The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for the Alaska Legislature in Southcentral Alaska to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.
Ivy Spohnholz | Democrat | Occupation: Legislator | Age: 47 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: House of Representatives 2016 to present | www.ivyforalaska.com
Why are you running for office?
I am running for State House in District 16 because Alaskans deserve a hard working representative that will deliver results. For the last four years, I have worked hard to deliver common-sense solutions to the everyday problems Alaskans face like outrageous health care costs and fighting for funding for things that matter most like public education and public safety.
Our state’s fiscal future is threatened right now by low oil prices and production, and low oil tax rates which leave us with a $2.3 billion fiscal gap. We have cut billions from the budget in the last 5 years, but a fiscal gap remains.
It is more critical than ever to stabilize the economy and invest in our most important natural resource—Alaskans. We need principled leadership to make sure we have a fiscal plan that works for all Alaskans--not just the wealthy.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed life in Alaska. In addition to ongoing public health threats, the state has seen serious, long-term impacts to its economy and jobs, education system, tourism and the ability for residents to travel. Have state leaders handled the pandemic effectively? Explain.
When it was clear that COVID-19 was coming to Alaska, the state instituted dramatic health mandates which prevented the spread of COVID-19 while building up capacity to test and care for Alaskans. That was an essential first step.
The Dunleavy administration must enforce a statewide mask mandate in order to help stabilize the economy. Economists have been clear that consumer spending has declined not so much because of health mandates but because consumers don’t feel safe shopping or going out. The only way to guarantee a strong, healthy economy is to have a statewide mask mandate which will increase consumers' safety and get our economy going again.
However, the administration’s response to the economic impacts of COVID-19 have been ineffective and inefficient.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
Government should take some responsibility for the economic impacts of the public health mandates. I introduced HB 308 to expand unemployment insurance benefits to those unable to work due to public health mandates and measures. HB 308 was signed into law just six days after it was introduced. However, antiquated software made implementing those changes incredibly difficult. We need to replace our state’s aging IT infrastructure to ensure that services can be delivered in a timely manner.
However, the AK CARES small business and nonprofit grant program has been ineffectively implemented at every step of the process by Dunleavy administration. After three month only 20% of the $290 million has been granted out. Now, there are more applications than funds available.
We desperately need another round of federal stimulus to fund both unemployment and small business relief. Without it we will see increases in homelessness, foreclosures, bankruptcies and small businesses closures.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
People in East Anchorage are facing many of the same problems as other Alaskans across our state. Their jobs aren’t secure because our economy isn’t stable, health care costs are beyond their means and they are worried about their children’s futures.
We must resolve our state’s fiscal situation to create a the economic prosperity we all want for our children and community. With a full statutory PFD, and a flat budget, there is a projected $2.3 billion fiscal gap. We have cut over $3 billion from the budget over the last six years. We should always strive to be more efficient, but we cannot cut our way to prosperity. To meet our constitutional responsibility to provide for the health, education, and public safety of Alaskans we need to pass a fiscal plan including new revenue.
Alaska has lost 37,000 people in net out migration over the last seven years. If we don’t pass a fiscal plan and create fiscal certainty for Alaskans we will continue to see our state struggle.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
I support a fiscal plan that includes a meaningful spending cap, an increase in oil taxes, an update of the Permanent Fund Dividend formula, and an income tax. Many people have opposed an income tax believing that it will hurt working Alaskans. However, the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy found that an income tax works better for about two-thirds of Alaskans compared to a sales tax. Additionally, it would bring in tax revenue from the 1-in-5 workers who earn paychecks in Alaska but don’t live here and who pay taxes on their Alaskan income in their home states.
I support Proposition 1 which will bring in additional funds and help to minimize cuts to the PFD.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
I dream of a future where the Permanent Fund is valued at over $100 billion and we can largely fund Alaskan’s priorities using the earnings from the Permanent Fund each year. To achieve that goal, we must zealously protect the Permanent Fund from being spent down the way that $14 billion has been spent from the Constitutional Budget Reserve over the last six years. We must continue to limit spending from the Permanent Fund to the 5% “percent of market value draw” that was established in SB 26 in 2018.
However, we must also modernize the dividend formula to give both individual Alaskans and the State of Alaska transparency and fiscal certainty about the size of PFDs each year and the amount of funding that is available to pay for essential government services that we all rely on including public safety, education, and courts.
The state is projecting a $2.3 billion deficit for the next fiscal year if the Permanent Fund dividend is paid using the traditional formula in state law. If no dividend is paid, the deficit would be about $300 million. Do you support cutting services to pay a larger dividend? If so, what services would you cut first?
I do not support cutting essential government services to pay for a larger dividend. I am a big supporter of the Permanent Fund Dividend program and believe we should have the largest PFD possible but the Alaska constitution mandates that the state provide for the health, education, and safety of Alaskans. Those constitutional mandates must be met. However, we can pay both a meaningful PFD and pay for those critical services if we update our oil tax structure and pass a comprehensive fiscal plan that includes a meaningful spending cap and broad-based revenue measures.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
To improve schools we need to invest in evidence-based reading programs, offer universal voluntary pre-kindergarten which prepares kids for k-12 education, keep our classroom sizes small, and improve teacher retention by modernizing our teacher retirement program.
One of the biggest drivers in educational outcomes is a highly skilled educator. Most Alaskans don’t know that in Alaska teachers are not eligible for social security and also don’t have a pension. So many teachers move to other states to get a more stable and secure retirement after they have worked here for a few years--taking their skills, experience and knowledge with them.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
The University of Alaska is a critical building block of our economy. 80% of Alaskans who leave the state for college never return home. We want our Alaskan young people to stay here and become engineers, nurses, teachers, accountants, and leaders. The University of Alaska provides the critical education and skills our young people need to pursue these important careers. We need to provide funding stability to the University so that students will continue to choose to attend UA and donors will continue to invest in UA.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
We need to invest in prosecution of sexual assault and domestic violence. A large number of sexual assault and domestic violence cases are never prosecuted. We should be more “victim centered” in the way that we approach cases so that victims are not retraumatized while pursuing justice.
We also need to expand access to behavioral health care in Alaska so that we can address the trauma caused by violence in our communities. Finally, we need to invest in programs proven to reduce repeat offences.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
We need to pass a fiscal plan that creates fiscal certainty for all sectors of our state. Business needs a predictable operating environment in which to make their own investment decisions. We should also remove unnecessary regulatory barriers, but not at the expense of ensuring public well-being.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
I oppose it.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
We must pass a fiscal plan this year or face more sweeping cuts to essential government services, job losses, economic instability and population loss. For every $100 million in additional cuts the UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research estimates that we lose about 1,200 jobs. There is a real cost to more budget cuts for all Alaskans. Finally, there are no more savings accounts to draw upon as at the end of FY21, the Constitutional Budget Reserve will have been largely spent down and have just enough money in it to manage our cash flow (approximately $500 million) but not enough to fill a $2.3 billion fiscal gap.
There are no more savings to draw down. It’s time to decide what kind of Alaska we want to live in and then figure out how to pay for it.