Julia Hnilicka

Julia Hnilicka

House District 6

Democrat

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 Supreme Court has ruled that statutes regarding state finances can be undone as deemed necessary. This has created the conflict and controversial argument between the original statutory formula and the formula followed today. The way forward is a constitutional amendment ensuring the PFD. A constitutional amendment gives a voice to the people. It will require strong legislators to accomplish this. There’s more to the question, how to ensure Alaskans get the benefit of the development of our resources. Fighting over the PFD is a convenient political shield for those who seek to divide us. Alaskans need and deserve better.

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

A: Bleeding our state’s savings account impacts the future that we want for our children and grandchildren. Our priority must be putting Alaska on a stable and sustainable path forward for our next generation. The economic and health crises of COVID-19 has shown us the critical and harsh reality of why we must preserve a savings account. Rainy day funds are not intended for lazy legislation.

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

A: Alaska must secure sources of revenue that do not place increased burden on lower-income residents. First, we must receive our historical share of oil revenues before thinking about taxing our residents. Exploring income streams from out-of-state workers who currently come to Alaska to earn high wages and benefit from services yet do not contribute to our state is critical.

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: Alaska absolutely needs to change our relationship with the oil and gas industry. Promised jobs and revenue assured with the passing of SB21, the “More Production Act,” have not come to pass. Alaskans own the resources that are extracted out of our state, and we need to have more control, including more transparency from the companies whose first priority is to their bottom line — not Alaskans.

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

A: Initially, I was very supportive of our administration’s handling of the COVID-19 response. Recently, we have seen a dramatic spike in cases due to national pandemic politicization. Alaska was devastated by the 1918-1920 flu pandemic, and we should encourage all measures that ensure our safety, especially in our communities and villages. The lack of adequate health care in remote communities is problematic and puts residents at even higher risk.

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 support a policy that protects the health of our small, remote communities. Health care and science professionals stress that masks are a low impact, high yield return that will keep our cases of infection lower. Out-of-state travelers visiting our highway communities can leave a wake of infection behind them. Policies addressing masks and social distancing in public spaces are simple, effective ways to slow the spread of COVID-19.

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: The university budget cuts have disproportionately impacted Alaska students by axing degree programs and vital Arctic research. As the only Arctic state in the union, our university system and research are extremely important. Huge slashes to the budget will be felt not only by families who must send their students out of state to follow their dreams but also set back our national position in the Arctic.

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: When the prison system is the top provider of mental health services, it is a reactionary system rather than a proactive one. We must help those at risk of addiction and violence before their lives spin out of control and they harm others in the community. Alaska must adequately fund our current mental health and substance abuse services and expand those services to see positive results.

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: Alaska must reevaluate our VPSO program and work to build the confidence of communities through officer engagement and relationship building. Our state troopers are stretched thin across remote areas, often not able to respond to violence and theft of property in a timely way. This is unacceptable for our rural residents who live in fear of crime. We must restructure our VPSO program and expand training and funding for Troopers.

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: I would visit the communities in House District 6 and learn from the people the challenges that they face with water and sanitation. The federal program for water sanitation grants is not tailored to small, remote locations. We must partner with our cities and tribes to find creative, small-scale solutions. Clean water for drinking and bathing has always been critical to healthy communities, and it no longer can be ignored.

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: Yes. It is important to have other voices included in representation, such as Elders and scientists. I would not endorse anti-subsistence board members. As our climate changes, we see impacts such as beaver habitat migrating north and low fish counts. Our future generations should enjoy the same opportunities to harvest our most precious resource, wild game and fish.

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 the repeal of these provisions. I support local governments’ right to levy taxes on oil and gas properties within their jurisdictions.

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 do not support these Medicaid cuts. This is a program that many Alaskans rely on for their health and well-being. For every dollar spent by the state, the federal government matches about $2. During this public health crisis, we need to make sure that we are protecting our citizens to the fullest, not putting politics over the good of our state and the health of our people.

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: Sexual misconduct is an abuse of power. Officials who abuse the power vested in them as public servants should absolutely be prosecuted. Representatives of the people enjoy an increased access to power. Their abuse of that power negatively impacts trust and accountability in government. State officials are public servants and should be held to the same standards and laws that bind the public in these and other domestic matters.

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

Whether to open public schools in the spring semester will depend entirely on the rate of community transmission of the COVID-19 virus. I know that students, parents, and educators are anxious to have a plan they can depend on. When our community transmission rates exceed past trends, we cannot throw caution to the wind. We must work to be diligent in the protection of public health for all Alaskans.

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: Essential workers should be paid for dangerous conditions of work. We are facing a statewide budget crisis. Additional costs will reduce other services that we also depend on. We should be listening to the advice of scientists and health professionals and mandate protecting one another. I value the lives of essential workers; I chose to protect them. We should be protecting all Alaskans by not expending more money and lives.

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: Our state agencies need to integrate information and reduce redundancy. These destructive and dangerous situations are avoided when we break down the silos of agency information sharing. Education on the use of the land and respectful practices needs to be facilitated to the public from land stakeholders. Drastic budget cuts from the Dunleavy administration leaves this land destroyed by users who do not respect the land or understand the rules.