Walker: Bring us together and secure a sustainable financial future for Alaska

Gov. Bill Walker delivers his fourth State of the State address in Juneau. Photo courtesy of the governor’s office
January, 2018 photo. Gov. Bill Walker delivers his fourth State of the State address in Juneau. (Photo courtesy of the governor’s office)

Editor’s note: Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has written a letter to the state’s next governor elect, in which he hopes all fellow Alaskans to join him in wishing his successor well. Walker ended his campaign for re-election on Oct. 19.

To Alaska’s next governor:

I want to congratulate you. You have earned a role that comes with more responsibility, meaning and joy than you can yet imagine. There are very few who will ever have so large an opportunity to shape the future of this beloved place we call home.

Along with a smooth and supportive transition from our team, I want to offer four non-partisan principles that helped us through some of the most challenging times in Alaska’s history. It’s my hope that your tenure begins, and is remembered, as a resounding success, for you and for the people of Alaska.

First, with political courage, you can bring people together and secure a sustainable financial future for Alaska. This year, we were able to shift our state revenues from 90 percent dependence on oil to less than 30 percent dependence to provide governmental services. Our ability to fund troopers, courts and schools is no longer determined solely by the price of a barrel of oil. The vote that broke our dependence was bipartisan in both the House and Senate.

Making the choice to restructure and save the Permanent Fund was one of the most important steps, and most difficult acts of leadership, to build Alaska a stable fiscal path. We could not stand by and watch our children’s future dividends be eaten by Alaska’s deficit, after it consumed $14 billion of our savings in four years. Because we restructured the fund, our grandchildren’s grandchildren will receive dividends, and the Permanent Fund will keep growing. It has increased 25 percent since we took office.

Second, we all benefit when we include the first people of Alaska in our decision-making. Our administration has built unprecedented, solutions-oriented relationships with tribes and Alaska Native organizations. From recognizing tribal sovereignty, to protecting Alaska’s children through compacting, to establishing the Governor’s Tribal Advisory Council, sharing honest, challenging conversations were critical elements of our success. Focus on relationships, not litigation.

Alaska gains more through conversations over coffee than in courtrooms. We cannot erase the history and trauma that many Alaska Native families have suffered, but we can work toward healing. Reconciliation with Alaska’s Native community is, and should remain, a nonpartisan priority. Tribes and tribal organizations play vital roles in Alaska’s economy, identity, and future: we should continue to celebrate that.

Third, the Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas project is by far the brightest spot on Alaska’s economic horizon. Construction is currently scheduled to begin during your term. Right away, the project will create 12,000 construction jobs, paying Alaskans up to $30,000 per month. Building will create more than 88,000 jobs for Alaskans in total. When gas begins to flow, Interior communities will immediately see energy costs drop by as much as 75 percent. That will create more than 61,000 additional jobs, as starting a business and expanding operations becomes more affordable.

For communities without direct access to the gas line, 20 percent of Alaska’s gas royalties will be made available for investment in rural energy projects statewide. Lowering the cost of energy will transform Alaska and enable us to make value-added products instead of shipping out raw materials.
Previous governors waited for someone else to bring our vast natural gas resources to market. For the first time, our administration led the project, creating a financial structure that doesn’t put Alaska at risk. We saw BP and Exxon sign commitments to sell gas, and some of the world’s largest companies came to the table to buy the extra gas Alaskans don’t need. Don’t slow that progress: Keep your foot on the gas of Alaska LNG.

Lastly, keep putting Alaska first. Our administration was founded on bridging divides. Even when it was painful, we prioritized Alaska before partisan, political, and personal gain.

The battle over Medicaid expansion is a poignant example. Extending health care to 44,000 Alaskans wasn’t a decision we made by weighing political parties established in Wisconsin in 1854 and D.C. in 1830. We just believe it’s our job to help Alaskans live up to their greatest potential. Now, thousands more Alaskans can go to the doctor, a billion federal dollars have invigorated our economy, and health care’s draw on the state budget has shrunk by $16 million.

When we assembled a Cabinet, we didn’t count the number of Republicans and Democrats. Our discussions were diverse, our decisions stronger and our compromises deeper. Every day, we went to work in a place that met us with respect and support, despite our differences — an experience we believe every Alaskan deserves to have.

Alaska is a unique and historic place, but it is a young state. Don’t focus on how long you hope to be in this office. Focus instead, with political courage, on what you can accomplish each day you hold it. Alaska needs leaders who are not planning a future for themselves, but for their great-grandchildren. We need leaders who are strong and fair, kind and honest. Make the choice to be one: it is in your hands.

Thank you for your service. May God bless you, and may God bless Alaska.

Gov. Bill Walker is the 11th governor of Alaska. He lives in Juneau.