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Rep. Wilson calls 2013 Legislature “difficult”

Wrangell Rep. Peggy Wilson poses at her Capitol office at the start of this year’s legislative session. Her district includes Ketchikan and parts of Prince of Wales Island. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska.

Wrangell Republican Rep. Peggy Wilson said this year’s legislative session was difficult. She got some of what she wanted – the oil tax cut and a good number of capital projects. But she has questions about the tax — and worries about legislative dynamics.

This is Wilson’s 13th year in the Legislature. But it’s her first representing a new district stretching south to Ketchikan and west to parts of Prince of Wales Island.

It’s also the year lawmakers – including Wilson — changed the state’s oil-tax system.

“Am I happy with 100 percent of it? No. However, we had to do something with what we had,” she said.

The Wrangell Republican said she knows the change will be significant, and could lower revenues – at least in the short term.

“I think some of the things we did, some of the credits we gave, are going to bring that production up. We will be able to tell a little bit more in the next three to five years, probably. Unfortunately, there’s no way to be able to tell until we wait and see,” she said.

Wilson, House majority whip, voted for other leadership priorities. That included the in-state gas pipeline bill and to drop new, stronger cruise-ship wastewater rules.

She also voted for the state operating budget, but was disappointed at how it funded schools. (Scroll down to read and hear what other Southeast lawmakers had to say about the 2013 session.)

“In every single department that we have, we automatically give them the pay raises that the unions negotiate. They automatically get extra money for the heat and anything that it costs, except when we come to the schools. Any they expect the schools to absorb that. And they’re no different than any of the rest of them,” she said.

She also said funding for municipalities was also short-changed.

“The last two years we’ve gotten an extra $20 million or $25 million as extra money for revenue sharing and I really had hoped that would get in. And I was very disappointed that it did not get in,” she said.

One of Wilson’s top priorities this year was creating a dedicated transportation fund to build and maintain roads, airports and ferries.

Three measures needed to do that – one asking for a public vote – were in the House Finance Committee at the end of the session. She said the regular budget process offers no guarantees.

“I think it’s extremely important that we take it to the vote of the people and that we get it in statute and in our Constitution so that we can make sure,” she said.

Wilson chairs her chamber’s Transportation Committee.

It held hearings on changes to the Alaska Class Ferry design. The Wrangell Republican said she looks forward to more design details and public meetings, which are expected soon.

Wilson, as majority whip, is part of the House leadership. But she said her influence is limited, in part due to redistricting.

“Unfortunately, the numbers are in the Railbelt. And when Anchorage and Mat-Su and Fairbanks all get together, the rest of us go along for the ride sometimes,” she said.

Overall, Wilson said it was a difficult session.

“And the reason was, is this was the biggest freshman class we’re had for a long time. There were 13 of them. That’s a huge difference. And I would say they were the most pushy freshmen class we’ve ever had,” she said.

She said some had limited knowledge of how government and the Legislature work. And that made it worse.

“Usually freshmen come in and they want to learn. And they come in with high ideals. But before the session’s over they kind of mellow out a little bit and realize they have to work with everybody. And this was a difficult session not only because we had less money, but because they didn’t mellow out as the session went along.”

Wilson also hoped to push a four-day school week bill through the Legislature this year.

It made it to the House Finance Committee. But she said there may be a way to allow districts to plan longer, but fewer days without legislation.

Wilson also hoped to push a four-day school week bill through the Legislature this year.

It made it to the House Finance Committee. But she said there may be a way to allow districts to plan longer, but fewer days without legislation.

Read and hear what other Southeast lawmakers had to say about the 2013 session:

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