Story last updated at 2:55 p.m. Thursday, October 10, 2002

New fiscal plan raises standard for candidates
With less than four weeks before the November general election, Alaska voters have been given little tangible evidence that any candidates are serious about tackling what they all say is a serious problem -- the state's fiscal gap.

There's been a whole lot of talk about "closing the gap," most of it campaign slogans and election-year platitudes, but very little in the way of substance put forth by most candidates.

Of the two major-party candidates for governor, give Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, the Democratic candidate, points at least for trying. Although her "plan" is lacking in detail and numbers that add up, it is, at the very least, a starting point for solving a problem that could well reach crisis proportions during the next governor's term.

Her Republican counterparts wasted little time in blasting Ulmer's proposal. But their critical energy may have been better spent on urging their own candidate -- U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski -- to develop a plan of his own.

To date, the senator has spouted only empty rhetoric that the state budget can be balanced without taxes and without use of the permanent fund. He says we can develop our resources better to help offset the cost of government. Nice ideas, to be sure. But they're ones that members of his own party, his daughter, Anchorage Rep. Lisa Murkowski, included, say are bankrupt and irresponsible.

When pressed about the details of his fiscal "plan," Murkowski's responses have run the gamut from evasive to arrogant. He says he doesn't need to explain all that to us now.

On the flip side of the less-than-clear picture being painted by gubernatorial candidates about the fiscal gap, is the Metcalfe Plan. Outlined in stunning detail with math that actually works, the plan is the brainchild of former legislator Ray Metcalfe of Anchorage, chairman of the Republican Moderate Party who is seeking a return to the Legislature.

He discusses his proposal in a "Point of View" that begins on Page 5 of this paper. It is longer than what we ordinarily would consider for publication. But its originality and common-sense approach to the proper conduct of the business of the people of Alaska is as striking in its scope as it is refreshing in its simplicity.

Metcalfe's premise is that, based on worldwide averages, Alaska has not been getting a fair share for its oil, and industry has been reaping the windfall. His piece is worth reading, and worth considering.

Perhaps in the coming four weeks, voters will have equally fleshed out plans from those who say they want to lead us. We have a right to know, after all. Just as candidates have a responsibility to the put the information on the table.

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