Commentary: An alternative to the Dunleavy disaster

Gov. Mike Dunleavy. (May 15, 2019) Photo courtesy of Paxson Woelber/The Alaska Landmine

By Les Gara
For The Cordova Times

I want a brighter future, not a state people have been leaving for a record four years in a row. We can do better than the loss of thousands of good-paying jobs, a needed Marine Highway this governor is trying to sink, and less opportunity to succeed. I’m running for governor because we deserve an Alaska we can believe in again.

Like many of you, I grew up with hurdles in my way. My father was killed by a robber who broke into his office when I was 6. Twelve years in foster care taught me that everyone deserves a fair chance in life.

That means an economy with good paying jobs and good wages. It means good schools, supporting our fishing and tourism economies, equal opportunity, and treating seniors with dignity – things I always fought for as a legislator.

Gov. Dunleavy has taken a wrecking ball to these things.

He’s violated almost every campaign promise he made. He campaigned on education, then tried to cut a staggering quarter-billion dollars from our public schools. Eliminating 2,500 teachers and educators, and leaving students behind, isn’t a plan. It’s neglect.

He vetoed support for tourism ads this summer at a time businesses were struggling to survive.

We can bring back 6,000 good-paying jobs by supporting the construction budget we had before this budget crisis. Alaska has $2 billion of neglected, shovel-ready projects on our state and University deferred maintenance lists.

Gov. Dunleavy temporarily backed off some of his radical agenda to survive a Recall. But his push for devastating cuts to schools and seniors, and his decimation of a university that’s also the biggest vocational education provider in the State, and his hostility to the marine highway will continue if he’s re-elected. So will his attempts to empty our $1 billion Power Cost Equalization Fund needed by small communities. He tried emptying it in 2019, and again this year until the courts stopped him.

I enjoy fishing like many of you. Commercial, subsistence and sportfishing are bedrocks for our economy. We shouldn’t divide people who rely on fishing. Our common interest in fishing should bind us as we protect Alaska’s fish for decades to come.

I’ve supported our responsible oil development and mining jobs. But the toxic Pebble mine threatens the greatest wild salmon runs in the world. Unlike Gov. Dunleavy, who still stands with foreign Pebble Mine owners, I’ll stand with you to prevent this toxic catastrophe.

I won’t pit Alaskans from small and large communities, rural or urban, against each other.

Then there’s the main job he promised to do, and never did. He’s ducked Alaska’s seven-year budget deficit and spent away $16 billion in savings as a legislator since 2013, and now as governor.

He’s tried grabbing our savings, and our scholarship and power funds, because he has no plan.

The half-baked ones he has keep changing. In December he said he wanted “$1.23 billion” in taxes he wouldn’t identify (12/10/20 Governor’s “Budget Overview”). In April he shifted to a $3 billion raid on the Permanent Fund, the biggest raid in Permanent Fund history. Taking an extra $3 billion from the Permanent Fund means lower annual Fund earnings to pay for schools, construction, police, and roads, and reduced PFDs.

You never received his promised “Statutory PFD” because he never believed in it, and admits he doesn’t now. Promising the easy spending part, but not a way to pay for it, was just another false politician’s promise to get votes.

The “statutory PFD” he promised would be $3,860 this year. Now he says he wants a 40% smaller “non-statutory” PFD. We need a real PFD you can bank on with revenue to pay for it, not endless fights and false promises.

We can grow the Permanent Fund faster with options like letting people who don’t need the PFD know that if they decline it, their share will go to grow the Fund to help others.   

Constant shell games can’t hide that we need fair revenue to solve the deficit. That requires ending unaffordable oil company subsidies Gov. Dunleavy voted for in 2013, and that I voted against. His “oil tax credits” are corporate welfare we can’t afford. We should partner with our oil industry, but not be junior partners.

Alaska can’t afford four more years of this. I’ll work for you so we can build a brighter future, together. 

Les Gara is a candidate for governor, a former Alaska State legislator and assistant attorney general. He’s lived in Alaska with his wife Kelly since 1988.