Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska (right) speaks at a luncheon of the joint Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018 in Kenai, Alaska. Murkowski said there were reasons to be optimistic about Alaska’s economic future, though there’s still work to be done in Washington, D.C., such as a budget solution before the current continuing resolution expires on Feb. 8. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska (right) speaks at a luncheon of the joint Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018 in Kenai, Alaska. Murkowski said there were reasons to be optimistic about Alaska’s economic future, though there’s still work to be done in Washington, D.C., such as a budget solution before the current continuing resolution expires on Feb. 8. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Murkowski sees reason for optimism, though work remains to be done

The economy still isn’t great in Alaska, but there are reasons to be positive, according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The pendulum of oil and gas activity is swinging back toward the high end, with ConocoPhillips tripling its income in Alaska in 2017, Hilcorp announcing its intentions to spend $285 million in Alaska in 2018 and the price of oil climbing to about $70 per barrel, among other exploration and development activities. The end of 2017 brought the granting of a multi-decade wish for the state’s congressional delegation, too — a rider in the federal tax reform bill opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration.

The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development reported that economic confidence in Alaska rose in the fourth quarter of 2017, based on survey data collected by consultant firm Northern Economics. Although Alaska’s unemployment rate is still much higher than the national, the increase in confidence is also promising, Murkowski said in a speech to the joint Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce on Friday.

“People might not be seeing it in translation of a new job or a higher wage, but the mindset of optimism is one that can help us deliver these positive changes that I think we all look for well,” she said.

It will easily be 10 years before any development takes place on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, between permitting issues and the time it takes for a company to lease and explore for assets there, Murkowski said.

The last year has contained a number of wishlist items for the Alaska delegation. Besides tax reform and the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recently signed a land exchange deal to advance the construction of a road between King Cove and Cold Bay, a longtime battle for the Alaska delegation because of environmental and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposition to the construction of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

Environmental activism nonprofit the Center for Biological Diversity has already sued over the decision. Murkowski said this was not surprising and hoped the court would uphold the decision because of what it could mean for Alaska in the future in terms of access to public lands.

“We’re going to continue on this,” she said. “We’re going to prevail, and we’re not, not, not going to stop.”

The passage of the tax reform bill at the end of 2017 should also precipitate some economic benefits, she said. The bill, which “was not bipartisan, unfortunately,” she noted, passed in December 2017 and enacted broad changes both in individual and business taxes.

Among those changes were two postponements on health insurance taxes that would have been implemented by provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. One would have taxed employer health insurance plans above a certain premium per month, known as the Cadillac tax, and another would have placed a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices.

Murkowski said the two taxes were a major target for her because Alaska already pays some of the highest premiums in the country for health insurance, and though the taxes have only been delayed for now, her intention is to eliminate them in the future, she said.

However, the total cost of health care in the country is something the federal government still needs to tackle, she said.

“As I travel around the state … we’ll start a meeting with school board folks focused on education, we’ll start a meeting with fish board folks focused on fish policies, and we always end up talking about health care and the impact of health care and how the high cost of healthcare is squeezing our education, it’s squeezing our fishermen,” she said. “Recognize that at the end of this, we are still working aggressively, we must work aggressively to not just talk about increasing access to coverage but we have to work to reduce the cost of care.”

Congress still has to pass a budget — after a three-day shutdown, they passed a continuing resolution on Jan. 21 that kept the government running for another three weeks until Feb. 8, at which point they either need to reach at full agreement, pass another continuing resolution or go into shutdown.

Murkowski is part of the group of senators working on a budget compromise. The main hinging point is immigration policy, specifically the future of the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program is set to expire March 8, and the Democrats in the House and Senate want to see an extension or permanent fix for the program before they agree to a budget.

Murkowski said she thought DACA and immigration reform should be separated for now, as complete reform should take time and thoughtful consideration while DACA needs a quick solution to keep the government running. She did say she did not support the idea of a concrete wall to secure the border.

