Opinions

Challenges are many, but Alaskans have reason to cheer in 2018

As Alaskans, there's no doubt that we face significant challenges, including high crime rates, especially domestic violence and sexual assault, thousands of Alaskans struggling with addiction, and a continuing recession that has left too many without jobs. These are issues that I'll continue to focus on in the coming year. But when I look out at 2018, I am struck by one overriding feeling for our state: optimism. There are numerous reasons for this.

First, the cornerstone of Alaska's economy — responsible resource development — is making a dramatic comeback. Congress' recent action to open the 1002 area of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge is a key part of this. For decades, thousands of Alaskans — Democrats, Republicans and Alaska Natives — have advocated for opening ANWR. And despite millions of dollars spent by opponents of this Alaska dream, reinforced by the stale and truth-challenged talking points of their allies like Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and a national media that was consistently hostile to opening ANWR, we did it.

This is an important victory for all Alaskans. But our comeback is not just about ANWR. Several new discoveries and developments on the North Slope, including a significant expansion of the Point Thomson field, all point to the potential for billions of dollars of new investment, significant increases in trans-Alaska oil pipeline throughput and state revenues, and hundreds if not thousands of good-paying Alaska jobs. At long last, we also now have a federal government that once again wants to be a partner in opportunity for Alaska, not an obstacle. For all of these reasons, our state has the potential to again become one of the hottest energy plays in the world.

But it's not just oil and gas that make Alaska's natural resources the envy of the world. Alaska has the most sustainable and abundant fisheries in the world, supporting tens of thousands of jobs in our state. As chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, I am working to make sure that Alaska remains the superpower of seafood by increasing market opportunities for our world-class products and streamlining federal regulations that often encumber family-owned vessels.

Second, due to the historic tax reform bill that was just signed into law, middle-class Alaskans will see bigger paychecks which will help our families who are seeking to offset Permanent Fund dividend cuts. For example, according to a Washington Post tax calculation, under the new law an average family of four, making about $75,000 a year, will get about $200 more a month in take-home pay, or about $2,400 a year, and a single parent making $41,000 a year will get a $1,400 tax cut. Our Main Street businesses will also see relief and will be given the incentive to reinvest here in Alaska, and help get us out of a recession.

Third, we are accelerating ways to add much-needed diversification to our economy. Tourism businesses are increasing, as are other small businesses like micro-breweries and distilleries. Recent technological investments across our state — particularly in our telecommunications industry — have the potential to turn Alaska into a global tech corridor. Young Alaskans, with their energy and entrepreneurial spirit, will be key to creating the next generation of businesses and industry. The best way to unleash their energy and spur diversification is through policies of less government, and more economic freedom. That's what this tax bill and current efforts at regulatory relief are doing.

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Fourth, we are reversing federal policies that slashed defense spending and attempted to significantly reduce military forces in Alaska. In the face of rising global national security threats, we successfully fought to stave off these misguided cuts, which would have hurt economies in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Further, we've made the case to our colleagues in Congress and the executive branch that because of Alaska's strategic location, we should be a destination for more troops, including those serving in the Coast Guard, and more military investments. In the last three years, we've been able to authorize more than $1 billion for military construction in our state.

Nowhere is this more important than in our missile defense system, where a bill that I authored — the Advancing America's Missile Defense Act — recently became law as part of the broader National Defense Authorization Act. This included an additional $200 million that has just been appropriated to build a much-needed missile field at Fort Greely. Enhanced missile defense is important for America's national security in the face of threats from North Korea and Iran, but will also provide hundreds of good-paying jobs for Alaskans.

Finally, we've relentlessly advocated for getting outstanding Alaskans into the highest levels of the Trump administration to implement these policies and to protect Alaska's interests. Former DNR Commissioner Joe Balash is now the assistant secretary of the Interior, in charge of all oil, gas and mining activities on federal lands. Chris Oliver is the first Alaskan to permanently head up all federal fisheries for NOAA. Former Alaska state Senate President Drew Pearce is a senior official at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Chris Hladick, Alaska's former commissioner of commerce, is now the Region 10 EPA Administrator. And Tara Sweeney was recently appointed by President Trump to be the U.S. assistant secretary of Interior for Indian affairs — the first Alaskan to hold this important position.

All the pieces are in place for Alaskans to work together toward a common purpose — creating a more prosperous, vibrant state, where all people and all cultures are respected, where we are safe in our homes and in our neighborhoods, where our great entrepreneurial spirit can be set free and where our families and children view Alaska as a place of unlimited opportunity and promise for generations to come. In the upcoming year, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Congressman Don Young and I will work as hard as we can with you to make sure those pieces come together.

Happy new year, Alaska. It's an honor of a lifetime to serve you.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2014.

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