This week, U.S. Senators for Alaska are returning to the 49th state to speak directly to constituents. On Monday afternoon, I spoke with Senator Mark Begich about a number of issues that impact the Upper Valley as well as the upcoming mid-term election.
First, Senator Begich discussed flood insurance. The issue has gained national attention after Hurricane Katrina, Super Storm Sandy, and other recent flooding events. In Alaska, floods in the Mat-Su, Galena, and the Kenai Peninsula have brought the issue closer to home. Last week, the Senate approved a bill that would limit flood insurance premium increases in areas newly classified as flood zones. A previous bill that did not get voted on would have stopped rate increases for four years. Senator Begich supported both measures.
“I think it’s good for the homeowners in a lot of ways. First off, it delays the increases. In other words it puts a limit on premium increases, versus one-hundred-percent carried by the homeowner, which is one of the threads that some people wanted in Congress, so it does create some limits and caps. Second, the affordability study is important for the long term to understand what this all means. At the end of the day, the goal is not to have insurance rates so high that people can’t afford to pay them and live in their homes.”
Also last week, Senator Begich’s office claimed to have scored a victory in the name of small air carriers against the IRS. The issue has been brewing for years, as the IRS has been inconsistent in how it collects a special excise tax levied on air passengers in Alaska. Some small flightseeing and charter services were levied tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes, fines, and interest. The statement from Senator Begich’s office last Friday claims that the IRS “caved” on the issue. Over the last few days, however, it’s become less clear exactly how far the IRS will be backing off. Senator Begich says he realizes there is still a long way to go on the issue.
“I think it’s a good first step. It really clearly says that they recognize there are some issues with how they have been taxing individuals who are doing one-day sightseeing activities, or fly fishing, or hiking–those kinds of activities.”
In response to questions submitted by listeners, Senator Begich also discussed the state legislation that would allow public funding of private schools, the state’s sexual assault epidemic, and what he believes are the biggest issues facing Alaskans.
The conversation ended with discussion of the upcoming election. Senator Begich is one of a handful of Democratic Senators running for re-election in what are generally considered Republican-leaning states. Following the primary in August, he will face the winner of a three-way race between Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, former DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan, and Joe Miller. A major point of criticism from Senator Begich’s would-be successors is the claim that he votes with the Democratic majority up to ninety-seven percent of the time. Senator Begich says that data is cherry-picked, and that he considers himself as consistently supporting Alaskan issues.
“They will say whatever they need to say, because they know President Obama is not popular in this state. They want to tie everything possible me-to-him, but the fact is that I’ve had to argue and fight for oil and gas development in the Arctic against the Obama administration. I didn’t support the President…when he wanted to go into Syria. I didn’t support the administration on their gun restriction laws. I can go through the list of things I have disagreed with this administration on, especially when it deals with Alaska.”
You can find the rest of the interview with Senator Mark Begich at KTNA.org.