Fair and Balanced Budget
We need a fair and balanced budget. We need to fund needed services, such as K-12 education, but be careful how we spend our money. We need to think out of the box. For example, we have 53 separate school districts throughout the state each with a superintendent. We should look at whether we can consolidate school districts rather than closing schools or letting teachers go to save money.
Developing Alaska’s Resources
Next we need to develop Alaska’s natural resources. I’ve previously addressed the Red Dog Mine, which over 25 years has paid Native Corporations $609 million in 7I funds under the Settlement Act, and that money went all over the state through the 12 regional corporations. We have two major mining prospects now, including Donlin. The State of Alaska bonded part of the Red Dog Mine to initially help it become operational. All of that money has since been paid back. We should look at doing the same again to expand and diversify our economy.
We have great new oil prospects such as Smith Bay, Conoco’s CD5 and Armstrong – the State should support the infrastructure that will bring this projects to market or enhance their viability.
Carefully Considering Effective Sources of Revenue
We also need to carefully examine new sources of revenues. Gov. Walker has proposed an income tax that our own economists say could hurt the economy and will raise less than $200 once the costs of collection are deducted. I repeatedly asked the Commissioner of Revenue, Randy Hoffbeck, to consider other taxes and he refused – it’s on video tape. Then the Gov. put in a sales tax proposal that would hurt small communities. We can and must do better. I ask this: why can Vermont and New Hampshire raise fair and equitable revenues and we cannot?
A Raid on the PFD as Opposed to Using our Savings Wisely
You all have heard a lot about the permanent fund dividend recently. The governor’s knee-jerk veto took hundreds of millions out the private economy without paying a penny toward the state government (Gov. confirmed this to a Seward reporter in an email in September 2016).
SB 128 simply does not work. That’s not an opinion – it’s a matter of simple math. Last spring the PFD CEO, Angela Rodell, told the Fairbanks News Miner editorial board that SB 128 overstated potential market performance. She said an annual draw of 5.25% of market value of the fund could be tough to meet every year, but no one listened. SB 128 wrongly assumes we can take out $2.3 billion to give the Gov. and the legislature to spend when the fund only earned 1.2% recently due to market conditions. Many Alaskans don’t realize that the State invested in British real estate before the Brexit vote.
I Vote on the Merits of Each Bill
I will always vote on the merits of the bill. How it is drafted? What will it actually do? I will not vote on the buzz of the moment. I will always oppose well-intended, but poorly drafted, legislation such as SB 91 (the so-called Crime Reform Bill that ended up putting more arrested criminals back on the streets instead of helping youthful offenders). Rep. Josephson and I, as former prosecutors, offered amendments that were not adopted. Next session I look forward to working with him and other members of both parties to fix the bill.
Blue Ribbon Panel
I think we should have a blue ribbon panel to explore Alaska’s options for how to use the permanent fund wisely so we can preserve its value for future generations. This panel would absolutely be conducted in a bi-partisan manner. While I was the Chair of Chugach Electric, I set up a successful blue ribbon panel – many of those ideas are still being used today. Ed Rasmussen chaired a fishing industry blue ribbon panel successfully under Gov. Murkowski. This approach can and does work. We can look for example at how Harvard and Yale successfully manage their endowment funds to provide fund to each university without taking out too much.
Work Across the Aisles
Finally, we should always be working across the aisles and look at all ways to deliver services that are more efficient while still providing value. As an example, I wrote and sponsored HB 234, a tele-medicine bill that allowed mental health services reach communities over a computer or phone and be eligible for insurance coverage. I worked on this bill with Rep. Les Gara and I had more Democratic co-sponsors than Republicans. Same with HB 147-the domestic violence pet bill, which I worked on with the late Max Gruenberg. Both bills solve a legal issue while saving money. We need to work together, regardless of party affiliations, to ensure that our communities operate on a more responsible budget while providing the services our communities deserve.