Lieutenant Governor candidates Debra Call (standing), Edie Grunwald, Sharon Jackson, Byron Mallot, Kevin Myer, and Stephan Wright answer questions at a Kenai and Soldotna Chamber of Commerce candidate forum on Wednesday, August 1, 2018 at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center in Kenai, Alaska. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

Lieutenant Governor candidates Debra Call (standing), Edie Grunwald, Sharon Jackson, Byron Mallot, Kevin Myer, and Stephan Wright answer questions at a Kenai and Soldotna Chamber of Commerce candidate forum on Wednesday, August 1, 2018 at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center in Kenai, Alaska. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

Lieutenant governor candidates discuss LNG, taxes, Stand for Salmon in Kenai

Six of this year’s eight lieutenant governor candidates answered questions on Wednesday about ballot initiatives, potential state taxes, the Permanent Fund Dividend, and the Alaska LNG Project in a Wednesday forum before members of the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce. Voters will choose from these candidates on Aug. 21, in the primary elections that will determine which will move on to party tickets in the general election Nov. 6.

The two candidates absent from Wednesday’s forum were state Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) and Lynn Gattis, a former state representative from the Mat-Su Valley, both running for the Republican nomination.

Four of those present were Republican: Sharon Jackson, a constituent liaison for U.S Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska); state senator and ConocoPhillips Investment Recovery Coordinator Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage); retired U.S Air Force Colonel Edie Grunwald; and 22-year U.S Air Force veteran Stephen Wright. Wright is the only Republican candidate already attached to a runningmate, Republican gubernatorial candidate Michael Sheldon.

Candidate Debra Call, who has worked in various small business development positions and been an executive for Alaska Native organizations including the Calista Heritage Foundation and the Knik Tribal Council, is running with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Begich. Incumbent Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot, a Democrat, will share the independent ticket with incumbent Gov. Bill Walker.

At the forum, the candidates responded similarly to some questions.

All said they disagree with the provisions of Ballot Measure One — commonly known as the Stand for Salmon initiative — which would tighten the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s fish habitat protection regulations and has provoked intense conflict between supporting conservation interests and opposing industry groups.

The lieutenant governor’s office is responsible for certifying ballot initiatives that Alaskans submit via petition. When the Stand for Salmon initiative was submitted in September 2017, Mallott rejected it on the grounds that it made an unconstitutional appropriation of state assets, though a court overturned that decision in October 2017. After the state appealed, the Alaska Supreme Court is set to announce a decision which may allow the initiative on the ballot if it’s issued before Sept. 5.

The prospective sale of drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — allowed after decades of controversy by an amendment that U.S Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced to the December 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act — got unanimous support from the candidates. However, Jackson called the legislation “a double-edged sword” because it would split ANWR lease revenue 50-50 between the state and federal governments, while the 1959 Alaska Statehood Act gives the state government 90 percent of lease revenue from federal land. Wright agreed, saying “we need to make sure we’re not losing when we think we’re winning.” Meyer, however, said “50 percent is better than zero percent.”

The candidates were more divided in response to another question submitted by the chamber members: ““What will need to be done to further the AK LNG Project and terminus in Nikiski?”

“I love way you word your question — it isn’t ‘Do we want it or not?’ It’s ‘How do we fast-track it?’” Grunwald responded. “Right now there’s a glut in the market for gas — we’ve got Texas and Lousiana and also Russia is selling tons of gas to China … And we definitely don’t want to deal with the Chinese. Sorry, but they’re communists, and they want to get a hold into our country, and we would be a part of that process. So we want to get private industry involved in partnership with the state.”

Jackson described the gasline plan — on which the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corporation has spent about $5 million a month in 2018 and which has an estimated final cost around $40 billion — as “a very expensive project for hopes, and whens, and ifs.” Wright said “the project is not profitable as it sits” and that “it’s something that at this point we need to back off on.”

Mallott and Meyer, on the other hand, agreed that the project “needs to continue on the track that it’s on,” as Mallott said.

