By Dave Donaldson
Governor Parnell last night (Wednesday) delivered his first state of the state address to a joint session of the House and Senate — telling lawmakers the direction in which he wants to take Alaska.
He reviewed the past six months, reminding lawmakers of the steps he’s taken since his inauguration last summer to improve Alaskans’ families and economy. But he also said the state has to take control of its own destiny — and that means challenging what he sees as federal encroachments of state’s rights — dating back before statehood.
With statehood, the strong presumption prevailed that as a fledgling state, we would be allowed to develop our own resources without constant federal interference. Today, however, the federal government’s actions often seem at war with Alaska’s interests.
He promised to fight a federal critical habitat declaration for polar bears, inclusion of the Tongass National Forest in the national roadless policy, and federal health care legislation.
But most of his speech focused on what he is putting before the legislature for consideration this year: in-state gas development, budget control, new troopers and Village Public Safety Officers, a five-year one hundred million dollar per year plan to provide construction jobs for deteriorating state buildings, increased funds for renewable energy projects … and tax incentives for the oil industry.
Companies must invest here in Alaska, create Alaska jobs and drill more wells before qualifying for these new tax benefits. I don’t support giving tax breaks without an Alaska work commitment.
And he gave special emphasis on his plan to control domestic violence and to offer a merit-based university scholarship program.
If we give every high school student the opportunity for a merit scholarship, if we challenge them to reach higher, if we challenge them to take personal responsibility for their futures, many will. These students will transform out economy and positively change the trajectory of Alaska’s economy for years to come.
Democrats see a lot of common interests with the governor such as fighting domestic violence and funding delayed repair work on state buildings. And there are some points on which they feel they can work with the governor. There are issues, though. Anchorage’s Harry Crawford doesn’t share the governor’s optimism about a natural gas pipeline. And he says the governor can expect strong opposition to some of the oil tax incentives.
Why would we give them a big, fat tax break to go into a field where we already know there’s oil and we know they’re going to drill? I’m all for new exploration and new development, but I’m not so sure we need to provide tax breaks for fields that are already in production.
Leaders of the bi-partisan Senate majority said they expect to work well with the governor — and they share some of his goals for the year — particularly fiscal restraint with record-high financial surpluses available to the state.