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By Dan Rudy 

Senator and House candidate meet with local voters over 4th of July

 

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Sen. Bert Stedman and Ketchikan Council member Bob Sivertsen take in some of the sights at Wrangell's July 4th celebration over the weekend before departing Saturday. Sivertsen is running as the Alaska Republican Party's candidate for the District 36 House seat in November.

Wrangell's annual Independence Day celebration draws hundreds of visitors, from former residents and current ones' relatives to returning tourists.

Among the weekend's visitors were Sen. Bert Stedman of District R and Republican candidate for House District 36 Bob Sivertsen.

On a brief break before returning to Juneau for a special session beginning on July 11, Stedman explained the purpose of his visit to Wrangell was twofold: catching the first two days of its Fourth festivities and visiting with constituents before heading back to the Legislature for another special session on July 11.

In calling the fifth session, Gov. Bill Walker expects the body to address additional budget-saving items such as reconfiguring the Permanent Fund, a slew of new taxes and fees, and a reduction to the state's oil and gas production tax. Stedman hoped to gauge how voters in Wrangell would feel about the proposed measures, as well as to answer any questions they might have about Alaska's ongoing budget woes.

"That's one of the things about representing a vast area like Southeast. It takes time to get around and talk to the people, you just need to get out of Juneau," he explained. "I think people are concerned. They want a solution. They want to see the dividend alive and well for their kids, but they want fundamental services delivered by the state. So it's going to be a balance."

In order to address the state's spending deficit – estimated at $3.2 billion after a number of cuts to the new year's budget – the governor last week cut part of the approved PFD payments from the budget, and has recommended institution of an income tax. Alaska is one of seven states which currently does not have an income tax in place.

Any shortfall in the budget will need to be covered by the Constitutional Budget Reserve, which would be exhausted at the current rate of spending in only two years.

"The path we're on now doesn't work for the future, if your future is any more than three or four years," Stedman commented. "Unless we make some changes here in the special session we'll have about $3.5 billion left in the CBR and we'll be, one year from now, back to the Permanent Fund. So I

would prefer that we recognize that as about a 99-percent

probability that's going to happen if we don't do anything, and we try to take some

effective action this summer versus waiting a year. I think the governor's on the right track by calling this special session, putting budget reductions on the table, and having that conversation with the Legislature.

"Inaction is not an acceptable solution," he concluded. "If it takes us the month of August into September, so be it. What we're elected to do is make these tough decisions, and we need to go in there and do it."

Once this next session comes to a close, Stedman will be able to devote time to

campaigning for his reelection in November. He has filed his intent to run with the

Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC), and is currently unopposed for the seat. The senator has been in office since 2003.

Bob Sivertsen, currently serving his third term on the Ketchikan City Council and a former chairman of the Southeast Alaska Power Agency board, filed with the APOC to run for the Legislature in December. While in Wrangell over the weekend, he met with local voters to discuss the budget and make a case for his candidacy.

"I was born and raised in Ketchikan, raised a family there, was involved in local government. I worked with the city for 38 years, have been on the city council for seven now," Sivertsen said.

Of his candidacy, he explained District 36 ought to be represented by a member of the Alaska House Majority, a caucus which at the moment consists of 26 predominately-Republican representatives. Current Rep. Dan Ortiz was elected as an Independent and caucuses with the House Minority.

"You have to have someone in the room for the discussion when we're talking about ferry issues, to explain it to

those who aren't using the Marine Highway System the importance of it, and build a business plan to make it

sustainable," Sivertsen said. "The ferry system has grown in the number of boats and the way that they operate them, and it's time with the revenues we have today and the lack of

revenues with the budget deficit that we review that and

come up with a business plan that makes it work. We

still have to service the areas in Southeast Alaska. So I

think that being in the

majority and having a larger audience to preach that to and work with, and also being able to work with Bert (Stedman) over in the Senate, we can come up with that solution and make that viable for Southeast Alaska."

Sivertesen acknowledged the budget questions ahead would be difficult for whomever represents the district, and that there would likely have to be revenue increases in addition to cuts state departments have already been experiencing. He felt communities in Southeast would be able to manage the situation, however, pointing to the region's economic retooling following the loss of its timber industry two decades ago.

"In a community that has lost an important resource like our pulp mill, that's the time when you roll up your sleeves and take the problems one at a time and find a reasonable solution to them," he said. "And I believe that's the same thing we're going to have to do in the Legislature moving forward. We're going to have to look at all these issues – and they're not going to be popular – as legislators responsible to make those decisions for the betterment of the state."

"We've seen this before. I think we're a little more comfortable with dealing with it than other parts of the state," Stedman said in agreement.

Before heading back to Ketchikan on Saturday afternoon, Sivertsen said he would likely arrange to return to Wrangell in August to visit with local voters ahead of November's election.

 

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