JUNEAU — Republican Gov. Sean Parnell clashed with his major rival, independent Bill Walker, on state spending and a gas-line project during a debate in Juneau on Monday.
Parnell also sniped at Walker teaming up with Byron Mallott, who abandoned his Democratic bid for governor to be Walker’s running mate in order to create a ticket deemed to be more competitive with Parnell.
Parnell said voters were disenfranchised by the partnership, which followed the August primary and resulted in the candidates’ initial running mates stepping aside. A judge has upheld the pairing.
Walker, who lost the GOP primary to Parnell in 2010, said he wants a nonpartisan administration and to have a true team effort, with Mallott as a senior adviser.
Parnell, whose running mate is Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, said there can’t be co-governors. “The issue is not trying to be co-equal and make everybody happy,” Parnell said.
The bipartisan coalition that governed the Senate for the first 3½ years of Parnell’s tenure “spent their way past their differences,” he said. The lieutenant governor can play an influential role, but the constitution says the buck stops with the governor, Parnell said.
Some of the loudest applause lines during the chamber of commerce event came on issues related to southeast Alaska, such as Parnell pledging support for a road out of Juneau and Walker saying the seat of government is here and people need to stop with the talk about moving the capital.
But issues of state spending and the gas line — an issue on which Walker campaigned heavily during his unsuccessful challenge to Parnell during the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary — dominated the debate, which took place in a nightclub, complete with a bar in the back and neon lights.
Walker said the state, which has been leaning on savings to help balance the budget amid slumping oil production, is in a financial crisis. But Parnell said Walker has offered no solid plans for addressing the deficit.
Parnell blamed the Senate bipartisan coalition for driving up spending, prompting hundreds of millions of dollars in vetoes. Parnell said he has worked to limit spending.
Walker said he would put everything on the table and ask the departments for ways the state could work more efficiently. He said the “get-well card” the state had in the past — a progressive surcharge on oil production that helped the state benefit from price spikes — is gone because of last year’s passage of a new tax plan that was championed by Parnell. He said the state, which relies heavily on oil revenues to fund governmental operations, needs a fiscal plan.
Both Walker and Parnell said they will not make changes to the new tax plan, which survived a voter-led referendum last month. Parnell said he would work to hold companies accountable for making billions of dollars in planned investments. Walker said he would make sure the public has information about how the tax plan is working.
Parnell took issue with Walker saying in an interview with The Associated Press that the structure for a major liquefied natural gas project is fatally flawed because the state doesn’t have a seat at the negotiating table. Parnell said the state is a partner and that he had “everybody from Les Gara on the left to John Coghill on the right” voting for his plan on the gas line. He also said he believed Walker would kill the project “with his uncertainty and his indecision about which way to go with that.”
Under the plan, the state’s interest in the pipeline and gas-treatment plan would be owned by TransCanada, with the state having the option to buy some of that back. The state’s interests in liquefaction facilities would be held by the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. Other partners are BP, Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips.
Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, said late Monday that while he voted for the bill setting Alaska’s participation in the project, he had reservations, and he wants Parnell to make that clear if Parnell uses his name.
Walker said the flaw in the plan is that the state is not in control. He said a project — long-hoped for in the state — needs to be finished on the state’s timeline, not that of companies with competing projects around the world.