
Murkowski, now ending his 21st year in the Senate, has been the main proponent of opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. He's also trying to bring North Slope natural gas producers and pipeline companies together on a project to take Alaska's reserves to the Lower 48.
And he thinks the state should do more to stimulate the mining, fishing and timber industries.
"We've relied too much on federal spending in the state," he said. "We've relied on the permanent fund. The permanent fund is going to be declining now because the investment portfolios are not generating the returns that they once were. That surplus we were so proud of about a year ago in this country is gone. ...
"This state is a resource state, and we've spent too much time and attention focused away from the development of our resources."
Murkowski noted the recent state revenue forecast, which shows a general fund deficit of at least $900 million in the current fiscal year and $1.2 billion in the next. A reserve account that has been plugging those gaps is now projected to be gone in mid-2004. Still, Gov. Tony Knowles has proposed to spend an additional $179 million next year, along with pending adjustments to the current budget.
"I'm not getting into the issue of what I would do," Murkowski said. "But I can tell you this without having a commissioner of revenue: I wouldn't present a budget with that kind of a deficit without addressing where the revenue is going to come from."
Knowles has said he will call for a statewide tax and other components of a long-range fiscal plan. Murkowski agreed that more revenue is needed but didn't want to commit to specifics of what he would favor, given that he doesn't know what the Legislature will do before the election. But he said he would look at a way to get nonresident workers to contribute something.
With the coming budget crunch, Murkowski said he doesn't think the state can afford a capital move, and he doesn't believe the Legislature can hold sessions away from the capital, as a pending ballot initiative proposes. But he said that Juneau needs a direct connection to the highway system.
"I think most people expect the state capital to have access," he said.
Murkowski praised his probable opponent, Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, as articulate and knowledgeable. But he said, without elaborating, that they differ on resource development issues.
Bill McAllister can be reached at email@example.com.
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