Thomas targets spending growth, village projects

Representative Bill Thomas wants to slow the growing cost of state government. And he has the influence to try to do it.

He co-chairs the House Finance Committee, where he oversees drafting the Legislature’s operating budget.

The Haines Republican says it’s increasing about 7 percent a year, more than the state can afford. It can’t stay level because of program guarantees and commitments already made.

He says he’ll work with the governor and other lawmakers to reduce that growth.

“Everybody has a need and a want. And we’re sitting here (wondering) at what point do they finally realize that we can’t continue to allow the budget to grow at this rate,” she says.

Haines Rep. Bill Thomas speaks at a 2011 Southeast Conference forum. Image by Ed Schoenfeld.

Thomas says he supports the governor’s plan to reduce spending by eliminating 284 funded, but unfilled, state jobs.

The Haines Republican doesn’t write the capital budget, which funds public-works projects around the state. But he has influence as a finance committee member.

Thomas plans to push for a powerline that could lower the price of electricity in one Southeast village.

“It’s been a project that we’ve been pushing for years. And for two years now it’s been vetoed. It’s for the intertie service for Kake. I think we’re going to try one more time and see. Maybe we’ll have to go for less money and build it over a two-year period, or something,” he says.

Other preferred projects include Angoon erosion repairs, statewide harbor improvements and village energy projects.

Thomas would consider additional funding for the first Alaska Class Ferry, if what’s budgeted now is not enough. But he questions the need for a whole new design.

“We’ve got now some of the finest boats running around and they’re 50 years old. Seems to me if it’s not broke, why fix it. These are working fine. I just don’t get it, I guess,” he says.

Thomas has authored or backed several veterans’ assistance bills. He’s also sponsoring a bill to help veterans to apply military experience to some occupational licensing requirements.

“Let’s say that you’re a captain in the Coast Guard and you come out and want to be a marine pilot or maybe a marine highway captain, this will allow you to use some of your sea hours, if you have six years or so of duty, you come in and we can help you waive some of that,” he says.

This is Thomas’ final session representing more than two dozen small communities from Metlakatla to Skagway to Cordova. Reapportionment will drop some of those towns, while adding Sitka to the district.

He says that will mean an extra push for his current constituents’ projects.

“The way we look at it now we’re going to be losing one representative and one senator. So we have to work together and anything anybody puts in hopefully we’ll be able to protect and work with each other. And we’re going to have to work with each other harder than we ever have before,” he says.

In addition to finance, Thomas serves on the Legislative Budget & Audit Committee.

Hear Angoon Sen. Albert Kookesh discuss his legislative plans.

Hear Wrangell Rep. Peggy Wilson talk about her legislative priorities.

Hear Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman describe his legislative plans.

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