Chugiak-Eagle River area legislators are looking forward to using their newfound clout in Juneau.
“We should do well in Chugiak-Eagle River this session,” predicted Rep. Dan Saddler, who joined his fellow local House and Senate members at the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber’s lunchtime forum Dec. 19 at the Bear Mountain Grill in Eagle River.
The area’s all-Republican delegation finds itself among the key power blocs this session after Eagle River Rep. Anna Fairclough’s victory in the Senate District M helped create a GOP majority in both houses.
Senator-elect Fairclough, who previously served in the House, joked that she hopes her move to the Senate — and a vice chair position on the Finance Committee — won’t go to her head.
“If my feet are off the ground I expect you to burst my bubble,” she said.
Although Alaska’s bank accounts are currently in the black, Fairclough said she hopes the Legislature will take a smart, conservative position on spending when it’s time to write the budget.
“We need to have a conversation, both rural and urban Alaska, about what’s important to invest in and what we can do for the people and the people’s benefit,” she said.
With oil revenues declining, Fairclough said Alaska must begin to curb spending before it’s too late.
“We’re on our way to deficit spending,” she said.
Returning House Finance co-chair Rep. Bill Stoltze will have a lot to say about how the state’s money gets spent this year. Back for his sixth term in Juneau, the Chugiak representative said it’s no secret Chugiak-Eagle River legislators will have more clout this session.
“We’re going to have a lot more play in this game from our delegation,” he said.
Stoltze said he also wants to work on fisheries issues. As someone who helps set the Department of Fish and Game’s annual budget, Stoltze said he will keep a close eye on that department.
“We just need to make sure personal use and sport fish gets an equal voice at the table,” he said.
Among the other items Stoltze would like to see addressed is a bill he introduced last year that would allow for permanent vehicle registrations on older-model personal vehicles. That bill passed the House last session, but Stoltze said Sen. Bill Wielechowski held it up in the Senate. In mentioning the bill, Stoltze took the opportunity to get in a jab at the Eastside Democrat.
“He doesn’t quite have the stroke to do bad things anymore,” Stoltze said.
Sen. Fred Dyson now has a bigger voice in the Senate thanks to a shift in the balance of power there. And as if the new Republican majority in the Senate wasn’t enough help for Chugiak-Eagle River’s cause, incoming Senate President — the Mat-Su’s Charlie Huggins — formerly represented parts of Chugiak. Now a member of a Republican majority, Dyson said he thinks he’ll have a hand in passing more legislation this year.
“I’ve been moved from the back of the bus up a ways,” he said.
Dyson said he hopes oil tax reform legislation will spur new development in Alaska.
“We need to make sure we do all we can to get more oil through that pipeline,” he said.
Every legislator who spoke mentioned oil tax reform as a key issue, and it’s no secret that all are in favor of a plan that passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate that would cut taxes on producers.
The area’s newest legislator, Representative-elect Lora Reinbold, told the chamber she can’t wait for her freshman year in Juneau. As a member of several committees, Reinbold said she’s expecting a very busy session.
“I have an extremely full plate,” she said.
In addition to oil tax reform, Reibold said she would like to focus on roads issues. Of particular concern, she said, are icing on Hiland Road and the Yosemite Drive intersection.
Citizens hoping to chat with the delegation will have one more chance before the group heads to Juneau for the upcoming session, which runs Jan. 15 through April 14. A public forum will be held Jan. 8 at the Eagle River Town Center (12001 Business Boulevard) beginning at 6 p.m.
Fairclough said it’s important for the public to attend such meetings in order for legislators to get a handle on what their constituents want.
“We need to hear from you,” she said.
As he concluded his remarks, Rep. Saddler said he’s hopeful the Chugiak-Eagle River contingent will be one of the strongest groups in Juneau.
“We should be able to work well together to meet the challenges,” he said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org.