Bart LeBon

Bart LeBon 

Bart LeBon

House District 1

Republican

Q: The Legislature’s Permanent Fund Working Group issued a report in January outlining three options for the future of the PFD. The group only agreed on one thing: the draw of the permanent fund earnings reserve, including the dividend payment, should not exceed 5.25% of the fund’s market value. 

The other options include: 1) a full dividend in line with the 1982 formula in state statute, 2) a standard yearly $1,600 dividend, and 3) a concept referred to as the “surplus dividend” that would pay out what’s left after government is funded, an amount that could vary depending on government funding levels.  

What change, if any, do you support making to the permanent fund dividend formula? Explain. 

A: The formula or any future modification thereof is not the issue but rather how will the PFD program be funded, along with other essential state services such as education and public safety, in light of declining state revenues. Funding of the PFD payment is subject to annual legislative appropriation along with the budget requests of all other state agencies. So the annual budget question will remain: How do we prioritize these competing interests? Therefore, the question that needs to be answered each budget cycle is how to balance state spending against paying out a PFD check regardless of formula language.

Q: Do you support continued use of the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve savings account to fund the government? Why or why not? 

A: Over the past half-dozen budget cycles, the CBR has been methodically drained to a level where it now functions only as Alaska’s working capital reserve. Today, there is no longer sufficient money in this account to fund government or to even reasonable supplement any future PFD payment. For the time being, our option of using the CBR to help fund state government is essentially behind us.

Q: Is it time for Alaska to have a statewide sales or income tax? Explain. 

A: Tax policy needs to be debated in conjunction with the paying out of an annual PFD check against funding the cost of essential state services. And does it make reasonable financial sense to collect a state tax while also paying out a PFD? And what is the enduring public priority of the Alaska Permanent Fund — paying out an annual PFD or helping to cover the cost for public safety, etc.?

Q: An initiative on the November general election ballot seeks to repeal Senate Bill 21 and change the state’s oil and gas tax system. Should Alaska change its oil and gas tax system? Explain. 

A: I do not support Ballot Measure 1. I believe that we are in an extended low oil price environment and that any initial economic benefit Alaska might anticipate receiving from an increase in the level of state oil taxes will be quickly offset by a future decline in oil field investment. And long term, we could expect a lower level of pipeline throughput as the industry seeks resource development opportunities elsewhere.

Q: Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the state’s COVID-19 response? Explain

A: I am somewhat satisfied; however, the inconsistency of the state virology lab to return, in a timely manner, COVID-19 test results has been a source of community-wide frustration. Public safety issues and the reopening of our economy is a byproduct of our testing system, which clearly needs attention. Overall, I believe state government has made a sincere effort to respond to this crisis in a responsible manner.

Q: In June, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz approved a municipality-wide policy mandating the wearing of masks in public indoor spaces. Many boroughs and municipalities do not have the powers to enact policies of that nature. Would you support a statewide policy requiring the wearing of masks or cloth face coverings in public spaces? Explain. 

A: I would not support a statewide policy mandate as legal enforcement would be my major concern. However, I respect the right of any Alaska business to take this action if they feel it best serves the health interests of their employees and customers alike. Several community governments have followed this course of action, as legally appropriate within their jurisdiction. Personally, I wear a mask while in public settings.

Q: The University of Alaska narrowly avoided financial exigency last year after state funding for the university was cut by $25 million. The university has sustained annual cuts in state funding since 2012. Do you support the budget cuts the university has seen? Explain. 

A: No, I do not support the level of cuts the University of Alaska has experienced since 2012, but for now there is not much I can do about it. The governor’s three-year Compact Agreement with the Board of Regents is their current fiscal reality. University leadership needs to focus their long-term planning with the view that this financial condition is not likely to materially change anytime soon.

Q: Alaska’s prison system is the number one provider of mental health services in the state. What, if anything, should the state do to improve mental health and substance abuse services across the state? 

A: Given the current state of Alaska’s economy, we are faced with having to do more with less during this period of declining state revenues. Based upon available resources, I believe Alaska is doing as much as it reasonably can to meet the demand for mental health and substance abuse services. And it is sobering that our prison system is the number one provider of mental health services in Alaska.

