Commentary: Tough decisions lie ahead

It has been my pleasure to represent Cordova in the Alaska Senate. I ask for your vote in the coming primary election. We face daunting issues: reduced oil revenues, the pandemic with job losses and negative impact on our businesses, the need to reduce budgets while funding critical needs, and the precipitous reduction in our savings. Easy answers and bumper sticker solutions are not good enough.

This year is the most challenging I have experienced. We must continue to reduce our budgets while growing the Permanent Fund so it will support dividends and offset revenue declines. It would be an economic mistake of historic proportions to overdraw the Permanent Fund. If it continues to grow it will benefit Alaskans in perpetuity.

I can offer Cordova proven, experienced leadership. I know our communities well having served for 13 years as city mayor, borough mayor and school board president as well as in the House and the Senate. That helps me to understand the challenges communities face. And experience counts. This is a job I would like to continue with your support. Tough decisions must be made.

Writing a state budget is never easy but next year it will be harder than ever to stay within our revenues. We can no longer depend on oil. In 2011, 90 percent of our revenues were from oil, today only 17 percent. Despite declining oil, we must cut our budget further. We need to face reality: after reducing costs how are we going to pay for the things we need. Everything must be on the table, including increasing revenues. How do we provide the services people want: schools, police protection, social programs, and a Permanent Fund Dividend?

Alaskans are hurting and the PFD program is crucial in surviving this crisis. Every attempt will be made to increase the PFD when people so badly need it. A full PFD costs the budget over $2 billion. Finding the monies needed without overdrawing the Permanent Fund itself will not be easy.

The Permanent Fund must be protected for our children and grandchildren. It cannot disappear with our generation. Our future is uncertain if we do not face this reality. We are facing unprecedented choices.

As the Senate’s long-time chair of education, I am very concerned about the difficulties K-12 and the university are facing due to economics and the pandemic. We owe it to our children to make sure they do not fall behind because of conditions beyond their control and we must provide educational opportunities for all Alaskans to get vocational training and college degrees so they can succeed in life.

Everything must be on the table, cutting the budget, protecting the Permanent Fund, providing a dividend and if necessary increasing revenue. All of this affects you directly and every Alaskan must be in on the discussion. I am listening.

Nobody is going to love the budget we pass.  Some will think it does not cut enough or that it harms existing programs like schools and the university.  Others will be convinced the PFD is too low, or too high.  We cannot keep kicking the can down the road with our savings virtually gone.   Whatever we do is not going to be widely popular.  Tough decisions must be made.  The hard work is ahead of us.  You need to hear the straight scoop.  Send the right legislators to Juneau to make the tough decisions.  I am not afraid of doing that. 

I ask for your vote in the Republican Primary election.