The second session of the 28th Alaska Legislature opened on Tuesday. KSTK’s Shady Grove Oliver spoke with Representative Peggy Wilson of Wrangell about her priorities for this session.
Peggy Wilson represents House District 33, comprising Wrangell, Ketchikan and northern Prince of Wales.
She says this legislative session, transportation is one of her top priorities.
“Well, personally, I want to really push my Alaska Transportation Infrastructure Fund. What that is is an endowment fund for the state of Alaska for transportation and infrastructure needs. For Alaska, that includes roads, ports, harbors, ferries and airports,” says Wilson.
That fund encompasses House Joint Resolution 10, House Bill 122 and House Bill 123.
Wilson says it would take about three billion dollars to get the fund started, after which only the interest accrued would be used. The principal would never be tapped.
“So we would have money we could depend on. No matter what the finances of the economy of the state was, or no matter what was happening in the whole United States or in the world, we would still be able maintain our infrastructure and our transportation,” says Wilson.
Wilson says that’s particularly important in Southeast, which depends heavily on ferries and airplanes for travel among the communities.
And Wilson says, she would like to see more of a focus on Panhandle communities as a matter of practice.
“Well, one thing that I would like to see change is that most of our funding goes to the Railbelt and not to the rural areas. And I would like to see more funds go to the rural areas. We may not be the majority of the population but we’re a very, very important part of Alaska as a whole,” says Wilson.
She says the rural parts of Alaska—not just Southeast—provide some of the most lucrative industries in the state. But, those same communities often face the highest costs of living.
For that reason, she’d like to see more money funneled to them, rather than away from them.
“Number one, if anyone wants to get here, or if anything wants to get here, like our grocery supplies and everything—that all has to come by barge or by airplane and that includes Southeast and all the rural areas of the state. And all of our oil—almost all of our oil—comes from the rural areas and that’s where we get most of our money. So, I think it’s only fair that the rural areas get their fair share of the funds,” says Wilson.
Governor Sean Parnell’s proposed budget allocates funds for Railbelt hydro but does not include anything for Southeast hydroelectric expansion or exploration.
Representative Wilson says while it is unlikely that Southeast will be able to secure much funding for that, she thinks it is important to expand.
“That’s going to make a big difference because when anyone wants to move to Alaska or a company wants to come and invest in Alaska and have a business in Alaska, they look for two things. They look for infrastructure and they look for cheap energy. And if we don’t have both of those and they’re up and running well, we don’t have near a good a chance to grow our economy,” says Wilson.
The governor’s proposed budget does address several of Ketchikan’s deferred maintenance needs for capital projects, including funds for transportation and the medical center.
Wrangell was all but left out of the proposed budget, with no funding directly allocated for the community at all.
Wilson says she’ll do her best to secure that money for Ketchikan and hopefully get Wrangell some piece of the pie. She says she had hoped to see some of the town’s road improvements make the cut.
But she says, she may still have some ways to get funding.
“It’s a battle. It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work. This is when it really makes a difference whether you have good relationships with other legislators. It’s a lot of hard work and you just never give up. If you don’t give it all you’ve got it just won’t happen. So, I will just keep my boxing gloves on and keep working,” says Wilson.
Wilson also lists local oversight of education and local control over the spraying of herbicides and pesticides as issues she plans to address this session.