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War of words heats up between Alaska Dems, GOP as election nears

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Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 5:40 pm

JUNEAU, Alaska — The state Republican Party is accusing House Democrats of wanting to take Alaskans' permanent fund dividends to pay for more government.

Democrats call the ad misleading and a scare tactic in the waning days of an election. State Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich said Tuesday the radio spot is a response to Democrats seeking to tie a proposed oil tax cut to endangering the dividend.

The GOP ad has run in recent days in Anchorage, and also was posted on the party's website. It focuses on comments from retiring state Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage. During the regular session, Doogan proposed a floor amendment to a state spending plan to move $2 billion to the permanent fund.

Doogan, a member of the House Finance Committee, has been outspoken in his belief that state spending is unsustainable. A bill he proposed that would've moved $10 billion from the constitutional budget reserve to the permanent fund — as a way to make it harder for lawmakers to access and spend the money — went nowhere.

At a post-session news conference, audio of which is used in the ad, Doogan said one reason he wanted to put more money into the permanent fund was, "when the crash comes, we're going to have more money to spend on government."

"The other is, frankly, to force the crash to happen sooner," he said. "The purpose of the permanent fund is to take that money, get rid of the dividend and use the money, finance at least part state government."

The ad lumps in Reps. Les Gara, Chris Tuck, Max Gruenberg, Lindsey Holmes and Pete Petersen with the "liberal politician" Doogan.

House Democrats distanced themselves from Doogan's comments, saying they don't represent the caucus position. That position, Minority Leader Beth Kerttula said, is "very supportive of the permanent fund itself and the dividend."

Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, said the ad ignored comments he made at the news conference, in which he said Alaska isn't at a point where it has to touch the fund. He also made a tie between the fund and oil taxes

"You don't spend the permanent fund and under-tax the oil companies," Gara said, according to a transcript and audio clip he provided.

A link to the news conference on the Gavel to Gavel website, which provides live and taped coverage of the Alaska Legislature and legislative news conferences, wasn't immediately available Tuesday.

Gara said the dividend is needed, and estimated he would have to spend $2,500 to $3,000 on mailers to make his position clear "because of a Republican lie."

Ruedrich said the ad is "absolutely on point" in bringing the issue to a full understanding. The Alaska Democratic Party has cut ads saying an oil tax cut of $2 billion a year would jeopardize Alaskans' dividends. Doogan is featured in at least one such ad.

Ruedrich also said Rep. Lance Pruitt's vote against Doogan's amendment and his support of Gov. Sean Parnell's 2011 oil tax plan has been used against him in his campaign against Petersen to paint Pruitt, an Anchorage Republican, as voting to keep that money for government spending and putting dividends at risk. The GOP said the dividend was never at risk in the oil-tax vote.

Critics of Parnell's tax-cut plan have labeled it a $2-billion-a-year giveaway to oil companies. During debate on his 2011 plan, which passed the GOP-led House but ultimately failed, it was estimated the plan would cut revenue by $1.8 billion to $2.1 billion by fiscal year 2017 if there was no new production. It was billed as a worst-case scenario.

Doogan, on Tuesday, did not back away from his comments. He said it's "nonsense" that Democrats want to take Alaskans' dividends, but he said that at some point if the state keeps spending the way it is and oil production continues to decline, money to keep the state running will have to come from somewhere, and tough decisions will have to be made — including whether to keep the dividend.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said he doesn't want the issue to get spun.

"I don't know what he meant, but if I was a normal person listening to that (news conference), I'd say, 'Sounds like to me he wants to spend my permanent fund,'" he said.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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