Join the Redoubt Reporter for a candidate debate forum with candidates for Senate Districts N and O and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Or listen live at KDLL 91.9 FM or KBBI 890 AM, or online at http://www.kbbi.org.
Editor’s note: Liz Diament, a Democrat, of Fritz Creek, also is on the primary election ballot. However, she did not participate in a candidate forum held Aug. 9 in Soldotna.
By Jenny Neyman
District 30 — South Soldotna and Funny River to the southern Kenai Peninsula.
Incumbent Sen. Paul Seaton, Republican, of Homer, vs. Jon Faulkner, Republican, of Homer.
“My vision of Alaska is us working together through the recognition of individual rights, individual responsibilities, significant local voice and defense of our constitutional principles, Seaton said.
“I believe that I represent a clear choice in this election, and I believe that I represent a more conservative choice. I believe that I represent what this district needs at this time, which is to get back to the basics of creating jobs, stimulating our local economies. The families of this district need that help. I will be there,” Faulkner said.
Where do you stand on recent proposals regarding oil taxes? How should the state incentivize industry exploration, development and production when ensuring revenue for Alaska?
Seaton voted against House Bill 110, the oil tax plan Gov. Sean Parnell submitted to the Legislature this winter.
“It was a bad bill. It would have cost the citizens of the state of Alaska about $2 billion a year. That’s essentially a drop of about $20 in the price of oil. But the big thing was that it wasn’t even fully analyzed, and the section on new oil, which was coming online or would come online in the future, had twice the amount of credits and half the amount of tax and, over time, that would have broke the state,” he said.
In the following special session this spring, Seaton also did not support another measure proposed by the governor, House Bill 3001.
“That would have created a $1 billion necessity to veto that much out of the existing budget we have right now, and we would have still been $615 million in deficit the first year, climbing to over a billion-dollar deficit within the next five years, and that didn’t even look at the influx of the lesser tax on new oil. Both of those measures would have been devastating long term for the state,” he said.
Supporters of the measure argue that there is enough money in the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve to cover the shortfall in revenue from the tax breaks for industry in the immediate future, with the idea that the tax breaks will result in increased production, which would, in turn, result in increased revenue for the state. Seaton disagrees, saying that there’s no teeth to that line of reasoning.
“Wiping out the CBR to give away money to the oil companies with no requirement that there be an increase production — there was no requirement that it would even increase investment within the state. Sure, there would be more money in the pockets to invest, but you could invest overseas without any consequence with that money,” he said.
Faulkner said he would have voted for the tax reduction in the governor’s HB 110 plan, not because it was perfect, but because it at least was heading in the right direction.
“As it was written, no, I would not have supported it, but I would have voted for it. I would have voted for it because we’re facing what I think is a potential train wreck and I didn’t see any leadership coming out of the Senate or the House, for that matter, that was coalescing around perhaps a more, we’ll say, acceptable proposal,” he said.
“I am in favor of easing the upper progressivity brackets of ACES to incentivize exploration and production in new fields, contingent on investment by the oil companies in technology that will help fill the pipeline. The best technology investment, I believe, is in the heavy oils that are in the legacy fields. They’re on the grid, I believe we can get at them, I know there’s current efforts to get at them, and there’s significant oil there that if it’s properly incentivized to produce, will reverse the decline that is currently occurring,” he said.
Faulkner said the decrease in state oil revenue wasn’t going to be as drastic as Seaton predicts.
“It wasn’t going to cost the state of Alaska $2 billion a year, it was going to cost them $2 billion a year for a very short period of time where everyone acknowledged there was adequate revenues in the Constitutional Budget Reserve fund to cover it — which, by the way, came from oil taxation. (That) would tide Alaskans over until the period when increased production occurred from these kinds of incentives,” Faulkner said. “The key, Paul, is to tie those reductions to guarantees. You didn’t do it. You didn’t lead, and that’s what we need in this state is leadership.”
Where do you stand on constructing a natural-gas pipeline in the state? What should the state’s role be in that project?
Seaton is in favor of a large-diameter gas line from the North Slope and said that there should be a project coming soon from the AGIA process. He particularly likes that AGIA calls for open access to a pipeline.
“It assures that anybody who finds gas on the North Slope can get it into the pipeline. What the producers wanted to do is have a contract carrier, which would be only them owning the full capacity of the line and anybody else that wanted to get into it would have to pay much higher rates, which means people will not go out exploring because if you find gas, you can’t sell it or somebody else is going to take all the profit through these high rates that they would charge,” Seaton said.
