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The approximately $120 million dollar Alaska Class ferry project originally called for half of the funding to come from the state and half from the federal government. But state officials were told earlier this year that they can’t use the federal money for the project without further environmental review.


That leaves the state funding the entire project, a move Begich said is probably wise.


“The state needs to cough up more resources on some of these larger projects, because they have the money,” Begich said. “They have the surplus. They’re just nickel and diming and then they complain about the federal government (and) too many mandates, but then they come with their hand out for all the money in the world. They can’t have this schizophrenic view of how they work with the federal government. They’ve got to figure it out. If they don’t like the federal government, then don’t ask us for money. If they like the federal government, then let’s figure out our partnership.”


Begich says there’s a role for the federal government to fund infrastructure projects like developing the Marine Highway, but that the mechanism isn’t clear. He says it’s not a bad idea to make a small investment on a one-time project that will improve infrastructure in the long run.


During the interview, held Monday in the offices of the Sitka Sentinel, Begich also talked about several national issues, including what’s commonly referred to as the “Bush tax cuts” – measures put in place early in George W. Bush’s administration.


Begich says the cuts for middle class Americans should stay in place, but that the cuts applying to the top 2 percent of wage earners should be abolished.


“We’ve had two years of an aggressive recession,” Begich said. “They haven’t done anything to change their investment patterns with the tax cuts they currently enjoy today, except one thing: There’s more cash in the balance sheets of corporations today than ever before. Cash. Not like borrowed money, actual hard cash they have earned. So these folks that get out there and say ‘Well, it could hurt the economy if we don’t extend the tax cuts for the top two percent,’ it’s a total red herring. Because if that was the case, for the last two years what were they doing with that money? They could have been investing.”


Begich supports lowering corporate tax rates, turning the six tax brackets for individuals into three tax brackets, and making it so that people can do their tax returns on one page.


The bottom line, Begich says, is that real tax reform needs to happen, not just year-to-year extensions of the current cuts.


“Because what the business community is interested in is certainty,” he said. “And if you just say we’re going to extend cuts for another year, there’s no certainty to that.”


The Senate will probably take up the tax cuts after the November election. Whoever’s elected on November 2nd will take office in January. Begich has been involved in the campaign of Scott McAdams, Sitka’s mayor and the Democratic Party’s nominee for the job.


“I have given him advice, I’ve helped him raise money. He is his own person. I’ve given him advice that he not necessarily always agrees with. But whatever he needs to help him, I will do that.”


McAdams is in a three-way race for the job with Republican nominee Joe Miller and incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski, who is mounting a write-in campaign to keep her seat.


One of Murkowski’s arguments to voters has been that her seniority is beneficial to promoting Alaskan interests in Congress. Murkowski ranks 58th in seniority.


Begich, who has been in the Senate for two years, currently ranks 92nd out of 100 on the Senate seniority list. He says there’s a generational shift going on in the Senate, and so it’s easier to rise on the seniority list.


And he says having that seniority is helpful, but it’s not crucial to success.


“Yeah,” he said, “you get more people who come to your fundraisers, you get some lobbyists who call you a lot, and you get to be in the club. But the power is not devised – especially on the Republican side. Republicans do not determine some of the positioning by seniority in those committees.”

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