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.
Sara Rasmussen | Republican | Occupation: Residential appraiser | Age: 30 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: State House Representative 2019 to present Sand Lake Community Council Secretary 2017/2018 | SaraForHouse.com
Why are you running for office?
I am running for re-election to the State House because more than ever I think we need honest and transparent leaders who work with their constituents to move the state forward. I have held more than a dozen town halls in the last two years, attended most of the monthly Sand Lake Community Council meetings, and knocked on thousands of doors in District 22, and listened to the issues that matter most to my neighbors. I have fought for those issues that I heard were priorities. Even in the minority, I was able to work with our State Senator to make sure we got the lights back up on Jewel Lake Road, and repeal SB91 - to make our community safer.
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.
The governor has handled the pandemic well, but I feel the legislative leadership could and should have done a better job. The governor has worked to communicate with Alaskans and made them feel safer, allowed decisions to be made at local levels, based on individual community needs, and Dr. Zink has become a trusted voice for Alaskans to get good science based information. Unfortunately, legislative leadership wasted weeks arguing instead of getting CARES money out into the hands of businesses and people. I have been very disappointed in our local leadership at the Anchorage Municipal level, not listening to Anchorage residents and instead using close to 1/3 of the money from the state to move forward their personal agendas on homelessness instead of helping the thousands of small businesses who are currently struggling.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
The State of Alaska has an integral role to play in repairing economic damage to Alaska as a result of the pandemic. The state needs to identify and address, both short term gaps, and long term structural changes to our economy as a result of the pandemic. We can’t expect state government to come up with all of the money to offset the losses or financially repair the economy, but we can look to the state to provide short term assistance and stability to the small businesses experiencing hardship. The state will need to work with the business community, and non-profit community to do this effectively. This is the best way to get Alaskans back to work, and to move our state forward, by giving the private sector a helping hand.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
Lowering classroom sizes, Kincaid and Sand Lake are two of the most populated elementary schools in the District. I believe one thing the legislature should do is revisit the school funding formula because we have currently tied the hands of districts like Anchorage, by forcing them to keep their building footprint as large as possible to receive the cost differential for building square footage. This grows the local school district budget, as it is forced to operate the unnecessary building space.
Some of our roads are in bad shape and I will continue to work with the Municipality and find opportunities to partner to ensure we improve the conditions of our roads and other infrastructure in the Sand Lake area.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
The reality of Alaska’s fiscal situation as that state government has an insatiable appetite for spending that must be addressed. We have a state budget and PFD defined in statute that people rely on, unfortunately we don’t bring in the revenues to pay for both anymore. The two most important thinks the legislature can do are:
-Change the current spending cap to prevent government from growing further and the deficit getting bigger. Our spending limit is way too high and we need to live within our means when times are good, so that we have money for rainy days.
-Reconcile the conflicting state laws that deal with the Permanent Fund so that the PFD is out of the hands of politicians and back into a formula Alaskans have confidence in, while not overdrawing the Permanent Fund.
I personally believe we need to see state spending limited and reduced where we can before we take any money out of the pockets of hard-working Alaskans.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
We need to partner with all stakeholders to make sure that the permanent fund is protected, that Alaskans receive a share of the state’s royalty wealth brought in from ALL Alaskan resources, and that we are able to keep taxes on individuals and businesses low.
I believe the discussion should focus on limiting the size of government through a spending cap. This would bifurcate the “cuts versus the PFD” conversation, which is almost impossible for politicians to act on, to one conversation about budget cuts, and whether or not they are appropriate for given programs; and a separate conversation about whether the public wants additional funds spent on more state services or a larger dividend.
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?
We need to look at some programmatic changes to our budget to find savings. We are constitutionally obligated to provide some of these services such as education and need to make sure that any comprehensive fiscal plan considers those obligations. A stated above, the discussion should focus on limiting the size of government through a spending cap. This would bifurcate the “cuts versus the PFD” conversation, which is almost impossible for politicians to act on, to one conversation about budget cuts, and whether or not they are appropriate for given programs; and a separate conversation about whether the public wants additional funds spent on more state services or a larger dividend.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
I championed legislation to increase broadband access across the state, I was able to do most of my college through a virtual program and our high school students especially would benefit from opportunities to take different classes from the best teachers in Alaska in a virtual form. I would also like to see more emphasis on vocational tech opportunities for our high school students.
Our elementary schools would benefit from more access to pre-school, so that our kids are entering the system ready to learn. I also believe this would help increase our poor reading scores in third and fourth grades.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
We need a strong University, and we have a great foundation. We need to make some changes so that we can keep our dollars in the classrooms benefiting the students. I had passed intent language for the Board of Regents to look at a single accreditation system, as one idea. I would like to continue to partner with the University to find ways to keep costs as low as possible, while delivering a great degree. We need to make sure that our degree programs prepare kids for the jobs that are here in Alaska so that we have a prepared AND skilled workforce to fill our good paying jobs.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
I fought to eliminate marriage as a defense for rape in our current statutes, and as a woman myself, I find it disturbing that we still have some of these archaic statutes like marriage as a defense for rape. Women are not chattel, the last two years highlighted for me that we still have a lot of work to do on our consent laws, and I believe we need to partner with groups like STAR, the judicial branch, and law enforcement to make sure that our statutes work to keep Alaskans safe.
We also need to look at mental health treatment, and treatment for addiction to address a component of sexual assault and domestic violence. It is time for our culture to change, and it can start with this generation if we choose to make the changes.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
As long as our private sector businesses continue to face politically motivated initiatives like Ballot Measure 1, we will not be able to stabilize or grow our economy. I am opposed to Ballot Measure 1, and I am committed to work to bring to more transparency and accountability to our initiative process so that private business in ALL sectors have a stable environment to thrive. We need to make sure that our initiative process is not used as a tool by anti-development extremists, to stop the many diverse responsible resource development projects from occurring in our state. Fiscal stability from the state budget is another important aspect to consider that extends into the private sector as well.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
Alaska is reliant on resource development and we have a history of doing that by moving projects through a science based permitting and approval process. I believe that all of our resource development should go through the scientific processes that our state laws have established. These processes consider impacts to the environment, wildlife, waters, and fisheries. We are constitutionally required to ensure that we are utilizing our resources in a maximally productive way, which includes mineral and fish resources.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
I have an open-door policy, I have given my personal cell phone number out to the community, and I love to hear from my constituents. Our job as representatives should always be to listen first, and I take that very seriously. We are facing some challenging times and tough decisions, but if Alaskans weigh in to their representatives, we will reconcile those decisions, and Alaska will come out brighter than ever.