Gary's Thoughts On:
Here I offer some thoughts on a variety of issues facing Alaska and our communities.
First, Why I Am Running:
I am running because there are several issues I have been working on in Fisheries and Education that I would like to see completed. My 20 years of experience in the legislature has given me a perspective few have. I know how to work with other legislators to accomplish the important things needed during these difficult times. Because of COVID I suspect this will be a shortened session, so it is important we hit the ground running, move swiftly through the budget process, and keep legislation to the minimum while protecting legislators and staff from the virus.
Alaska has been fortunate in our low incidence and our response to the pandemic. K12 and the University have adapted responsibly making wise decisions. We must concentrate on jobs and bringing back our economy safely. The Legislature did its job in moving Federal Funds to the Administration. We now must make sure those funds are distributed quickly while at the same time making sure fraud is avoided.
We must open our economy as quickly as is possible while maintaining public health. That means assisting local businesses in reopening and recovering. The Federal Government has been generous, but the state has a responsibility as well. We know some businesses will be unable to reopen. We need to ramp up our loan programs to assist the businesses we can. This includes fishermen and processors who we depend upon to maintain our economy.
In Fisheries we need to make sure we are competitive on the world stage. I will continue to work on my bill SB 130 on Added Value for the industry. Tax credits would be used to see that processors are able to purchase and operate new equipment and product lines to increase the value of Pollock and Cod.
We need to maintain the Alaska Marine Highway System. Undoubtedly it will be smaller than in the past with fewer ships and voyages, but it is essential that service be dependable and maintained.
We must have an honest and long-term discussion on revenues. We cannot have it all: a high PFD, full services such as education, police, and social services, with no public support like sales or income tax. That is unrealistic and those candidates who say we can, simply do not know the facts. Our savings are virtually gone. It is time to have a serious dialogue about the services the public wants and the revenues they are willing to contribute.
The Permanent Fund itself is one of the greatest things Alaska has going. We cannot overdraw it beyond 5% of Market Value or in a few years we will damage the fund to the point there will no longer be a Dividend. We must continue to inflation proof the Fund if we expect it to be around to benefit our children and grandchildren.
I support reducing our budget further. Nothing should be off the table, including health and social services and education. I believe there are substantial savings that can be made through tightening up our social services sector with a goal of 5% cut.
In Education we still have work to do on bills I have introduced to insure students can receive college credit while in high school and bring tribal entities into the K12 system.
We have great challenges in K12, but our districts have done a tremendous job despite COVID preparing for the worst, training teachers to conduct classes online and making sure this is not a lost year for students. We must continue to improve distance communications through equipment, infrastructure, and training. Efforts must continue to provide college credits to high school students and to bring tribal entities into the educational picture.
All students including adults deserve the opportunity to take Higher Education programs in vocational and academic training. Our future depends on it. The University has responded effectively to the budget cuts they have received. We should not cut that budget further or it will have a negative impact on our economy.
Alaska’s economy is in tatters currently. We have a bright future in tourism, fisheries, mining, and oil. While keeping people safe from COVID we must open our economy as soon as possible, safely, by encouraging value added products in fisheries, supporting our tourist industry, encouraging out of state visitors, avoiding unnecessary restrictions on mining, and maintaining the relationship with our oil industry to ensure jobs and production.
My district is all in coastal Alaska, mostly fisheries oriented. There is enormous concern about the proposed Pebble Mine. A major miscalculation or discharge could have enormous repercussions on our salmon industry, on the lives of thousands of fishermen and processors, and would be particularly devastating of our Native communities. Enormous caution must be taken before allowing Pebble to proceed. No harm can be allowed.
Biggest Issue This Coming Session:
The biggest issue this coming session will be the budget. When the Governor attempted to cut education by 25% and eliminate the Marine Highway, the people of my district were distraught. We need an honest discussion on the budget with answers that honestly work and is mathematically possible. I would urge voters to question anyone who tries to buy their vote by making promises they will not be able to keep.