Keith Kurber

Keith Kurber

House District 4

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: In my view, the Legislature has not made an effective case for the reduction in the PFD to an amount below the 1982 state statute. Because of that, I support a PFD in line with the statute. In preparing this response I focused on the results of the Working Group that studied the full dividend amount (Senator Hughes and Representative Kreiss-Tompkins). I concur with them that any “grand compromise” on the PFD must be agreeable to both the Legislature and the people of Alaska.

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

A: I do support use of the CBR as it aids in countering the volatility of commodities prices and acts as a “piggy bank” in times of deficits caused by any number of issues to include pandemics. The 1.98 billion in the CBR based on the state of Alaska website (as of 6/30/2020) will likely be necessary in dealing with next year’s budget.

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

A: In times of fiscal downturns, when businesses are struggling and even failing, when families are struggling and even failing, the last thing we should do as a government is to pile on and possibly accelerate economic or family decline. Let’s work to develop the big projects that can grow the economy before we try and take money out of it.

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 am not in favor of changing the current tax structure on oil and gas in Alaska. Indeed, it seems more appropriate at this time to see how Alaska can move up from its current position of number seven among oil and gas producing states as a result of growth of the industry rather than placing it in a position that would make them consider cutting back operations.

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

A: As an Alaskan, I have been supportive of the state’s COVID-19 response, especially in light of the seemingly unending and often contradictory inputs on the subject provided by our national media and even federal government. I am heartened by our state being in the best ratings concerning lowest case counts to date.

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: My sense is that the unique aspects of the various regions of Alaska support local solutions to this problem. For that reason, I believe local governments should make those determinations.

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: Because UAF, the flagship campus of the UA system, lies within the district I am seeking to represent, I am especially concerned with its readiness to accomplish both its educational and research mission. Due to our state’s current economic challenges, it seems reasonable that all state entities share in the challenges facing our state. I support the regents’ Goals and Measures 2017-2025, especially Goal 5, to operate more cost effectively.

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: I believe the state should promote education efforts to increase the amount of mental health and substance abuse providers statewide, especially in our remote areas of the state. Encouraging the Mental Health Trust to continue leveraging its lands and even further working on land swaps for potentially more valuable lands seems a good direction to pursue to provide a funding stream for such efforts.

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: I support allowing the chain of command of our local and state police departments to address these issues. Whether additional areas of training are to be recommended or required is the purview of the Alaska Police Standards Council in conjunction with the Legislature. Having served in Alaska public safety for nearly seven years, it seems law enforcement has become exponentially more difficult. Let’s be cautious in making it more so.

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: The TCC provides oversight of village environmental health. I believe that consulting with TCC to better understand their needs as the primary stakeholder would be crucial in determining how the state might assist in any development programs.

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: Because Alaska’s fish and game boards deal with setting harvest allocations based on constitutionally mandated sustainable resources, I support maintaining the current composition of said boards to hunters and fishers. Why place a person on the board that has no interest in allocation?

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: In times of economic uncertainty it seems reasonable that all avenues must be looked at in order to accomplish stabilization of our state and local economies. These actions seem to affect both local government and the oil and gas industry so I am supportive of the repeal of these provisions.

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: I support efforts to work to bring down expenses in what is the single-largest appropriation in our state government, the Department of Health and Social Services. If no effort is made to address costs in this area, Medicaid could conceivably overwhelm the state budget. One to area to concentrate on might be better enforcement of fraud, waste, and abuse in the billing system.

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 am grateful that the commander of my State Trooper Academy class required us to think about our U.S. Constitution. A cherished aspect of our jurisprudence is the presumption of innocence. In that light, I would encourage the state to conduct thorough and effective investigations without violating the rights of those being investigated as it appears may have happened to people like Carter Page and LTG Flynn.

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

A: In contacting voters prior to this election, K-12 education has been voiced as a key issue. Many parents and grandparents are concerned about their kids and grandkids falling behind or even losing a year due to the shutdowns and the inadequate internet in our district. Because of those comments, I support opening fully in the spring semester for those families who desire it.

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: To the best of my knowledge, employers (in this case, the state) are required to provide employees with the necessary supplies to reduce risk in the workplace. Because of this long-standing requirement, I would not advocate for such hazard pay.

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: If maintenance costs for lands under state or federal authority are not being budgeted for, they should be. When events occur, whether man-made or naturally, and budgeted maintenance costs are inadequate to repair damage, that may necessitate an increase in user fees but only after comprehensive user studies are conducted that involve both hunters and non-consumptive land users, especially concerning land use classification.