Rep. Louise Stutes
Republican incumbent, Kodiak
1. What would you do legislatively to keep the Alaska Marine Highway System fully funded to keep its routes on schedule and the ferries well maintained?
Dependable ferry service is the lifeblood of coastal Alaska and remains one of my highest priorities. Aside from suffering from logistical challenges and an aging fleet, the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) has been a target for cuts by interior legislators in recent years. If re-elected, I plan to reintroduce legislation, guard against further cuts, and continue to gather support for forward funding.
Last session as co-chair of the House Transportation Committee, I introduced HB 412, which would convert AMHS into a publicly owned corporation. There are a variety of expected benefits from this model, but to summarize, it would greatly increase AMHS’s efficiency and stability by allowing it to operate like a business instead of an arm of government, as well as remove it from the political appointee process.
It is also critical to protect AMHS from the constant attempts to gut its operating budget. Last year on the final day of session, myself and other coastal legislators worked together to insert an additional $20 million in AMHS’s budget.
One thing I have worked hard on over the last two years is forward funding for AMHS. Budgeting for two years instead of one would allow our ferry system to publish a reliable and consistent schedule 18 months in advance, providing better service to our communities and increasing profitability /ridership. Interior legislators are starting to get onboard with this idea and I intend to continue this effort until it is a reality.
2. What more should the state be doing to help young harvesters get a stake hold in commercial fisheries, with training in business management and affordable loans?
The greying of the fleet is a serious issue facing Alaska. Last year, HB 56 was passed into law. The bill added flexibility regarding how loans from the Commercial Fishing Revolving Loan Fund can be utilized. The revolving loan program is one of very few tools that the State has to give an advantage to Alaska residents who want to become skippers.
More to the question, HB 56 increased the amount that new entrants may borrow for purchasing or repairing a vessel or buying IFQs by $100,000. It also increased the amount that a crew license holder may borrow for a permit by $100,000. The revolving loan fund remains solvent and I support further statutory changes to this program to encourage new entrants.
I am working on a bill for next session that creates an apprenticeship program whereby experienced crew will be able to fish their skipper’s boat and permit for a set period through the existing emergency transfer system. This will allow an experienced deckhand who wants to become a skipper to gain the knowledge and tools they need to succeed, including how to manage the financial side of the operation, before they make that big leap themselves.
3. What opportunities do you see for increased renewable energy projects to help slow climate change and benefit the economy?
Affordable energy costs are one of the most essential aspects to a high quality of life in rural Alaska. Investing in clean, renewable energy not only lowers costs to consumers, but also combats climate change. Two things Alaska has plenty of are water and wind. Both Cordova and Kodiak rely heavily on hydroelectric power. Kodiak runs off nearly 99.7 percent renewable energy and Cordova is currently expanding its hydro capacity. Ultimately, I would like to see all coastal communities expand their hydroelectric and wind capacity to the greatest degree possible.
4. The PFD dividend was slashed this year to help the state balance its budget, with the burden falling on individual Alaskans. Would you support an increased sharing of this burden by the oil and gas industry, and how so?
Yes and Yes! I have always supported reforming our oil taxes and action is sorely needed this upcoming session. Oil companies are making money hand over fist in this state. Our government take in Alaska is 12 percent below the average of other oil regimes worldwide. That represents a lot of money that you should be benefiting from but are not. If the legislature is asking the citizens of Alaska to open up their pocket books, oil companies need to pay their fair share as well.
5. Substance abuse continues to be a huge problem in Alaska. What more needs to be done to end this crisis?
I believe that we need a two-pronged approach to address this epidemic.
Firstly, we need to increase funding to the agencies that investigate, catch, and sentence drug traffickers and dealers. More funding for the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Law, and the court system will facilitate more troopers on the streets, add much needed prosecutors, and allow judges to take up more cases.
Secondly, we need more beds and treatment options available statewide. Treatment is proven to be effective and statistics show that when an addict decides to quit, there is a very short window of time to get them into a program before they use again. Options should be available for those who are determined to turn their lives around.