Sen. Cathy Giessel: Sustainable budget is Alaska's top priority

This Nov. 8, Alaskans will go to the polls, and continue a tradition begun when our republic was founded more than 200 years ago. Though some things have changed since the creation of our country as well as our state (for instance, early voting is now going on through Election Day), a key principle remains: We who seek public office rightly come before our neighbors, and they decide who will represent them.

I grew up in an Alaska family supported by tourism and transportation. My late father was a pilot for one of Alaska's pioneer airlines who loved his job and, equally, loved the people he served in remote Alaska. His example instilled in me a love for Alaska's people and a deep respect for public service.

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Rich, my husband, and I raised three children here, and now have five beautiful Alaska grandchildren, with a sixth under construction. While Rich was busy building roads and bridges as an engineer — taking a detour as a high school math and science teacher — I've had the privilege of working as a nurse practitioner in Alaska's villages, towns and cities for 40 years.

Six years ago, I went from being a nurse practitioner and grandma to a candidate for office for the first time in my life. My reasons were simple. Our state budget was growing faster and larger than at any point in our history; we had one of the most inconsistent and high tax rates in the world for our core industries; and the out-of-control health care costs were devastating families and small businesses.

More troubling to me was, despite high spending, we still had children underperforming in our schools, villages without safe drinking water, and those with disabilities and diseases were falling through the cracks. Something had to be done.

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Over the last six years, we have gone through some intense discussions in Juneau about the future of Alaska. Tax reform was finally passed and affirmed by Alaska voters, though it's still a prized target of the opposition. We reduced the budget to levels last seen nearly 10 years ago, in spite of special-interest lobbies trying to keep spending high. Medicaid was reformed for the first time in state history, resulting in savings, but I made sure to improve access to substance abuse and mental health treatment.

The challenges facing our state are almost incomprehensibly large. People are frustrated that our budget isn't sustainable, and rightly so. I share their frustrations. But there's good news.

There are people, like myself, who hold dear the values that Alaskans should have the ability to raise families, the freedom to start businesses and the opportunities to have great jobs. That shapes my vision and drives my work in the Legislature.

I am thankful that voters in our district have a clear choice in our race. Special interests keep fighting, year after year, for more state spending for their own benefit. That vision for the future is different than mine.

A long-term view on spending is needed. That means we need to come together and have a consensus this year on defining a sustainable budget. It means addressing the highest costs for government, including health care, education and personnel. Leaders of special-interest groups are fighting with all they can against these necessary changes. But I want policies that are fair to all Alaskans, not those that benefit an elite few at the expense of the general public.

The cost of health care is crippling family budgets, and small business creation in Alaska is hamstrung. We need reforms to correct the consequences of federal policies that have hurt Alaska more than any state in the union.

Alaska's future demands a broader discussion of revenue to preserve basic government services. I welcome that deliberation. At the same time, the private sector has lost thousands of jobs with more expected. I am not willing to put your house payment at risk to fund a government that still needs to make reductions.

At the heart of all this, my focus is on you, the people of this state. Alaska's budget and laws are more than numbers and words. It's about caring for the neediest while helping the able-bodied to learn the skills they need to be employed. It's about making sure our teachers and children have the tools needed for success. It's about creating options for families in crisis so they don't lose their children to the foster care system.

I've had the privilege of working with Democrats and Republicans, urban and rural Alaskans, to improve the lives of all our people.

This election presents a clear choice in favor of stronger families, supported by business growth and good jobs, with smaller government. For the opportunity to continue to champion this path, I ask for your vote.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, represents District N (East Anchorage, Muldoon, Hillside, Bird, Indian, Girdwood, Portage). She has served in the Senate since 2011.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email to commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com