After seven years as the senator for Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan, and much in between, Stedman has the clout to make things stick. He’s been co-chair of the senate finance committee for five of those seven years, and literally holds the purse strings for the state’s capital budget – the money the government spends to build things like swimming pools.
The state is flush right now, so Stedman is thinking big.
“If I could wave the magic wand and have them build whatever, it would be a 50-meter 8-lane pool. So we’d be able in our community to not only have our students in the community have a lot of support services (recreation, swim and dive teams), but we’d be able to hold Olympic trials here. We’d be able to hold statewide tournaments here. We’d be the only pool in Southeast.”
Stedman says the Coast Guard is excited about the prospects of training airmen and rescue swimmers in the pool. Likewise, the Department of Public Safety could use the pool for trooper training. Along with some other projects which are already in the works, Stedman feels a new pool will lock Sitka’s politically tenuous hold on the trooper academy.
“If they’ve got a pool, a driving range, a shooting range, a cafeteria, I just wish the next Governor Palin all the luck in the world in trying to remove that academy. Because I’ll have it anchored so deep here they’ll never be able to rip it out. She was trying as hard as she could to remove that academy from this town.”
Stedman went on to say that everybody wins in a situation like this “except for Palmer, who wanted the academy.”
[Note: The Mt. Edgecumbe swimming pool is budgeted at around $20-million. It is one of thirteen projects Alaska voters authorized in November when they approved a $397-million education bond package, crafted in part by Senator Stedman’s finance committee.]
Stedman spent much of his hour and eleven minutes discussing the state’s oil tax structure, and even Alaska’s role in national petroleum policy. He had reservations about maintaining an army in the Mideast to defend supplies of oil for Europe and increasingly, China. He thought investment in the Arctic and other domestic supplies – including Canadian oil shales – was a better idea.
Stedman has worked to gain expertise in petroleum politics. He’s seething, for example, over the state’s treatment of natural gas as a tax-free byproduct of the big three oil producers.
“We don’t tax gas. That just makes me madder than hell. They can produce our gas, produce a negative value, subtract it off their oil tax, and basically get the gas for free. Below free. If you offer them a tax at zero, they’ll tell you We don want it. The reason they don’t want it? They’d have to pay more. So the if the tax on gas is zero, and they’re saying it’s too high, there’s something wrong.”
Stedman was upbeat about the prospects of working with Governor Parnell, who has just won his first full term. Stedman called Parnell “detail oriented,” and complimented the governor on his recent appointments. But Stedman did want to give the governor a nudge forward, particularly on construction of the first of three new Alaska-class ferries. The federal share of the ferry project is in limbo because many, including Stedman, want the ships built at the Ketchikan Shipyard.
Federal contracting rules, however, require putting the project out to bid, which could seriously disadvantage an Alaskan business. Stedman proposed a swap that would leave contracting decisions with the state.
“The state owns the shipyard in Ketchikan, and it’s privately managed. They have the capacity to build that ship. What we want to do there is take the federal money that would have gone to the Marine Highway and send it to Anchorage and let them build their intersections and their highway upgrades, and take general fund money and have the ship built in Alaska. The governor can sole-source it if he wants – I think he’s a little uncomfortable in that arena. I’m a little more aggressive than the governor on a lot of issues and this would be one of them.”
Stedman said he would also continue to track Southeast energy issues. Sitka’s Blue Lake hydro expansion and Ketchikan’s Whitman project would be among his priorities. He was glad that Sitka officials were already looking past Blue Lake to a possible project at Takatz Lake on eastern Baranof Island, since he felt it was important to always have energy projects in play in Southeast, to balance proposals from the rest of the state. Stedman said hydro projects in Metlakatla and Angoon were on his radar, as well as the Kake-Petersburg intertie and road.
Taking questions, Stedman was more reserved about developments at the former Sheldon Jackson College. He said the transfer of the campus to the Fine Arts Camp would mean more than “replacing a couple of pilings and windows, and new paint.” He thought deferred maintenance could run into the tens of millions of dollars. The transfer also eliminates the possibility that the campus could be occupied full-time by state mental health agencies.
Nevertheless, he wished Roger Schmidt and the camp well, and urged them to focus on growth.
“Myself, I would like to see the fine arts camp and something more on top of that so we can get some jobs. I don’t want to see the fine arts camp leave or anything happen to it. I want a synergy – a plus-up. Staying flat would mean dying on the vine.”
Following the chamber luncheon, Senator Stedman was headed to Juneau on the ferry. The legislative session opens on Tuesday, January 18.
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