I'm looking forward to keeping you informed about the Legislature through this Weekly Report. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.
A NEW YEAR AND A NEW SENATOR:
The second session of the 22nd Legislature began Monday, January 14. New Senator Ben Stevens, who replaced Senator Drue Pearce, was named to chair the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. Senator Randy Phillips of Eagle River is the new Rules Committee Chairman. I continue to serve as Senate Majority Leader and as a member of the Senate Finance Committee. I also serve on the Health Education and Social Services (HESS) and Labor and Commerce Committees and the special Joint Armed Services Committee.
PRIORITIES OLD AND NEW:
In 2001 our Republican Majority pursued three main priorities: Education accountability, commercializing Alaska’s natural gas and continuing our disciplined approach to State spending. These priorities continue.
Public safety has always been another priority. However, after the attack against our country on September 11 we are reminded of the need to protect Alaskans, our visitors and our infrastructure. Although the risk of terrorist attack in our state may be slight, it is one we cannot ignore. During the first week of the session we heard from General Phillip Oates, Commissioner of Military and Veteran’s Affairs, on the details of the Governor’s $100 million-plus Homeland Security package. Parts of this package will be approved, but we will need to find other areas in the budget to reduce to make room for this increase. Non-emergency needs will be considered in the regular department budgets.
EIGHT STARS OF GOLD:
I was asked to speak at the opening of “Eight Stars of Gold: The Story of Alaska’s Flag” at the State Museum Thursday evening about what the State flag means to me. The simple and beautiful design by Benny Benson, a thirteen-year-old resident of the Jesse Lee children’s home in Seward, has served as a powerful symbol of unity and strength for Alaskans since 1927. I encourage you to visit the exhibit when it comes to your part of the State.
THE STATE OF OUR STATE:
On Wednesday, Governor Knowles gave his combined State of the State and Budget address. The contents were a mixed bag. I agree with the Governor that children, families, education and health and safety are high priorities. Unfortunately he has proposed big spending increases without any compensating reductions or savings. His proposed budget will spend $193 to $300 million more State funds than in FY 2002. He also is pushing a $350 million personal income tax that would fall almost entirely on working Alaskans. I believe it is irresponsible to propose a large new tax and spend almost all of it, leaving very little to make a start toward balancing our budget. It takes intelligent prioritizing and hard decisions to reach that goal, and I am disappointed the Governor’s proposal does neither.
WELCOME FRONTIER HIGH SCHOOL:
The students and teachers from this small high school in Fairbanks visited the Capitol this week. They and the new crop of young people serving as pages for the Senate and House give me a renewed optimism about our future. On Monday I will join U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski in listening to high school student leaders at a statewide student conference at UAA.
If you know of other Alaskans who would like to receive my weekly report by email, please contact me at Senator_Loren_Leman@legis.state.ak.us or 465-2095.