Murkowski cool to Dunleavy cuts

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowsi, R-Alaska, gives her annual address to the Alaska Legislature, Feb. 19, 2019. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in her annual address to the state Legislature that the state has big budget decisions to make, decisions she made clear are not up to her. But again and again she expressed reservations about cuts Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed.

For instance, a legislator asked Murkowski about the Dunleavy proposal to repeal local taxes on pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure, so the state can collect that revenue instead.

“I will tell you that just, you know, first blush, it is – the proposal is concerning to me,” she said.

Murkowski prefaced that by acknowledging the debate is up to state legislators.

“Well, these are clearly going to be part of the very difficult decisions and discussions that you all will have,” she said.

Murkowski was a state House representative for four years, ending in 2002. Her speeches to the Legislature are part family reunion chat – with news about her sons and personal milestones – and part annual job review, featuring a list of her accomplishments in Congress. This time, she also played the part of elder stateswoman. She was somewhat cautious, but Murkowski did offer opinions and advice about some of Dunleavy’s proposals, including the change in property tax for industry.

“I would discourage anything that creates division among Alaskans over the value of our natural resources,” she said.

Dunleavy’s budget would budget would cut money for health care, schools and a wide range of state services. He says he wants to bring state spending in line with revenue, and to pay a larger Permanent Fund dividend.

As a candidate, he was critical of the big role his predecessor created for the state as he pursued a natural gas pipeline. Dunleavy is re-evaluating the state’s remit. Murkowski said she wants to keep federal regulators focused on processing the state’s application for the pipeline, despite the change in state administration.

“And what I don’t want to have happen,” she said, “is (have) them … look up at Alaska and say, ‘Well, I don’t know. Maybe they’re not really interested in this. Maybe we should be moving our attention to these other pending applications.'”

Murkowski elaborated at a press conference following her speech. She said it’s appropriate for Dunleavy to reconsider the large expense of pursuing the federal pipeline permits. But she also made clear what she thinks is the right answer.

“To put the halt on it and say ‘We may come back to you later’ – that’s a tough sell,” she said. “It will be it will be very difficult to come back to it later.”

The permits, once obtained will be valuable, Murkowski said. “But half a permit doesn’t get you much value.”

A reporter asked about the governor’s proposed cuts to the Medicaid program, which will cost the state federal matching dollars. Murkowski said legislators and the Dunleavy administration need to carefully consider cuts that cause a loss of federal funds.

“Because the leveraging that you can get from federal dollars has been significant for our state,” she said.

Murkowski was also asked to weigh in on the president’s declaration of an emergency to get more money to build a border barrier than what Congress gave him. Murkowski said she’s concerned it creates a bad precedent of expanding presidential powers.

“I’ll be very direct: I don’t like this,” she said.

Murkowski would not say whether she plans to vote for a resolution disapproving of the president’s action.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is due to address the Legislature on Thursday.