Democratic legislators say governor is ignoring them pfd: As Gov. Murkowski travels to promote fiscal plan, Dems want him in Juneau

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2004_4_21_ADN_Democratic legislators say governor is ignoring them

Democratic legislators say governor is ignoring them
PFD: As Gov. Murkowski travels to promote fiscal plan, Dems want him in Juneau.

The Associated Press

(Published: April 21, 2004)

JUNEAU -- Democratic legislators complain Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski is ignoring them as he pushes his plan to close the state's fiscal gap.

Murkowski has endorsed a constitutional amendment that would change the way distributions from the Alaska Permanent Fund are calculated. He supports using the nearly $1.2 billion kicked out under that formula to pay for dividends and education.

The governor is traveling to chambers of commerce around the state trying to drum up support for the proposal. Democrats say that with just three weeks left in the legislative session, the governor instead should be in Juneau talking to them.

The proposal Murkowski backs is a constitutional amendment, which means it requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.

That means some Democratic votes will be required for it to pass in the Senate, and probably also in the House, where not all Republicans are expected to side with Murkowski.

There are 12 Republican and eight Democrats in the Senate. In the House, there are 28 members of the Republican majority caucus and 12 members of the Democratic minority caucus.

"He should be addressing the people in this building who actually vote," House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said Tuesday at a news conference.

John Manly, the governor's press secretary, said Murkowski has talked with Democrats.

"He has been talking to their leadership from time to time along the way," Manly said. "I don't know the last time he talked to them, but certainly they know what he's all about."

One version of the Permanent Fund proposal is scheduled for the House floor today, but legislators probably will vote only on amendments then. They are expected to vote on the resolution itself Thursday.

Manly said the governor returns to Juneau today, and he expects Murkowski will meet with Democrats before the measure goes to a vote Thursday.

The state for 11 of the past 13 years has spent more than it takes in. The Legislature has covered that deficit by dipping into the $2 billion Constitutional Budget Reserve, which is expected to run dry in 2008.

It's not clear the governor would succeed if he did meet with Democrats. Most have already said they oppose a proposal that relies solely on use of Permanent Fund earnings to close the budget gap.

"He's on his own if his only plan is to take the dividend," said Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage.

Permanent Fund dividends would continue under the proposal Murkowski supports, although over time they would not be as high as they would be if the current formula for calculating dividends is left in place.

When asked what alternative they propose, Democratic leaders said some of their members have proposed raising more money through oil taxes, and others have pushed for taxes on the cruise ship industry. Those bills have gained little steam in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Most Democrats have backed away from income tax proposals that many of them supported in the 2001-2002 Legislature.

Because the plan the governor now supports does not allow the Legislature to dip into the principal of the Permanent Fund, the Legislature could enact it without amending the constitution.

That would require only a simple majority vote and ratification by voters in November.

But Manly said Murkowski still wants to make the change through a constitutional amendment because he pledged during his election campaign not to spend Permanent Fund earnings without a vote of the people.

Also, Manly said, "I think he feels like this is important enough, that there's a certain weight involved in considering amendments to the constitution that ought to apply here."

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