March 23, 2006
Like the fight for statehood fifty years ago, today Alaska needs people with vision, leadership, and a plan and people willing to dedicate their time and energy to Alaska's cause. Like then, we need to work together without regard for politics, Stevens said.
"Our state leaders have a long history of reaching out to Congress and the Lower 48. Those who fought for statehood were the opinion leaders of their day - they educated Americans about the benefits statehood would provide." Stevens said, "The decade ahead will be the proving ground for Alaska's promise and ingenuity. We can only realize our potential with strong leadership and a favorable climate for investment." He said it will be up to Alaska's elected representatives to lead the way "North to the Future."
"This is now the 25th year of the battle over ANWR." said Stevens. We need Alaskans who are willing to speak with the press - and others - and make our case heard. Stevens said, "It is difficult to get federal support because of our image in Washington. Many see our projected $1.4 billion annual surplus plus $34 billion in the Permanent Fund, and with the increasing price of electricity, gasoline, and heating oil, ask: Why send federal money to Alaska when they're not willing to spend their own funds?"
Stevens said, "It was this feeling that prompted the attack by Senator Coburn on our funding in the highway bill. It was this feeling that fueled the media coverage of his attack. These people do not understand our state, our challenges, and our opportunities. They believe we get too much federal aid. This creates difficult problems for Lisa, Don, and me in Washington."
Alaska's future economic potential is extraordinary said Stevens and he provided a "staggering list" of possibilities:
Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling must happen this year or the oil companies may not support its opening in the future Stevens told the legislators. Stevens said the votes are there in the Senate in a budget reconciliation package, but not in the House.
Stevens said, "The question is: Can we convince Congress to invest in coal gasification projects and the commercialization of gas hydrates and share OCS revenues? The answer is: Without state investment in these projects, probably not."
"We have the gas pipeline, ANWR, and NPR-A. All involve great potential future state income. All have strong opponents," said Stevens.
He continued, "We must proceed carefully because most of these opportunities involve federal land. Congress has a role in each of these possibilities. We want and need support in Congress. And, we compete with many areas of the world for private investment to develop our tremendous opportunities." Industry and those in Congress must understand how Alaskans feel about all of this future development said Stevens. There must be a favorable climate for investment. Senator Stevens said, "What happens in this Legislature is extremely important - it greatly impacts future investment decisions and our support in Washington."
It is a difficult period for our federal government said Stevens. Engaged in a worldwide War on Terror, our nation has 2.6 million men and women in uniform in 146 countries, including our own - all actively working to defeat terrorism said Stevens. "In my judgment, what our U.S. military accomplishes in the war against terror will determine the future of civilization. This is a war the world cannot afford to lose. And until it is over, the fiscal climate in Washington is going to be strained because our priority must be to provide our troops with the equipment and resources they need."
The increasing national debt - now over $8 trillion - is a constraint on federal spending said Stevens. Since Fiscal Year 2001, the interest expense alone has totaled nearly $1.5 trillion. There are great concerns about the impact this will have on future economic growth in our nation, said Stevens.
Debates on federal earmarks began last year when money for bridge projects in Ketchikan and Anchorage received earmarks totaling more than 450 million dollars. Congress removed the earmarks under pressure, but sent the money to Alaska. And the debates over congressional earmarks are still on-going said Stevens. "Without question, there will be real changes in the way Congress appropriates federal funds. If the initiatives here in Alaska which began as federal earmarks are to continue, state matching funds will be needed." He said many federal grants and programs are based on the extent to which a state demonstrates support by committing state funds. Stevens said we must work together to demonstrate Alaskan support for expanding economic development. As an example, Stevens said the state has not provided the Denali Commission with any financial support.
"The future of our state
will depend on our ability to strengthen our partnership with
The Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Interior, and Agriculture unveiled a nationwide early detection plan two days ago. Stevens said he will meet with Cabinet Secretaries Leavitt, Norton, and Johanns when he returns to DC to discuss how their plan affects Alaska. Stevens said he has also urged federal agencies to open labs in Alaska capable of performing rapid testing of these birds.
On the state level, Alaskans
need to be educated about how to handle these birds,
Stevens said efforts are now
underway at the Department of Health and Human Services to convene
a pandemic flu summit right here in Alaska in April. Over 400
people will be
About giving advice, Stevens said, " I am wary of giving advice. When tempted, I remember the story about a school paper written by a young girl on the life of Socrates: "Socrates," she wrote, "was the Greek philosopher who went around giving people advice. They poisoned him.""
Nevertheless, Steven did give advice to the legislators. He said, "Alaska needs a plan - a roadmap for the future - and all of us should work together. The plan, the incentives, the vision must be Alaskan - all must come from the people of our state. No one else should determine our future for us. As it was in the days when we fought for statehood, it is up to each of us here to be able to explain and defend Alaska's plan. Our state's opinion leaders must be a force in history. In territorial days, men like Bill Snedden, Bill Egan, and Bob Atwood demonstrated to the rest of our country what it meant to be "Alaskan. Your challenge is to become the next generation of great leaders."
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