Building Alaska and investing surplus in pipeline, education
January 13, 2006
Murkowski said he would continue to invest in initiatives that provide a good return for Alaska and improve the business climate of the state.
"During my campaign for governor, I promised to get the state's stagnant economy moving again, create good-paying jobs and pursue an aggressive resource development agenda," Murkowski said. "My harshest critics would have to agree that as governor, I followed through with action on my promise even when it was not politically popular."
The governor plans to save $400 million of the surplus in preparation for a gas pipeline agreement. The state, which would own an equity share of the pipeline, is expected to finance 80 percent of its $4 billion share and would need $800 million in cash. This set aside would provide early funding for permitting and other construction activities following a gas pipeline agreement.
In addition, the governor proposed putting $565 million in the Education Account to give K-12 educators more certainty in budgeting.
The governor will seek $12 million to upgrade a particularly hazardous portion of the Seward highway, increase trooper patrols and add signs warning motorists of danger. The state will also designate this section of highway a "Safety Corridor" and allow for increased fines for traffic violations.
The state's transportation package includes $30 million for Anchorage congestion relief and other funding for road work in Kenai, Kodiak, Fairbanks, Dillingham and the Dalton Highway.
The governor is also proposing to invest $86 million of additional FY06 revenue in transportation infrastructure to relieve traffic congestion throughout the state.
The governor echoed his support for two infrastructure projects that have attracted much of the nation's attention - Anchorage's Knik Arm Bridge and Ketchikan's Gravina Island access project. In his speech he said the capital budget will include $94 million for Knik Arm crossing and $91 million for the Gravina Bridge plus the necessary state match.
These bridges, along with the state's effort to open a portion of ANWR for development were used as fodder for national environmental groups and special interests criticizing Alaska. Murkowski said the state will seek proposals from professional firms to begin working on a national campaign to respond.
"Some might ask, 'Can we afford it?' The answer is can we afford not to? The estimated returns to the state if ANWR had passed were as high as $5 billion. A return of $2.5 billion is a pretty good return on a national education effort that succeeds," Murkowski said.
Murkowski reviewed the state's accomplishments in the last session of the Legislature, including important reforms to the state's workers' compensation program and to the underfunded PERS/TRS retirement systems. And he again challenged the Alaska Municipal League to identify a sustainable source of revenues to continue assisting local governments with rising retirement system costs.
The administration will continue pursuing greater regulatory control from the federal government in this legislative session by taking on some NEPA oversight from the Federal Highway Administration and drinking water compliance from EPA. These responsibilities along with wastewater discharge permitting, which the state will secure next year, will also provide quicker action on permits.
During the State of the Budget Address, the governor announced the state would continue to prohibit regulated mixing zones in salmon spawning areas.
"Our policy is balanced - on one hand we are streamlining the permitting system by removing unnecessary processes and delays. On the other hand, we are retaining the environmental protections necessary to maintain our resources and way of life," Murkowski said.
In the area of fisheries, the state will invest in salmon stock assessment projects around Alaska to improve monitoring and assessment of escapement goals. The state will also seek legislative support of $3 million to allow the Department of Fish and Game to resume adequate wildlife management work.
Murkowski applauded the success Alaska State Troopers and other law enforcement agencies have had in combating crime, particularly in the area of rural bootlegging and drug manufacturing in the Mat-Su.
Murkowski is also seeking in FY07 to create four new Superior Court judgeships in Southcentral to address a backlog of criminal cases.
Successful law enforcement has contributed to a growing prison population, and the governor said he will proceed with construction of a new prison in the Mat-Su, of which Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, has been a leading proponent.
The House Majority Republicans responded to Governor Frank Murkowski's State of the Budget address late Thursday evening.
Speaker John Harris (R-Valdez) said,"The House is going to have to take the Governor's budget proposal and the FY06 budget and look at the new programs and the funding increases suggested. Everything is on the table and we may or may not be able to live with the Governor's proposals, but we will look at each program and spending project and evaluate them based on the House Majority's priorities for the state and our goal of a sustainable budget for Alaska.
"The House believes we need to save a substantial amount of the surplus. We have been very clear that this is a fundamental priority of the caucus and we will be looking at this budget with that goal in mind," said Representative Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski). He went on to say, "With the uncertainty of oil prices, we have to establish a budget that allows us to live within our means. It is the Finance Committee's job to scrutinize each and every new program and spending increase with the same scrutiny that they examine their own personal budget. The House Majority Caucus is determined to fund those programs essential to Alaskans."
The Governor has suggested increased revenue sharing to relieve some of the stress on smaller communities. House Finance Co-Chair Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage) pointed out that the Legislature currently supports a number of programs that share revenue with local governments. Representative Meyer stated, "PERS/TRS, the Power Cost Equalization program, the 70/30 school bond debt reimbursement and the 50/50 local roads and maintenance projects have consistently been funded by the legislature. We agree with the Governor that revenue sharing is a good idea, if it can be part of a sustainable budget."
In regard to the Governor's capital budget, Representative Meyer said, "The dollar amount proposed by the governor appears about right, but we don't agree on all of the projects. That's where the legislative process comes in."
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