A smaller bullet line from the North Slope, such as to Fairbanks or Southcentral, as has been proposed, would be much more expensive, he said.
“A big pipeline will give us the cheapest price of gas if we have the high volume. The small bullet line is something that will bring expensive gas, and we may be, in the next couple years, finding plenty of gas in Cook Inlet to maybe send up to Fairbanks so that we get gas to all areas of the state,” Seaton said. “The idea of making a small-diameter pipeline, which would give us gas that would be so expensive that it’s going to be comparative to heating oil, is not the way we should be going. Some people want to subsidize pipelines, but that’s something that damages the economy overall.”
Faulkner, by contrast, said that he believes the AGIA process is dead. He wants to see a natural gas pipeline built and thinks the state should incentivize the private sector to build and operate it.
“I believe there’s probably nothing that could stimulate our economy and investment in other industries more than that. I believe that we have to not-too-quickly move toward investing our own public funds, but incentivize the oil companies and others on an open basis to participate in the financing, construction and use of that pipeline,” he said.
“I am absolutely advocating that private capital should built it. I believe it can. I believe that it will, with proper leadership from the state. I don’t believe that we need to invest public funds or permanent fund dollars in getting it built,” he said.
Do you support Ballot Measure 2, an initiative to reinstate a Coastal Zone Management process in the state?
Faulkner is opposed to Ballot Measure 2, seeing it as an impediment to development.
“If it’s fisheries and only fisheries we’re interest in, that might make some sense, but unfortunately 90 percent of our revenues are derived from oil and gas. There are significant other industries that depend on lower government regulation and lower obstacles to development that are suffering from this measure. Ask yourself, could this possibly be anything but multiple layers of government, in particular the federal government, which is not sensitive to local needs and not going to give a voice to our localities?
“I don’t see any redeeming features to this whatsoever. But I do believe that the state should gain control of our coastline. We have the constitutional authority and the jurisdiction out three miles and we should exert that control vigorously to protest any federal encroachment on our sovereignty,” he said. “… If you’re trying to deny that Prop 2 does not exert added layers of control over state lands you’re living in la-la land because it extends far inland. It doesn’t just affect our coasts, it affects our watershed, and that is a misconception and the public needs to understand.”
Seaton, in general, sees the Coastal Zone Management program as a way for the state to exert control over its surrounding waters.
“I am very supportive of the local people having as much control of the development on their doorstep as possible,” he said. “It is a federal act that allows the state to exercise jurisdiction on federal lands and on the outer continental shelf. There is no exercise or expansion of federal authority under Coastal Zone Management, it is exactly the opposite. These are not the extension of federal authorities, it is the extension of state and local authorities into big government agencies that are basically, generally, not listening to the public.”
He cited the possibility of finfish farming offshore as an example of why the state needs to participate in the Coastal Zone Management program, to oppose the federal government proceeding with allowing finfish farming.
“It’s very important for us to pass the Costal Zone Management so that we maintain control of our offshore fisheries and prevent finfish farming in the three- to 200-mile range, which could have a terrible impact on the fisheries of Alaska,’ he said.
Where do you stand on the proposed Pebble Mine? What do you make of the recently released EPA report concluding that a large-scale mining operation in the Bristol Bay watershed would be damaging to miles of salmon streams?
Seaton said the EPA jumped the gun in its report, since Pebble hasn’t yet submitted a proposal to the state.
“We don’t have a permit, we don’t have a plan on the table that’s been requested to be evaluated, so we don’t know,” he said.
He did note a concern about the possibility of copper leaching into water, however. Non-naturally occurring copper in an anadromous stream has been shown to have negative effects on fish.
“We don’t know whether the ore body after it gets mainly mined will leach copper or not. I have been telling everybody for three years that if they’re soaking those ores in water, if they’re leaching copper. They’re going to have to come up with some technologically feasible way at the current time to make sure that that lake that would form would not become copper-contaminated, because there’s no trust amount of money that we could put in a bank account and say that we could treat water forever. Fifty years we could probably handle, but 200 years, 500 years — that’s way beyond the time scope of what we can ensure we can do,” he said.
Faulkner said he doesn’t want to hold the Pebble development to more-stringent water quality regulations that govern other discharges, such as effluent into the Kenai River.