“I’m looking at it and saying what do we have to have?” she said.” We’re going to have to address DACA before then. In fairness, we have to make sure that when we’re talking about border security, we have to make sure that we’re enforcing our laws in a fair and humane way.”

Washington, D.C. has had a year of upheaval in President Donald Trump’s first year, and Murkowski’s office has been no exception. Early in the year, her office was flooded with phone calls with people opposing the confirmation of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, as Murkowski sat on the Senate Education Committee and had a vote on whether she would advance to the full Senate for a vote. Over the summer, Murkowski became a lightning rod as one of the few Republican senators who voted against the GOP’s proposed health care bill, ultimately striking it down.

Murkowski has been outspoken on Twitter and in person about her thoughts on Trump’s behavior. While she and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) have been working with his administration to accomplish agenda items, she said she would continue to be outspoken about his statements or nominees if she disagreed with them.

“I think I can honestly say that we have made more headway in this past year than we have in a decade, and that’s good and that’s important,” she said. “Does that mean that I agree with everything Donald Trump thinks, says and does? No.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska (right) talks with constituents after speaking at a luncheon of the joint Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018 in Kenai, Alaska. Murkowski said there were reasons to be optimistic about Alaska’s economic future, though there’s still work to be done in Washington, D.C., such as a budget solution before the current continuing resolution expires on Feb. 8. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska (right) talks with constituents after speaking at a luncheon of the joint Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018 in Kenai, Alaska. Murkowski said there were reasons to be optimistic about Alaska’s economic future, though there’s still work to be done in Washington, D.C., such as a budget solution before the current continuing resolution expires on Feb. 8. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

More in News

2022 gubernatorial candidate Charlie Pierce walks in the 65th annual Soldotna Progress Days Parade on Saturday, July 23, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Pierce among leaders in governor’s race

Incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy leads the pack overall

Braeden Garrett holds signs supporting Alaska House of Representatives candidate Justin Ruffridge at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Ruffridge, Babcock lead in early primary results

Unofficial preliminary primary election results showed significant margins between the first- and second-place candidates

Pollworkers Carol Louthan (center) and Harmony Bolden (right) work at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Local voters cast ballots, try out ranked choice

Locally, multiple candidates have their sights set on seats in the Alaska Legislature.

U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka joins Donald Trump on stage during a rally at the Alaska Airlines Center on July 9, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. Tshibaka is seeking to become one of four candidates to advance in the U.S. Senate race during Alaska’s primary election Tuesday, Aug. 16. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP, File)
U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka joins Donald Trump on stage during a rally at the Alaska Airlines Center on July 9, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. Tshibaka is seeking to become one of four candidates to advance in the U.S. Senate race during Alaska’s primary election Tuesday, Aug. 16. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP, File)
Murkowski advances in Senate race, Palin in House

Kelly Tshibaka, her GOP rival endorsed by former President Donald Trump, was among the candidates bound for the November general election

The Alaska State Capitol is seen in Juneau, Alaska, in 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Supreme Court rules against forward funding for education, confirms limit on legislative power

Setting multi-year budgets in Alaska requires cash on hand, justices said

Sarah Palin speaks at a July 11 Save America Rally featuring former President Donald Trump at Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
What to watch: Cheney in trouble; Palin eyes comeback

Sarah Palin jumped on a vacancy in the state’s congressional delegation as a potential springboard back into elected office

Assembly members participate during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly to revisit gravel pit legislation

A proposed ordinance would overhaul borough code addressing material site permits

Campaign signs decorate the outside of Paradisos Restaurant on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Election 2022: Where, how, when to vote

Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday

As measured by the CDC, dispensing rate reflects the number of prescriptions dispensed per 100 persons per year. While the United States’ dispensing rate peaked at 81.3 in 2012, the Kenai Peninsula’s rate was 100 or higher every year between 2001 and 2015. Graphic by Ashlyn O’Hara.
Borough creates grant program to distribute opioid settlement funds

The Kenai Peninsula Borough will offer hundreds of thousands of dollars in… Continue reading

Most Read