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.
Chris Tuck | Democrat | Occupation: Electrician | Age: 54 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: I am currently the State Representative for District 23 and serving as Chair of the Joint Committee on Legislative Budget and Audit. I have served as both Minority Leader and Majority Leader in the legislature. I also have served on many boards dealing with education prior to being elected to the legislature: Curriculum Development Team for K-6; Alaska Process Career Consortium; Putting Alaska’s Resources to Work, the Alaska Electrical Apprenticeship Program, and I served as Treasurer of the Anchorage School Board. |tuckforalaska.com
Why are you running for office?
I am running to restore faith in government and I have a strong desire to help our community efforts succeed. I have demonstrated the ability to work across both aisles to move Alaska forward. More of this needs to happen. It shouldn’t be about “republicans” vs. “democrats”, or “us” vs. “them”. We need to go back to the days where once elected, we all pull together and do what is best for Alaska. I believe in Alaska and its great potential.
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.
Yes and no. The legislature was quick to pass the operating budget and get out of Juneau when the pandemic hit which shows we can work together in times of crises, but more should have been done since then. Although we did not adjourn the session, leaderships did not consider any legislative emergency procedures that would allow us to continue functioning to react to the changing economy and information on the pandemic. As a result, there was resistance to go back to Juneau and properly appropriate the Federal Cares Act money to help small businesses. This further resulted in the governor trying to get the money out on his own and created a tortured process and legal problems getting the Small Business Relief money out in the economy.
Helping families with mortgage and rental relief was very effective and demonstrates our ability to get money into the economy through the proper process.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
The legislature and the governor need to work together to repair the process and to effectively distribute federal funds into the economy, especially before additional money arrives to our state. The faster we set up the programs and properly appropriate the money, the quicker the money gets to work through our small businesses and our communities, and the better our economy will recover.
We also need to perform more COVID testing and be respectful and wear a mask. By demonstrating that Alaska is safe to visit and do business, we can bring new money into Alaska and restore our tourism and hospitality industry.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
The economy is number one. My district is known as the Dimond Business District. We need to offer grants, loans, and employment relief to keep the doors open and Alaskans employed. We are all affected by the economy.
Opening homeless shelters in the district is also a concern. Laws are not fairly enforced on the homeless and we see the negative impacts on communities and businesses. My district is worried about the lack of public process with Anchorage and not allowing the full impact of the proposal to be vetted. Resident and business concerns are not properly addressed. They are worried this is only going the spread the homelessness problem and not systematically reduce homelessness. We need to address the lack of mental health and substance abuse treatment centers and invest more in job skills training so people do not become homeless, and the homeless can become employable and be in their own home.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
The biggest savings we have now is the Earning Reserve of the Permanent Fund. This is where the Permanent Fund Dividend is paid from. I have proposed legislation to put the Permanent Fund Dividend in the constitution using a percent of market value of 4% and a 50/50 split between government spending and a guaranteed dividend. Many Alaskans want to protect the dividend and preserve public services. This will also impose a spending cap by automatically inflation proofing the corpus of the fund and limit the revenues for government spending.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
We are fortunate to have a permanent fund that will help sustain us. Our investments should be invested to maximize returns. Thankfully, the corpus is constitutionally protected and cannot be spent on government without a vote of the people. However, the Earnings Reserve is not protected and I am concerned how it is being used to pay for government, the fund will quickly disappear. That is why I would like to have a constitutional amendment to protect it for future generations.
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 continue finding efficiencies and getting rid of waste in our spending. Health and Social Services is an area we can do better. However, there are areas of the budget that cannot sustain anymore cuts so we need to consider more revenues. We need to develop and maximize our resources to better benefit the state.
The dividend formula is in statute. The legislature is doing the public a disservice by ignoring the law and not changing it. This creates lack of trust. They know once government spends the money however they want to without changing the law, the dividend will disappear. We should at least change the law and allow a referendum so the voters' voice can be heard.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
Forward fund education so districts can properly plan the next year. Alaska cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to teaching our children and training our workforce.
Because of the potential COVID spread at schools, we need to consider spreading out classes schedules throughout the day and possibly year-round schooling to reduce classroom sizes and spread breaks throughout the year. The job of teaching never ends and we need better learning retention.
More investment and options for Pre-K. The Federal Reserve has many studies on the return investment of Pre-K from better proven education outcomes to better use of limited resources.
We need to make education more relevant and engaging by returning career and technical classes (vocational education) to neighborhood junior high and high schools.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
We need to make Alaska a place where ideas and innovation flourish, education is the best quality, and as a result, the economy thrives, and jobs are rewarding. The university is the best way to make that happen. I would like to open a prototype and materials development institute at the university so students can apply entrepreneurially what they learned into our economy. Much the same way Texas started their petrochemical industry and the same way California started Silicon Valley. Throughout history, those societies that invested in higher education were always the most flourishing and advanced societies.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
I would like to revitalize the Choose Respect campaign. Attitude plays a huge role in making social changes. We need to make the behavior obsolete by creating a strong economy with a quality education system that also promotes a flourishing society that has plenty of resources to address the problem.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
Produce physical wealth for our state through new value added industries by investing in our education system from Pre-K to the University; building necessary infrastructure to access resources; and turning Point Mackenzie into the future industrial park of Alaska. Much of this can be accomplished by creating a state bank for industrial development.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
I used to think we can properly develop the mine and protect fish habitats at the same time. As I watch the process over the last decade, I have my doubts. More can be done from the mining industry to assure safety precautions and to enhance salmon runs. They don’t seem interested. Without those precautions, companies have been backing out, and from Senator Stevens to President Trump there are concerns that this is the wrong mine in the wrong place.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
Families are feeling a lot of angst and uncertainty. Unfortunately, over the last few years Alaska has gone from saving to deficits, and our schools have gone from innovating to laying off teachers. I am seeing my friends and family leaving Alaska because we simply do not have enough job or education opportunities. Republican leadership promoted unsustainable spending and shifted the benefit of our resources to outside interests, resulting in insecurity and instability. People have good reasons to be uncertain of the future. Our livelihoods are at stake.