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Gov. Bill Walker: 'Why I'm restoring Alaska-hire requirements'

On June 10, my administration issued an Alaska-hire determination to require that Alaskans get at least 90 percent of jobs on state public projects. At a time when our capital budgets are severely constricted, it doesn't make sense to spend our limited Alaska tax dollars paying the salaries of out of state residents. Conversely, requiring Alaska hire is good public policy and will help Alaska's economy.

For many years, Alaska governors maintained Alaska hire requirements for public projects. From independent Wally Hickel to Democrat Tony Knowles to Republicans Frank Murkowski and Sarah Palin, our governors agreed that Alaska tax dollars should produce jobs for Alaskans. Unfortunately, statewide Alaska hire requirements were eliminated in 2013. I'm proud to restore Alaska hire, in the nonpartisan spirit of putting Alaskans first.

Alaska's Legislature worked for many years to ensure Alaska construction jobs went to Alaskans. Legislators established very clear guidelines about when a governor can issue statewide Alaska hire requirements, and it is clear that Alaska's economy meets those conditions right now.

Under state law, a governor can issue Alaska hire requirements when Alaska's unemployment has been significantly higher than the national unemployment rate. Our state unemployment rate is higher than the national average, as a result of sharply declining public sector employment and some layoffs in the oil and gas sector. Relatively low oil prices mean depressed capital budgets, and depressed oil company investments may remain with us for some time. In these economic circumstances, Alaska hire is more important than ever.

I know that Alaskans will do a better job building our infrastructure: Alaskans are invested in the success of these projects, and we understand our state better than anyone else. Alaska hire is good for workers, but it's also the right decision from the perspective of quality projects. Alaskans will do the job right because we're the ones who will drive on those roads and use that infrastructure when the job is done. We have a stake in doing the job well, so that a project can endure even in Alaska's extreme conditions. With a shrinking state budget for extra maintenance and repairs, we need to build projects right the first time.

Here are some examples of projects that will get built with Alaska hire. The Port Mackenzie rail extension, a $120 million project, probably will go to bid and be subject to Alaska hire over the next year. So will the Seward Meridian Parkway extension, a $30 million project. Many smaller projects, like the Government Peak Recreation Area and the Southcentral Regional Emergency Services Training Center also are expected to be bid and will be subject to Alaska hire requirements. These are good construction jobs and I'm proud Alaskans will be doing the work.

My mother worked on the Alcan Highway construction project. I paid for my education by working as a carpenter, teamster and laborer on the trans-Alaska pipeline. From my own family's experience, I know what good construction jobs mean for our state and for the economic security of Alaskans. For decades, Alaska legislators and governors worked together on Alaska hire requirements to ensure that Alaskans get hired for Alaska jobs. I am proud to restore those Alaska hire requirements for our public infrastructure projects.

Gov. Bill Walker was elected in 2014 as an independent.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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