Q: In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the end of May, large-scale reforms in law enforcement and policing are being called for across the country with specific calls for de-escalation, mental health and racial prejudice training and more transparency and attention to police misconduct. What, if anything, do you propose for Alaska? Explain

A: The Alaska Department of Public Safety is a model law enforcement agency that has been, with rare exception, consistently managed by policing professionals determined to achieve and maintain a high job performance standard among its officers. And should their high standard not be met, the department takes timely action to discipline or, when appropriate, terminate those employees who fail to consistently meet employment expectations.

Q: Nearly one-third of the Interior rural communities represented by Tanana Chiefs Conference have no running water village-wide. What steps would you take to improve village sanitation?  

A: An initial first step toward resolving this condition would be to meet with TCC leadership to fully understand the extent of the problem and then explore what past successful corrective actions has been taken that helped villages meet minimum clean water standards. It would likely take a combination of federal, state and local resources to realize a positive outcome in turning this unacceptable living standard condition around.

Q: Alaska’s fish and game boards have historically consisted of hunters and fishers. Should the boards have one or more seats designated for representatives of non-consumptive uses of Alaska’s fish and wildlife?

A: I see no compelling reason to change the current makeup of Alaska’s fish and game boards. Yes, their decision-making process can get political at times, and, yes, actions are often taken that are not always widely embraced by all concerned. But as long as Alaskans are making the final game management decisions and not an agency of the federal government, then I am happy to maintain the status quo.

Q: The governor last year introduced legislation to repeal the authority of a local government to levy its property tax on oil and gas properties within its jurisdiction and to repeal the related credit for that amount an oil company receives against the state tax on the same properties. Last year, owners of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline paid the Fairbanks North Star Borough $11.4 million in property taxes. Do you support or oppose repeal of these provisions?

A: I oppose any state action designed to repeal the authority of a local government, such as the Fairbanks North Star Borough, to levy a tax on any oil and/or gas property such as the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, that is located within or passes through its jurisdiction. This law has existed for decades, and given the local nature of its benefit, I see no compelling reason to support any changes.

Q: Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed $50 million in state Medicaid funding in 2019 and $31 million in 2020, resulting in losses in coverage for Alaskans on Medicaid and payments for providers through the Medicaid program. Do you support this decision to cut state spending for Medicaid? Explain.

A: The Medicaid program is a major part of any successful state health care delivery system. Medicaid funding, through both the state and federal programs, is a critical revenue component for the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital plus various other health care providers that operate in Fairbanks. We need to manage the program in such a manner that it will bring both a reasonable and an affordable benefit to Alaska’s Medicaid population.

Q: Three former legislators, one former lieutenant governor and one former attorney general have either resigned from office or dropped out of reelection campaigns in the last three years due to sexual misconduct allegations against them. How do you think the state should handle situations of sexual misconduct involving state officials? Explain.

A: I pledge to continue to hold myself to the highest ethical standard while in public office. Sexual misconduct among any elected official is always inappropriate, and if proven to be true, should result in their immediate expulsion from office. The risk of immediate expulsion from office should be enough to reinforce the need for appropriate professional behavior at all times among every elected official.

Q: Do you support public schools opening fully for in-person education in the spring semester? Why or why not?

A: Reopening our schools depends upon several overlapping conditions. Do we have safety procedures in place that adequately protects students, teachers and staff in such a level that a positive learning environment is achievable? Has the federal government developed an effective vaccine? Is our community case count under control and not growing? Yes, we need to reopen our schools but should only do so in a safe and responsible manner.

Q: Would you support the implementation of state funded hazard pay for essential workers such as health care personnel, teachers and public safety employees who must continue to work during the pandemic? Explain.

A: No. The problem is, where would we draw the line in how we define who is considered an essential worker? And would this force a private sector employer to "match" a higher pay scale for, say, a grocery store worker who is often labeled an essential worker? I believe we have learned much regarding workplace safety since February and that the need to pay a hazard bonus is unnecessary.

Q: Areas of the Pinnell Mountain Trail were destroyed by four-wheelers used by hunters this fall during the Fortymile caribou hunt. It will cost the federal Bureau of Land Management thousands of dollars to repair. How would you approach the issue of land use disputes between hunters and non-consumptive land users and the different authorities of state and federal agencies?

A: The Citizens Advisory Commission on Federal Areas was historically run by the Department of Natural Resources and was specifically set up to help address state/federal land management issues. This was the "people’s voice" and served as a valuable resource for both state and federal departments to achieve good legal principle. Should funding become available, I’d support bringing the commission back to help ensure that future disputes are appropriately addressed.