“I also think that leadership involves standing up and saying, ‘We can do this,’ until it’s proven that we can’t. I think that this mine has tremendous economic potential. Nobody wants an open-pit mine that looks like these ugly pictures we all see. Nobody wants to trade one resource for another. These are platitudes. What we want to hear is how we can challenge ourselves and the next generation of engineers and scientists to do it right?” he said.
Alaskans voted in 2006 to reduce the length of the legislative session from 120 days to 90 days. Since that change took place in 2008, the regular legislative session has been extended into special sessions six times. What do you think needs to be done to encourage efficiency in the Legislature, or should the session should be returned to 120 days?
Seaton noted that his constituents voted against changing the session to 90 days. He also pointed out that, as House chair of a commission tasked with evaluating the 90-day session, three-fourths of all the House members reported negative effects from the change.
“The 90-day session was lowering their effectiveness in communicating with their constituents, was moving bills too rapidly through the process and was putting strains on many things. It’s actually increased the cost of doing business. Part of the problem is we have to pass the budget and the governor has half of the session to introduce amendments, so 45 days into the session we still don’t know what budget you are going to work on. I think that we probably should go to 110 days, 90 days is just too short to really get the work done without rushing through bills, and you really don’t want the Legislature rushing through economics, and making a budget as large as we have, making those decisions on the fly,” he said.
Faulkner sees no reason why 90 days isn’t enough time to conduct the Legislature’s business.
“The majority of other states do it in less time, some vastly less time. There’s absolutely no reason that Alaska needs more time, more laws and more money devoted to Juneau.” he said. “I think to say bills move too rapidly through Juneau is a joke. If anything, they move too slowly because they’re held up in committees, they’re held up for political reasons. The voters of this state were very, very clear — they want a shorter session. The problem is career politicians who want more laws, more government and more pay for doing that.
“That’s a problem that I intend to correct. I’m going to measure my success when I go to Juneau by how few laws I pass, or how many current laws and regulations that are unnecessary that we can rescind.”
Where do you stand on the federal Affordable Health Care Act and how should the state go forward with health care reform?
Faulkner said he is not a fan of the Affordable Health Care Act.
“I think it’s an overreach of the federal government and I think that it’s very representative of our eroding freedoms, not only as individuals, but as a state. I think it’s heading us in a path that is really, really hard to understand the consequences of,” he said.
“I don’t know how our economy and the private sector can support this bill. But I think national health care, or some kind of nationalized standards in health care, is coming and we have to come together as a state and communities to understand the implication of it and how we’re going to afford it. And we should streamline where we can. Workman’s comp, for example, is a very expensive program and might be duplicative coverage under ‘Obamacare.’”
Seaton said that with the Supreme Court upholding the act, it’s now up to Alaska to come to terms with it.
“Our question now is how to implement this in a way that works for Alaskans. Health care exchanges are one of the important parts of that, which will allow people to have access to affordable policies. (The act) also provides subsidies for those that are lower income that can’t afford that. We will have hearings to decide if we want to do as the governor has said and let it be a national, one-size-fits-all health care exchange, or if we want to have an Alaska-centered plan that was designed in Alaska for Alaskans,” he said.
Where do you stand on education funding?
Seaton said he is proud to be one of the members of the education funding task force that pushed for full implementation of the Institute of Social and Economic Research-recommended change to the area cost differential (equalizing state funding for the costs of delivering education in rural versus urban areas of the state).
“We’re in pretty good shape here on the Kenai Peninsula because of that phase-in of the full ISER differential,” he said. “I don’t think we will ever get to the point where we say we’re going to do automatic increases for (rises in the consumer price index, to match inflation) but we have increased dramatically the funding for education, especially by taking the PERS/TRS (public employee retirement system) amounts so that with PERS/TRS liability, anything over 22 percent is paid for by the state. Our district is in very good shape, it has a lot of independent programs going forward. I am very pleased with what we’ve been able to do and I hope to be able to continue to support education,” he said.
Faulkner also takes a supportive stance on funding education.
“I don’t want our public schools moving backwards, and, so, yes, within the constraints that are constitutional or within the legislative body, I would honor inflationary funding increases for that reason — I don’t want to see our schools move backwards,” he said. “But it doesn’t address the fundamental need for reform in certain areas that I think our representatives have neglected, and there is a lack of accountability for results in education, both achievement and for the money that we’re spending.”