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A Week Before Election, State House Candidates Sharpen Rhetoric

Tim Ellis/KUAC

First of two reports

Candidates for state House districts representing the Interior got together again Tuesday in Fairbanks for what may be their last appearance on one stage before next week’s election.

The hundred-plus people who showed up for the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce event at the Carlson Center heard more of same from the candidates on such issues as economic development and protecting Eielson Air Force Base from downsizing – and the themes that have dominated this election year: energy and oil-company taxes.

But there seemed a bit sharper partisan tone to the exchanges, such as these responses by House District 2 candidates to a question about what they would do in the coming legislative session to bring down the high cost of energy in the Interior.
Democrat Bob Miller answered by recounting a package of measures from the last session that House Republicans blocked.
 “First part, energy vouchers which could have been putting 250 gallons of fuel into your tanks right now,” Miller said. Part 2, begin building the infrastructure – as I said a moment ago, investing in the infrastructure – for distributing the natural gas and building its facilities while we truck gas into town. Third part, build the largest pipeline we can get from the North Slope to Valdez...”
Republican Tammie Wilson pointed out that House Republicans backed the natural gas-trucking plan by appropriating $3.75 million to help pay for it. And she says the voucher plan was a shortsighted approach that wouldn’t solve the problem.
“As far as the energy vouchers go, that’s $75 million dollars just to the Interior,” Wilson said. “What could $75 million do as far as building that infrastructure versus just one month of help. So we need to be looking at those long-term projects.”
District 38 Republican Alan Dick gave lukewarm support to the gas-trucking plan and, like all the candidates, said a natural gas pipeline is the long-term answer. He says building a natural gas-fired electrical generating station on the North Slope would bring cheaper power more quickly, and wouldn’t require as much infrastructure, as a local natural gas distribution system.
“Electricity is cheap to transmit. No storage problems,” he said. “Obviously, the long-term solution (is) a pipeline from North Slope to Fairbanks. The question is, ‘How big is the pipe?’ And the answer to that is, ‘How big is the market?’ ”
Dick’s opponent, Democrat David Guttenberg, says a North Slope power plant and the trucking and pipeline proposals all should be studied.
“… The cost-effective nature of each one of these projects, and don’t give up on them,” he said. “It’s not just Fairbanks, it’s the rest of the state as well – all of the Interior, all of villages.”
The District 2 and 38 candidates are all incumbents pitted against each other due to redistricting, and all have firsthand experience with the political battles of the previous session,– including the biggest battle over Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposal to cut oil company taxes by some $2 billion a year.
That issue came up often during the forum, as it has throughout this year’s campaign, with Republicans insisting it’s the only way to boost oil production and hiring, and Democrats saying it would require huge budget cuts without a guarantee that oil companies would pump more oil or hire more Alaskans. The candidates got one more chance to clash over the issue in response to a question from a member of the Make Alaska Competitive Coalition, which repeated the contention that Alaska’s oil taxes are the highest in the nation and which asked the candidates what they would do to reduce them.
Democrats Guttenberg and Miller both rejected the premise of the question. They say the state’s oil taxes are about right, that there are more companies and workers up on the Slope than ever – and that the system is not broken. Here’s Miller…
“I want somebody to explain to me in great detail how – when the industry is making record profits, and the state of Alaska is taking in record revenues – how is that broken?”
Wilson pounded on a stack of what she said were e-mail printouts from concerned local businesspersons and said she’d be glad to oblige.
“These are the e-mails and letters that were sent by folks like you,” she said, looking out at the audience, “telling us that we do not have the jobs here in Fairbanks, because the tax structure is broken.”

Thursday: second report on candidates for districts 1, 4 and 5

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.