Arness: State needs to change way schools are funded

Primary Election: District Q Senate Republican

Posted: Monday, August 19, 2002

State lawmakers failed to meet the state's growing fiscal crisis head on, and what public policy they made, they made behind closed doors in private party caucuses, said Senate District Q Republican primary candidate Joe Arness of Kenai.

Some people would move the Legislature to give more voters an opportunity to go there in person. Arness doesn't see the problem of accessibility in geographical terms.

"I don't think it will fix anything," he said. "I don't know if people would avail themselves of the access if they had it. If they did, they'd find out everything is done in secret."

Arness said he doesn't have a particular agenda or a personal issue he wants to resolve, but he believes he can represent the district better than the incumbent.

Arness has several differences with Sen. Jerry Ward, among them whether the public should have a voice in the subsistence issue. He said he supports putting the subsistence question before the voters while Ward does not.

He also said he would want to see voters decide on whether to use of the Alaska Permanent Fund or taxes to help reduce the fiscal gap.

Ward has proposed creating a 5-million-acre educational land endowment to fund schools. Arness said that's "just talk" and a way to say the state is funding education without doing anything.

"It's a dodge to say we don't want to use state money, but we will put up land," he said. "It makes it appear you are funding education, but you're really not. Education just needs the cash to operate."

On education in general, Arness, who currently sits on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education, said he intends to be "eyeball deep" in rewriting the way schools are funded. The biggest issue for him is the difference between how rural and urban districts are funded.

He also said the cap on local appropriations to schools is "a state-mandated requirement" meant to get federal funding for Anchorage and Fairbanks schools.

"I'd like to see some relaxation" of the cap rules, he said. "If the state can't come up with more money, at least turn local government loose instead of slowly strangling education."

On resources, Arness said, "As a philosophy, I believe this state needs to get out of the habit of exporting its resources for a quick buck."

Arness said there must be some resolution to the "fish wars." That means getting the politics out of Board of Fish appointments. He said he would recommend to whoever becomes governor that they look beyond the "high profile" candidates and appoint people who have no axes to grind.

On fishing in general, however, Arness said Alaska couldn't expect to return to the days of $2.50-per-pound fish prices because Japan is not buying as much fish. The law of supply and demand cannot be repealed, and Alaskans must readjust their expectations, he said.

The same goes for tourism, where he hesitates at having government step in to help a specific industry.

Arness is the owner of the Merit Inn in Kenai.

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