Photo by Dan Balmer/Peninsula Clarion Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Begich speaks at a joint Soldotna and Kenai Chamber Luncheon Tuesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Begich visited the Kenai Peninsula Tuesday to give a congressional update and answered questions about tax reform, oil production in the Arctic and health care.

Photo by Dan Balmer/Peninsula Clarion Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Begich speaks at a joint Soldotna and Kenai Chamber Luncheon Tuesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Begich visited the Kenai Peninsula Tuesday to give a congressional update and answered questions about tax reform, oil production in the Arctic and health care.

Begich discusses economic future

  • By DAN BALMER
  • Tuesday, April 15, 2014 11:10pm
  • News

Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Begich said he remembers driving through the Kenai Peninsula five years ago, shortly after his election to the U.S. Senate, and noticing the economy here was not in the best of shape.

In a return to the area, he shared some insight into his congressional activities then fielded questions on his tax reform proposal, health care and the future of Alaska’s economy at a joint Soldotna and Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

Begich said it has been his priority to create more jobs for the benefit of Alaska’s long-term development. He called Monday’s announcement of ConocoPhillips’ permit approval to export liquefied natural gas from its Nikiski plant incredible news considering the effort it took him to push the LNG export permit to the top of the list.

“It means jobs in the community,” he said. “We need to keep pressure on agencies because they get into their systems and get lost.”

Begich said the condition of the state finances are not as healthy as they used to be and the state has a challenge ahead to increase oil production to move forward.

He said his appointment to the appropriations committee is a “powerful opportunity” for Alaska because with Sen. Lisa Murkowski also on the committee, the two can team up on issues that could benefit the state.

Military expenditures for construction in the state rose from $18 million when he first joined the appropriations committee to over $200 million last year. These investments are important to Alaska economy and national defense, he said.

Begich said all the committees he sits on, from veteran’s affairs to commerce, which includes transportation, oceans and fisheries, are all advantageous to Alaska. He has adopted issues of the Arctic by bringing them up in the ocean subcommittee.

“One thing I have learned in the senate as a chair of a committee, if I start talking about an issue nobody else is, you can take over the issue,” he said. “Sure enough now we are doing Arctic stuff which is very important for Alaska because the opportunity is significant.”

Begich was asked what could be done to bring Alaska back to the top of oil production. With North Dakota leading the nation in production, he said things would change with development in the Arctic. He pointed to progress being made in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and an estimated 26 billion barrels of oil on the outer continental chelf. When oil is produced, a 600-mile long pipeline would need to be built to move the resource and would create jobs all over the state, he said.

While speaking on tax day, Begich said he dreaded this time of year. He said filing taxes could be a complicated process and has not been reformed since 1986. The idea for his Income Tax Reform Act of 2011 was to simplify the form down to one-page, reducing six tax rates to three.

When asked about the fair tax, he said he couldn’t support that kind of tax rate on an individual whose principle product is food.

Begich said the tax reform is deficit neutral and has growth potential.

“When I was mayor, 40 percent of my growth in tax revenue was from new business activity,” he said. “Not taking existing people and making them pay more.”

Begich responded to a question on his future outlook on health care and said the Affordable Care Act will continue to be worked on over time. He said he had several fixes with tax incentives that will work for small business owners.

“Small businesses who do not provide health care today but want to because it’s a great detention tool,” he said. “We lose employees to larger companies who offer health care.”

Begich said tourism on the Kenai Peninsula is a big part of the economic equation. In Washington, D.C., people have a difficult time realizing the impact and he described the whole logistics chain involved to demonstrate the trickle-down effect it has on the community.

The fastest growing middle class markets are people from India, China and Brazil, he said, and those countries are being targeted to promote tourism in the U.S.

“We love foreign travelers because they spend more money and stay longer and that’s good business for us,” he said. “Those folks like to come to unique places and there is not place better than Alaska.”

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the Alaska House of Representatives on Saturday rejected the budget bill passed by the Senate earlier in the week. The bill will now go to a bicameral committee for negotiations, but the end of the legislative session is Wednesday.
House votes down Senate’s budget as end of session nears

State budget now goes to negotiating committee

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Candidate for Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives Tara Sweeney, a Republican, was in Juneau on Monday and sat down with the Empire for an interview. Sweeney said the three main pillars of her campaign are the economy, jobs and healthy communities.
Sweeney cites experience in run for Congress

GOP candidate touts her history of government-related work

One tree stands in front of the Kenai Post Office on Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai taking down hazard beetle trees

The city hopes to leverage grant funds for most of the work

Former Alaska governor and current congressional hopeful Sarah Palin speaks with attendees at a meet-and-greet event outside of Ginger’s Restaurant on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Palin brings congressional bid to Soldotna

The former governor took time Saturday to sign autographs and take pictures with attendees

In this October 2019 photo, Zac Watt, beertender for Forbidden Peak Brewery, pours a beer during the grand opening for the Auke Bay business in October 2019. On Sunday, the Alaska House of Representatives OK’d a major update to the state’s alcohol laws. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Graphic by Ashlyn O'Hara
Borough, school district finalizing $65M bond package

Efforts to fund maintenance and repairs at school district facilities have been years in the making

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the House Majority Coalition spent most of Friday, May 13, 2022, in caucus meetings at the Alaska State Capitol, discussing how to proceed with a large budget bill some have called irresponsible. With a thin majority in the House of Representatives, there’s a possibility the budget could pass.
State budget work stretches into weekend

Sessions have been delayed and canceled since Wednesday

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Alaskans for Better Government members La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow, Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson and ‘Wáahlaal Gidáak Barbara Blake embrace on the floor of the Alaska State Senate following the passage of House Bill 123, a bill to formally recognize the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes.
Tribal recognition bill clears Senate, nears finish line

Senators say recognition of tribes was overdue

The Alaska Division of Forestry’s White Mountain crew responds to a fire burning near Milepost 46.5 of the Sterling Highway on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Cooper Landing Emergency Services)
Officials encourage residents to firewise homes

The central peninsula has already had its first reported fires of the season

Most Read