To no one's surprise, Alaska's state budget and finances are central issues in this year's gubernatorial race. There are probably as many opinions about how we solve our budget challenges as there are Alaskans. But the conversation must be based on reality —and sometimes reality gets obscured in the hurry to score a political point.
Candidate Mark Begich has been unsparing in his criticism of Mike Dunleavy—arguing that his plans for reducing spending and paying full PFDs are "unrealistic." I served with Mike Dunleavy during his five years in the Senate and have a unique perspective about who is truly being realistic about our state's fiscal situation.
While in the Senate, Mike was a serious advocate for making real spending reductions and ensuring the state lived within its means. I've noticed how candidate Begich has slammed Dunleavy for allegedly "not offering specifics" about what he'd cut. Yet surrogates for the Begich campaigns have combed through five years of Dunleavy votes, and have attacked him for every specific program reduction he backed. You can't have it both ways, but no one said politics was fair.
Let's talk about the facts. Alaska is No. 1 in a category we should not be proud of — per capita spending by state government. The state in second place doesn't even come close. Mark Begich talks as if government has been "cut to the bone" and enthusiastically supports new taxes on Alaska's working families to feed the appetite of a super-sized government.
Mike Dunleavy recognized that Gov. Bill Walker's tax proposals — many of which Mark Begich supports — would be the worst possible thing for a state in a recession. Along with his colleagues in the Senate Majority, Mike said "no" to new taxes — and the majority of Alaskans are grateful that he stood firm against this job-killing agenda.
This governor's race comes down to trust. Mark Begich is a political shape-shifter, constantly changing positions based on what polling data tells him. After 30 years of enduring Mark Begich's political promises, Alaskans know how he operates, and won't be fooled.
In contrast, my experience is that Mike Dunleavy is a man of his word. I remember when oil prices plummeted to $26 per barrel, and Alaska was in dire straits. Mike Dunleavy and I worked together in the Senate to find reasonable solutions to manage our budget problem. Even when we did not agree, I trusted Mike to keep his word. He meant what he said and followed through on it. Mike Dunleavy and I had the same vision about the need to reduce spending to a sustainable level.
The governor and the Legislature must work together to deliver a more efficient and smaller government. Mike Dunleavy and his fellow senators developed a plan heading into the 2017 session to make spending reductions and reduce the size of government. But Gov. Walker and his allies not only fought reductions, they actually tried to grow government even larger, despite the recession. This fundamental difference led to multiple expensive, drawn-out special sessions. Mike and his fellow Senate Majority members felt strongly that government must shrink prior to any discussion of taxing Alaskans.
Today, our situation looks a little better. Oil prices have averaged more than $78 per barrel, well above the official forecast of $63. If prices hold, the state should finish the year with a surplus. Unlike what Mark Begich says, now is not the time to tax Alaskans.
Mike Dunleavy has great optimism for the future of our state. Our resource potential is still second to none, and if developed responsibly, will produce positive benefits for generations to come. Those benefits, coupled with a right-size government, will push any need for taxes well out into the future. Call me naïve, but I don't think it's "unrealistic" to fight for a government that spends less and taxes as the last option. On the contrary, it's crucial for protecting Alaska's future — and that's why I'm supporting Mike Dunleavy for governor.
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