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.
Sue Levi | Democrat | Occupation: Investment Advisor Ass’t./Retired State of AK| Age: 69 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: I have been politically active since graduation from UAF in 1973. This experience includes five years as an aide to the Alaska State Senate Finance Committee Chair and 20 years working with the State of Alaska to fund energy projects, rural housing loans & economic development projects across the state. I have been a Deputy Director, Special Ass’t. & Legislative Liaison. My work w/State of Alaska has taken me to over 70 villages and I have dealt with a wide range of rural & urban issues and the ongoing follow-up required to solve problems. My work with the State of Alaska -- 28 years -- also includes work as a Probation/Parole officer| www.sueleviforstatehouse.com
Why are you running for office?
I am running for this office because I feel we need more individuals serving who truly want to provide a better quality of life for the citizens of Alaska. The opportunity to actively participate with accountability in the legislative process is important to me. As leaders, we must think beyond our own interests to the interests of those we lead and serve, and the interests of our communities We must take a long-term view, keeping in mind the broad impact of our day-to-day decisions. Alaska, now more than ever, needs to elect individuals who will not be afraid to stand up and putting politics aside, especially with the perilous revenue outlook and deficit, will work together on realistic long-term solutions. We need leaders who are dedicated to working for the best interests of all citizens in the tradition of our Alaska Spirit of shared values and responsibility. I will be this type of legislator.
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 coronavirus pandemic has absolutely changed life in Alaska as we all once knew. In answer to the question I guess my answer would be yes and no. I do not believe we have seen exactly what the full impact the virus will bestow. One thing for sure is that the State of Alaska cannot withstand additional bungling of relief funding such as CARES Act funding. Alaska received $1.5 million in funding from the federal government. However, $900 million did not reach the intended recipients until later. Small businesses, the backbone of our economy were hit the hardest. As far as taking precautions to protect the heath of Alaskans we have done a fair job. I think we opened up too soon in certain sectors without well thought-out plans to put into action and successfully activate. What we have to be mindful of, the Dunlevy Administration and the Legislature have to stay on same page of music while we fight this together!
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
There will be a post-COVID world. I believe the time is now to start developing a strategic plan for a post-COVID Alaska economy. The best vehicle would be to establish a bipartisan Commission made up with members of the Legislature, the Administration, business owners and regular working Alaskans. We have to plan for more economic damage to come as the virus continues through 2021. This effort must be taken seriously through hard work and determination. Alaskans are looking for answers and leadership, this plan could offer a path forward.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
People in my district may drive out of the district to work but they spend the bulk of their money in the district. That money, in the form of house payments/rents, groceries, entertainment, clothing and other items turns over four times in the Alaskan economy. Getting the Alaskan economy on track is my Number One issue. The second pressing issue in my district is education. We need the highest possible quality of education for our young because they will need it in the everchanging world. We cannot afford to have undereducated Alaskan graduates who will find it hard to ‘keep up’ in the technologically advancing workplace.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
Let’s be honest, we cannot keep cutting on the operating budget bone. We need new revenues in order to create a sustainable state operating budget. Continuing to borrow from our state’s savings should not be an option. The operating budget is an important tool in maintaining essential public services such as education, our university system, public safety and infrastructure in Alaska’s communities. I support Ballot Measure #1 and the maximizing our income on the sale of our natural resources. The Legislature has kicked the can down the road too many times on increasing state revenues. It is time to elect a Legislature that will take ACTION on this issue. This is no way to run a household, a business or a state! The time has come to adopt new revenue approaches of increasing revenues and wise budgeting of these revenues without hurting Alaskan families and our economy.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
I am a Alaska Permanent Fund Defender. This meaning, we need to protect the actual Permanent Fund for future generations of Alaskans. Providing supersized PFD’s , which is not the Alaska Permanent Fund, is both foolhardy & doesn’t compute considering our current fiscal crisis & deficit...DO THE MATH! We cannot empty Alaska Permanent Fund earnings reserve account. So, my vision is to stabilize the state fiscally and provide a PFD at a realistic level until we can begin pull ourselves out of the crisis we are in now. Our future depends on it!
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?
No, that’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Please read my response to the above question. We need to closely examine where our funding resources for state public services are being allocated. A number of services. like those of life, health, public safety and education are constitutionally mandated. Again, why would the state pay a larger dividend if we can’t even pay for essential public services? Unless something happens to vastly increase our revenues overnight, we have to provide for a realistic dividend. Unfortunately, we are going to in the hole in 2021 if don’t change course and our thinking about the PFD. We need the Permanent Fund to be around for future generations of Alaskans.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
Forward funding of education, of which I support, would be a start. We need consistent and appropriate levels of funding to support our elementary and high schools. This would certainly help in teacher retention and encouragement for young Alaskans considering the teaching profession, especially in rural Alaska. During the pandemic our educational system has been impacted. Students need to go to school in the classroom for both educational & social growth. Parents need to go to work and cannot afford to stay home. Again, the virus has altered this practice. We need to “think out of the box” in dealing with this dilemma and come up with alternatives to traditional education. Daycare services also need to be increased and state support to assist parents in this difficult period.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
I am a proud graduate of UAF and I am dismayed at what has happened to our university system. The University of Alaska has had to cut more than 100 degree and certificate programs. What has happened is certainly not offering the same path to success to many college age and older Alaskans who have benefited from the degree and vocational programs formerly offered. My vision is to restore the university system by gradually adjusting the current budget to restore jobs, attendance and a well trained workforce. We need quality educational opportunities for future generations of Alaskans-to become home-grown entrepreneurs and skilled employees for our local businesses.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
Alaska, unfortunately ranks highest in instances of sexual assault and domestic violence. We have always ranked higher than other states and the curve has to change. So, what’s the answer? I am retired State of Alaska Probation/Parole Officer and have witnessed how sexual assault & domestic violence have devastated individuals and families. Many have given lip service to stopping or lowering the incidence of this epidemic without great success. I applaud the ADN for the recent coverage of the victims of sexual assault. I believe this has educated our citizens across the state as to how severe this problem really is. More education in health classes, incarcerated assault offenders and the victims will assist to lower the rate and increase awareness. Adequately funding these programs will also assist in mitigating the occurrence & social impacts of this terrible problem.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
As a starter, pass Ballot Measure 1. We should also be looking at -- and aggressively pursing -- other alternative revenue options including solar, wind and tidal power, marketing more bottom fish, encouraging shellfish production, developing an income option for fish waste as well as expanding the universe of federal grant options through the University of Alaska.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
Plain and simple, I am not in favor of the Pebble Mine project advancing.. I choose the long-standing and viable natural resource of Bristol Bay salmon over the ill-conceived damaging and non-renewable resource of products to be produced from the mine and the long-term damage to the environment, wildlife and eco-structure; not to mention the thousands of jobs in the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery. Forty-two percent of the world’s harvest of wild salmon and 80 percent of the production of high-value wild salmon species such as sockeye, king, and coho salmon, come from Alaska waters. Salmon is the most valuable commercial fish managed by the state of Alaska and Bristol Bay is Alaska’s richest commercial fishery. For me, I am just not willing to take the gamble of losing this valuable renewable resource for the Pebble Mine. This area has got to be the worst choice to construct a mine! Wrong mine, wrong time!
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
Alaska’s Number One problem is our economy. Unless and until we we can match our income to our expenses, we are going to be in a crisis mode.