PUBLISHED: 4:59 PM on Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Five questions with Senator Kim Elton
1. How will the 90-day session change the Legislature? And how many special sessions should we expect this year?

I think we can skate through the first year of the 90-day session mandate. The single exception probably will be a special session to consider granting a state contract to an entity willing to build a natural gas pipeline to take North Slope natural gas to markets in the lower 48.

Our problem is there are many things we need to accomplish--health care reform and cost containment, education, public safety initiatives, fish and other resource development issues. These challenges are daunting and, while we can, shouldn't hold them in abeyance for a year.

We probably will give the tight time strictures of a 90-day session. But, given these challenges, continuing 90-day sessions in 2009 and the out years will mean either a series of special sessions or continued postponement of issues that help secure our future.

2. Is concern about the Capital moving from Juneau more perception or reality? Now that you've studied the number of state jobs moving to and from Juneau, does Capital creep really exist, and are you more or less concerned about if it exists and why?

The Capital move and Capital creep are very real issues. A bill has been introduced on the House side to move the legislature to Anchorage and, if the Legislature goes, the Capital goes.

Courtesy Photo
  Senator Kim Elton, D-Juneau
Capital creep is even more insidious. In the last 18 months, 140 state positions left Juneau and half of them were management or policy positions. This has resulted in a payroll loss of well over two-thirds of a million dollars per month. These figures are very conservative because we also know of employees who have moved though the position is still being shown in Juneau.

Juneau's business community, a constituency this Governor relies on, needs to weigh in on job creep as vigorously as they did when 40 ferry jobs moved. Their pocketbooks and the vibrancy of Juneau's economy is diminished with each job that moves. It is harder to sell houses, cars, and other products and services in Juneau when the monthly dollar hit is rapidly climbing toward the million-dollar level.

3. You are proposing to raise the state minimum wage. With Juneau employers currently paying almost double the current minimum, will this really make any difference?

The raise in the minimum wage to $8/hour (comparable to state minimum wages in California, Oregon and Washington where the cost of living is less) will not affect any employer paying wages over $8/hr. However, there are 14,000 Alaskans now earning the minimum wage, many of them in Juneau. Studies have not documented negative employment impacts (job losses) due to the increase in minimum wages.

4. Does the Legislature really need to revisit the oil taxes that were approved in November, as some legislators have proposed?

It is way too early to revisit

the oil tax issue. The new tax system passed just a few short months ago. Anyone who suggests that the new tax system (which brings Alaska into alignment with other oil producing regimes around the world) is too onerous needs to remember that if an Alaskan spent $5,000 a day it would take him or her 20,000 years to spend what Exxon alone made in profits in 2005. If Exxon can afford the taxes levied in other parts of the world, they can afford comparable rates in Alaska.

5. Is Ethics Reform "done"? Why or why not?

We've done some fairly substantive reform but challenges remain. We need a full and vigorous debate about an election system that finances campaigns with donations, for example, from VECO (to use the poster child of bad behavior). I hope we have a full discussion of public financing that, in other states has taken special interest money out of elections, encouraged a diversity of candidates, and increased voter participation.

We need to reinvigorate the Alaska Public Offices Commission, one of our most important ethics 'cop' groups whose investigations have been hamstrung because of budget cuts. Give them the tools to be proactive on investigations so we don't need to wait for the FBI to do Alaska's work.