Gov. Sean Parnell’s State of the State address Wednesday night sounded like a campaign stump speech, with attacks on federal interference, an exceptionally rosy assessment of the chances for a gas pipeline to Canada and upbeat reports on mining, education and state finances.
“At this rate, the companies could be building a pipeline four to five years from now,” he said. “But, getting pipe in the ground will take what Alaskans are known for, meeting the challenges together, problem solving, not rock throwing. It will demand the best of all of us.”
But Alaskans have been known to hurl a rock or two and I expect there will be more of that before we ever see a piece of pipe in the ground.
Former Rep. Ralph Samuels and attorney Bill Walker are challenging Parnell for the GOP nomination for governor and both have been tossing stones at the Palin/Parnell approach to the gas pipeline.
Walker responded later that by continuing to support the AGIA process, “Parnell continues to ignore the economic realities of a changing world” concerning the gas pipeline.
“If the state does not take control of the process and construct an all-Alaska pipeline to Valdez there will not be a gas pipeline,” Walker stated in a press release.
Samuels said the “economic realities of today” were missing from the governor’s speech.
“With production continuing to decline and no new major exploration occurring in 2010, we cannot continue the spending trend proposed by this governor,” Samuels stated in a press release.
Throughout his speech, the governor sounded familiar Republican themes — objecting to federal policies about Alaska with the exception of the military, supporting economic development and endorsing “budget discipline.” He said his plan for expanded tax credits for the oil industry will help create jobs and increase investment in Alaska.
Almost everything he said is destined to be campaign fodder in the months ahead.
Parnell attacked the federal government about the use of the Endangered Species Act on polar bears, the proposed health care plan in Congress and predator control measures. He said the health care bill that would require people to have health insurance also “cuts Medicare to our seniors” and it “diminishes our freedom.”
Parnell defended his proposed budget increases by saying the 2 percent increase in agency spending is less than the 10 percent his commissioners asked for. He said he supports the hiring of new troopers and Village Public Safety Officers and wants to expand the fight against domestic violence and sexual assault.
A Legislative Finance Division report this week on the governor’s proposed budget said the increase is 5.6 percent, even though it is a “status quo budget.” The $4.3 billion of general funds to run the agencies would be a $228 million increase in the adjusted base budget, which the report states is the fairest way to compare spending from one year to the next.
I suspect the governor’s office will stick to the lower number, as there are countless ways to calculate budget percentages.
Parnell said that if the state shows “spending restraint,” Alaska has enough money in reserve, nearly $10 billion, excluding the Permanent Fund, to get through the next decade.
HELP WANTED: The state position of chief economist has been vacant for about a year and a half because the state wage of $86,000 to about $100,000 is not enough to attract applicants who meet the minimum qualifications, Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin told the House Finance Committee.
He estimated that an increase of about 50 percent would be needed to interest economists with the proper credentials. The administration intends to propose changing the position to an “exempt” status, allowing a higher salary.
CAMPAIGN CASH: Rep. Jay Ramras, the Fairbanks Republican running for lieutenant governor, has placed his fundraising efforts on hold during the session, as required by state law.
Ramras can afford to take a break as he has raised $162,000 in the past three months from 590 contributors. That is an impressive total for this early in the campaign.
The same prohibition on fundraising during the session does not apply to the executive branch of state government.
Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who also is running for the GOP nomination, is free to accept campaign contributions during the session.
The reporting period for campaign contributions ends Feb. 1 and disclosure reports are due Feb. 15, Ramras said.
RETURN FLIGHT: Delta Airlines announced plans to resume seasonal service this summer to Fairbanks, with a daily flight to Salt Lake City and two daily flights to Minneapolis.
The night flight to Salt Lake will leave at 1:20 a.m., five days per week, starting June 25.
Northwest Airlines has operated flights to Minneapolis for years, but with the merger of the two airlines nearly complete, they will be Delta flights this summer. One flight will start May 21, while the second starts June 10.
The company plans to use 757s on the Minneapolis flights and 737-800s on the Salt Lake City service.