Governor candidate Q&A: Mark Begich


Democrat, Anchorage

Age: 54

Occupation: President and CEO Northern Compass Group

Previous offices and community positions: East Anchorage Assembly member, Mayor of Anchorage, United States senator.

More: www.markbegich.com 



The Anchorage Daily News asked Alaska candidates for governor to answer a series of issue questions. Here are their responses, in some cases edited for length. Read the Q&A with Republican Mike Dunleavy here

Why are you running for office? 

I'm running because more than half of Alaskans think our state is headed in the wrong direction. I see huge opportunity for Alaska, but I don't see a vision for how we get there. With growing public safety concerns, a lagging education system, and lack of long-term fiscal stability, folks are frustrated with the lack of direction. It's time to give Alaskans something to believe in and vote for. My campaign has been talking about my positive vision for building a better future for Alaskans.

The biggest problem facing the state of Alaska is ___________.

The economy, crime, and education all must be addressed. There has been a systemic failure on the state level to address the exploding opioid epidemic and increasing crime that has led Alaska to be ranked #1 for crime nationwide – unacceptable. I have laid out a comprehensive plan to crack down on crime in both urban and rural Alaska – addressing the opioid epidemic and substance abuse, investing in local policy, innovating partnerships, fully staffing the Departments of law and public safety.

Describe ways your administration would try to grow and diversify Alaska's economy.

The economy of the future is going to be driven by fishing, visitor, health care, and renewable energy industries. To build a more vibrant Alaska economy, we must also focus on increasing educational and training resources for Alaskans. That means strengthening our public schools and university system to prepare Alaskans for jobs of the future. Also, my PFD plan provides certainty, and guarantees funding for education, to create economic stability and reliable investment in our future.

How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn't borrow annually from the state's savings to meet shortfalls? Be specific.

The first thing I'll do as governor is to eliminate duplication in state agencies and increase efficiency. Then, I'll bring people together to identify the investments we need to make to move Alaska forward – because we need to invest in our state to meet our full potential. Once we've completed a needs assessment and improved efficiency, I will work with the legislature to make sure we have the revenues we need – but not on the backs of Alaskans who can least afford it. And my PFD plan will guarantee education funding and take it off the legislature's table, freeing up operating funds for use in other areas.

 What new forms of revenue do you support to balance the state operating budget?

I support new revenue proposals to the extent we need them to pay for the investments that are essential to Alaska's future. I will have an open mind and a willingness to negotiate with the legislature, but any revenue solution cannot fall on the backs of Alaskans who can least afford it. That's why I opposed the idea of a wage tax – it falls on workers but can be avoided by the wealthy. We need to be creative and progressive with any comprehensive revenue plan.

What cuts to state spending and services would you support to balance the state operating budget? Be specific.

Our focus should be on more efficient government, and I support cuts to state spending to the extent that we have duplicative or ineffective programs. We still have a lot of room to make government more efficient. A great example right off the bat – we are paying for two separate public assistance computer systems because the job wasn't done right, and we don't trust that we can turn one off without a collapse. Before we consider additional service and program cuts, we must increase efficiency.

What is your vision for the Permanent Fund and the dividend program?

My PFD Plan includes constitutionally protecting the PFD, inflation-proofing the fund, using 50% of POMV formula for a sustainable dividend for Alaskans, and dedicating remaining funds for pre-K-12 education. Using this common-sense approach would guarantee a PFD that would be estimated at more than $2,000, free up general funds previously used for education – as much as $1.3 billion, and protect education funding from the political chopping block year after year.

What specifically would your administration do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?

Readers should look on my website at my comprehensive plan to address crime – we need to get tougher AND smarter on crime, particularly when it comes to sexual assault and domestic violence. It's unacceptable that Alaska continues to have some of the highest rates of these crimes in the nations. We must invest more in law enforcement, especially with our Troopers and officers stretched thin. We must increase penalties for these violent crimes to keep offenders off the street.


 How would your administration address high rates of property crime in Alaska, especially in urban areas?

As governor, I'll use some of the same strategies as when I was mayor – strengthening local police forces and State Troopers, while employing innovative steps to break the cycle of crime. Much of the property crime we're seeing is linked to the addiction crisis – we must disrupt the business model of dealers by charging them federally and putting them behind bars for a long time, not just allowing a revolving-door of short jail stints that doesn't address the problem. We need to get those with addiction the treatment they need to kick their habit. And we must disrupt the supply of drugs.

How would your administration address the opioid crisis?

We must have adequate detox and treatment options for people dealing with opioid addiction, whether they become involved in the justice system or not. Funding must be dedicated toward increasing the number of treatment beds in local communities – when someone is ready for help, it needs to be available immediately. We must eliminate wait times for treatment and provide the wrap-around services that help people in their fight against addiction return to healthy living within the community.

What are your suggestions to increase performance of Alaska public schools? If your ideas involve additional spending, where would the money come from?

My PFD plan would constitutionally guarantee funding for education, taking pre-K-12 funding off the political table to provide the stability teachers and administrators need to plan for long-term success. This includes full funding for pre-K, which we know has a strong impact on brain development – for every $1 spent on early education, the state saves $7 down the line in reduced public service use and increased economic activity. And we need to increase resource sharing among small schools.

Would you support a constitutional amendment that would allow public funds to be spent on private or religious K-12 education? If such an amendment were to pass, would you then support vouchers or some similar grant of state funds to parents that they could spend on private or religious education for their children?

I would strongly oppose any measure that would divert public funds to private, religious, or for-profit schools – I believe public dollars are meant for public education. Of course, parents can choose to send their children to private or religious schools, but as governor, my duty will be to make sure that we have the best public schools for every Alaska child to attend. I do not support voucher programs, which would destroy our public education system, and I would veto any voucher proposal.


What should Alaska be doing to prepare for the impacts of climate change?

Alaska is ground zero for the impacts of climate change – we have villages at risk of falling into the ocean and rural communities where buildings are crumbling due to permafrost thaw. The impacts on our fisheries from warming waters and acidification are already being seen. But with active leadership, we can be a global leader in mitigating and adapting to climate change impacts. We must invest in the university system, infrastructure, and new technology to address these problems head-on.

State your position on abortion. When should it be allowed, and when should government pay for it? Do you anticipate supporting any legislation, policies or budget proposals that would change the status quo in Alaska?

I am 100% pro-choice and will always support a woman's right to make her own health care decisions. Our next Governor will play a critical role in protecting Alaska women from the current threats looming in Washington, D.C., when it comes to women's rights and equal access to care. As the only pro-choice candidate running for Governor, I will continue my record of fighting for women to have equal access to quality, affordable health care and the right to make their own health care decisions.

What other important issue would you like to discuss here?

The state has slashed spending on capital projects — long-term investments essential to Alaska's future. Now we spend on average about $140 million a year. I support taking $70-$100 million of that money and using it for debt financing costs and bonding for a long-term capital improvement program, ranging from $3-$5 billion in total. My Community Investment Bond plan would create a 6-year capital budget with a sustainable pipeline of high-value projects, funded by a voter-approved general obligation bond.