“The market will ultimately determine the reality of this pipeline,” said Mallott. “All forecasts so far show that with the state in control and the gas supplied by the owners, with the investment potential already being finalized, that this is the final project and should be strongly supported by all Alaskans.”

Responding to those who said the project needs more private sector involvement, Myer said the savings from tax deferrals justify a state-led project.

“The Legislature is supportive of this project, and we think it will work,” Myer said. “But we haven’t seen the financial numbers to know yet if it will work or not. We don’t know who the investors are… But the reason it makes sense for the state to do this instead of the oil companies is because the state gets some tax advantages, federal tax advantages, that the private sector doesn’t. If this project’s going to work, I think the current proposal the governor has is the one that’s going to work.”

The Republican candidates all declined to support an income tax. Grunwald and Wright emphasized the need to review and cut present government spending, Meyer said the state needs to focus on attracting capital from outside, and Jackson advocated a sales tax targeted at tourists rather than an income tax.

Mallott, who for the past four years has been part of an administration that pitched a controversial sales tax proposal in the struggle with deficit budgets in the aftermath of the late 2014 oil price crash, said the state government isn’t out of the red yet and a tax could still be called for despite the capped 5.25 percent draw from the Permanent Fund earnings reserve the Legislature allowed in May’s Senate Bill 26.

“With Senate Bill 26, we have moved a tremendous way to removing completely the budget deficit,” Mallot said. “Depending on oil prices, which are forecast relatively flat for as long as we’re able to forecast, we will still have a deficit. Depending on oil prices, we will still have a deficit that could range anywhere from $200 million to $700 million that needs to be filled.”

Call neither supported nor renounced the idea of state income tax, saying such a decision should happen as part of a broader look at what state spending should accomplish.

“We need a fiscal plan, and one of the things we need to go forward with is to ask what level of state services do we want?” Call said. “What is the quality of education that we want? Set our priorities as a state. Because once we determine those priorities and figure out how much it’s going to cost, are we wiling to invest in our state, and how are we going to invest?”

Reach Ben Boettger at bboettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

COVID-19. (Image CDC)
38 new resident COVID-19 cases seen

It was the largest single-day increase in new cases of COVID-19 among Alaska residents.

Anglers practice social distancing on the upper Kenai River in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in late June 2020. (Photo provided by Nick Longobardi/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Exploring the Kenai’s backyard

Refuge to start open air ranger station

The entrance to the Kenai Peninsula Borough building in Soldotna, Alaska, is seen here on June 1, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly approves plan for COVID-19 relief funds

The borough is receiving $37,458,449, which will be provided in three installments.

‘We need to make changes now’

Millions in small business relief funds remain unclaimed.

Brian Mazurek / Peninsula Clarion 
                                Forever Dance Alaska performs for the crowd during the 2019 Fourth of July parade in Kenai. The team will not be performing in the parade this year due to the new coronavirus pandemic. They will instead perform during an outside July 4 production hosted by Kenai Performers.
The show must go on

American icons to take stage in outdoor July 4 performance

Soldotna’s Chase Gable, a customer service agent with Grant Aviation, prepares to load and unload baggage from a plane at Kenai Municipal Airport on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Airport sees decline in traffic in wake of pandemic, Ravn exit

Passengers leaving Kenai this year through May are down 18,000.

Registered Nurse Cathy Davis (left) and Chief Nursing Officer Dawn Johnson (right) work at a table to get COVID-19 tests ready for the public Friday, May 29, 2020 at the Boat House Pavilion on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. South Peninsula Hospital is now offering free COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic people with no appointments necessary at the Boat House Pavilion through June 6. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
3 cities, 3 testing strategies

Peninsula communities take different approaches to COVID-19 testing.

Cars pass the City of Homer advisory signs on Wednesday morning, June 24, 2020, at Mile 172 Sterling Highway near West Hill Road in Homer, Alaska. The sign also reads “Keep COVID-19 out of Homer.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
‘Don’t get complacent,’ governor says of pandemic

Alaska saw 36 new cases of COVID-19 in residents and 12 new nonresident cases.

Refuge reopens some trails to public

Burn areas provide new views

Most Read