Senate District B
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: Alaska law guarantees the dividend, and Alaskans should be able to rely on it. Paying a dividend of any size will come at a cost. While I intend to comply with the dividend statute, I am firmly against massive cuts to state government and believe new revenues and the ultimate size of the dividend must be part of that discussion. We must work to protect the permanent fund for future generations and set up a fiscally responsible balance between the needs of Alaskan families and our state.
Q: Do you support continued use of the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve savings account to fund the government? Why or why not?
A: No, living off your savings isn’t fiscally responsible. Part of the reason we are where we are now budget-wise is because the legislature spent down all our savings without finding responsible, long term solutions. It’s time we started looking at our future and budgeting responsibly and accordingly, just like all Alaskans are doing right now.
Q: Is it time for Alaska to have a statewide sales or income tax? Explain.
A: There is no path forward without a broad-based tax. The passage of the percent of market value legislation successfully diversified our income but still left too many questions unanswered. If we want to continue to have a dividend for our children and robust state services we will need to implement a broad based tax as part of a balanced approach.
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: Yes, this is the perfect time to examine how our legacy fields and our new developments will serve our economy and our state into the future. During better economic times we could only speculate about a day when oil prices and production were declining, now we are fully facing that situation and it is time to make necessary, structural change. The Legislature has an obligation to find reasonable policy solutions and not continue to duck the issue.
Q: Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the state’s COVID-19 response? Explain
A: My early optimism was dashed by the governor’s subsequent missteps. I felt optimistic by what I saw coming from Dr. Zink in the early days of COVID-19 but that ended after watching the administration illegally declare that the CARES funding could be used to supplement vetoes and then the failure to quickly and efficiently rework the original distribution plan in order to best serve the needs of Alaskans.
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 the wearing of masks because I want to get back to “normal” as quickly as possible and I think wearing a mask is one of the tools we have to do that. It’s unfortunate that masks have become a visible marker of our political divide. As we watch businesses fail and schools close, a simple cloth covering could be the thing that saves us.
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: We need to support the university. It’s an economic engine, especially for the Interior, and it’s training the next generation of skilled tradespeople, engineers, and health care workers that we desperately need. Research generates $6 for every $1 invested, a tremendous return. While I believe the university should share in the reductions that all state agencies have been forced to reckon with, it will cease to function or serve its mission with the additional cuts put into place.
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: We need mental health courts that divert qualifying defendants from jail into community-based treatment and crisis intervention teams consisting of officers with special training in calls involving mental illness. Funding these is a long term investment that will decrease the strain on our law enforcement, our prisons, and the judicial system on a whole but also provide for offenders the resources they need to be able to return to society.
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: We need to recognize that policing is one of the hardest jobs in Alaska. It requires excellent judgment in high stress situations. We are asking our law enforcement to do too much with too little. We need to reevaluate the expectations we are putting on our law enforcement, support our overwhelmed mental health system, and work to instill greater confidence in the work they do.
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: No Alaska community should live without effective sanitation. I grew up in rural Alaska and believe all Alaskans deserve running water. High capital costs make improvements expensive, but I agree with the state’s efforts, in partnership with tribal health organizations, to explore nontraditional and innovative options for rural communities, such as gray water recycling systems and low-flow fixtures.
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: Alaskans are best positioned to manage our fish and game resources. Our current system reflects a healthy respect for the mandates within the Constitution. We are blessed with ample public land for nonconsumptive uses, but the sole function of these boards are to allocate resources, bag limits, quotas, for the maximum sustained yield for Alaskans. I think it is most appropriate for consumptive users to responsibly manage yield.
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: While I successfully kept property taxes flat, the state continued to break their promise to municipalities, whether in reneging on school bond debt reimbursement or failure to pay mandated property tax exemptions, forcing the burden on local taxpayers. So any additional attempt for the state to take revenue away from municipalities should be met with opposition from local governments and the Alaskans they serve.
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 governor’s cuts were neither legal nor strategic. There are places where the state can maximize our benefit at a cost savings, but those types of reforms come from working with healthcare partners and being strategic. Medicaid expansion has created over 4,000 jobs in Alaska and contributes over $400 million into our state economy. That is the kind of impact that needs to be carefully evaluated, not unilaterally red-lined.
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: State officials found to have engaged in sexual misconduct should be removed from office. Period.
Q: Do you support public schools opening fully for in-person education in the spring semester? Why or why not?
A: School districts and their boards are best positioned to make that decision. I personally support strategic reopening and in-person instruction for K-2nd grade, children with IEPs, and limited internet access. Many Alaskans even here in the Interior lack access to quality broadband, which excludes them from access to learning and we need to be working to ensure we can continue their education at home as best as possible.
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: Yes. We need to make sure that those working on the frontlines are being cared for, especially since while many of us have been quarantined and in lockdown, these essential workers have been working nonstop without the same distance and removal many of us have experienced.
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: Alaskans have a right to use our resources but a tremendous responsibility comes with that. It comes down to responsible use of the land and recognition of the many Alaskans who use these lands for varied purposes. One group’s consumption should not come at the cost of another’s loss of the same enjoyment. Education and communication are integral in managing conflicting uses.