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Don Young talks economy, Arctic development

Alaskans, particularly those above 40, are telling Congressman Don Young that they’re worried.  During his recent visit to Ketchikan, Young told media representatives that federal overreach through regulatory agencies has expanded rapidly, and the state is feeling the affect.

“The last time that I’ve seen where agencies considered the wishes of local people was 10 years ago,” he said.

Don Young said the federal government isn’t listening anymore, not even to its own elected representatives. Regulations that haven’t gone through Congress are on the rise, and Young gives one example: a proposal by the U.S. Forest Service to reduce the number of floatplane landings allowed on freshwater lakes in Misty Fiords National Monument.

He said that same agency told local residents that tourism would replace the logging industry, but now tourism is facing new restrictions.

“What are we doing? We’re not cutting any trees or doing anything positive,” he said. “They say we have a restoration project. But they’re not restoring anything. They talk about it, but they’re really not restoring anything. So that’s the hostility — the people that are concerned about losing their democracy or their freedom. It’s very evident.”

Young said that if the United States were forming today, no individual state would agree to be part of the government; they all would prefer independence.

Part of the discontent is continued lack of consensus on the federal level. Congress is in the midst of an ongoing discussion over federal spending, and Young said he doesn’t see a budget agreement happening anytime soon. He said that many in the House believe that the automatic tax increases that went into effect at the start of the year should suffice, and they won’t agree to any more tax hikes, which many in the Senate want.

Young has his own idea about how to fix the government’s money problems. It’s a tithe — on everyone.

“I really think that everybody should consider my 10 percent solution,” he said. “Everybody put 10 percent of their salaries, including those on government welfare, so everyone has something in the game – a little skin in the game – including all the agencies and the whole bit; you’d balance the budget.”

Young admits that his 10-percent idea is unlikely to find support in Congress. But, he said former presidential candidate Mitt Romney was correct when he said that 47 percent of Americans don’t contribute, and that is a large part of the current problem.

Young also believes that Americans need to bring industry back to this country rather than relying on imports. Doing so would increase jobs, although he understands that automation has reduced the number of labor positions available.

“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” he said. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

Also on the topic of the economy, but more specific to Alaska, is the potential for Arctic development. Young recently proposed a measure that would study potential shipping routes in that region, which is becoming more accessible as ice melts due to global warming.

“One of my biggest concerns – if you do look at the capability of Russia, and even China is building icebreakers now — they’re looking at it, not just to break ice; they’re looking at it commercially, to break channels,” he said. “I believe we need to be involved.”

Young said those channels will provide shipping routes, and potential access for mineral extraction, as well as additional fossil fuel sources. While all that development would be taking place far north of Southeast Alaska, Ketchikan could benefit, too.

“The shipyard mainly, because there is no other maritime facility in Alaska that can handle icebreakers — you can build an icebreaker over here – or repair, or launching sites,” he said. “That yard has great potential for the City of Ketchikan and for the State of Alaska.”

The energetic Young recently passed his 40-year mark in Congress, becoming Alaska’s longest serving elected representative, and although he’s turning 80 this year, he shows no sign of slowing down. He said he still enjoys the job, even when he’s angry.

Young faces a new ethics investigation, and he briefly commented on that process. He said it’s nothing new, and he knows in his heart that he’s done nothing wrong.

“The frustrating thing is they’ve gone back to 2001. There is such a thing as a statute of limitations. There were different rules then. I think they’re trying to apply this year’s rules to 2001,” he said. “It’s all about flying. I used to fly with everybody — personal friends, is what I’m saying. ‘Well you can’t do that.’ We’ll see. We’ll see who’s right and who’s wrong.”

The formal investigation panel has been charged with looking into whether Young broke House rules by allegedly failing to report gifts on his annual financial disclosure forms and allegedly lying to federal officials.

Young is taking a tour through the state during the Easter recess. He spent three days in Ketchikan, leaving here on Wednesday for a brief stop in Sitka. Young is in Juneau Thursday, and will arrive in Fairbanks on Friday.

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