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.
Tom McKay | Republican | Occupation: Engineer | Age: 62 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: Past Chairman Alaska Republican Party / Past president Discovery Park Owners Association | www.mckayforalaska.com
Why are you running for office?
I ran for office in my District 24 to offer Primary voters a conservative choice on their ballots.
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.
For the most part, I think our leaders handled COVID-19 the best way they knew how given the information they had. But COVID-19 has been horrible for our economy – specifically for tourism and hospitality. I was glad to see the Dunleavy Administration pioneer screening programs that allowed for travel to take place.
We have a screening program that, from a data perspective, works better than probably any other state, our cases, hospitalization, and death rates have been consistently low in comparison to other parts of the country, yet the Municipality is still imposing burdensome restrictions and capacity caps on businesses. My belief is one of personal responsibility. If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re well, be smart. And in the meantime, we need to swiftly move towards a safe and responsible economic recovery, without delay.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
The State of Alaska has done a decent job in shepherding federal resources to individuals and businesses that need it. Some boroughs (such as the Mat-Su) have assisted families with a dividend-type check from some city-held federal stimulus funds. Unfortunately, the MOA has held most of that money hostage for their failing homelessness relief programs.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
The first issue is, without a doubt, Ballot Measure 1. From a legislative perspective, there’s little the legislature can do, but I can tell you that I personally plan to vote NO. There are thousands of families in my district who rely on resource development for their livelihoods. The idea of forcing energy producers out of Alaska at a time of fiscal emergency is the absolute worst-case scenario for our state, and I’m frankly offended that the organizers of the initiative would try something like this at a time like this.
Secondarily, the threat of new taxes is a big problem offered by many of the same people as the first threat. The state of the world’s economy and specifically in the energy sector is not such that we can continue to spend as though we have a bottomless pit of money. I’ve said throughout my campaign that I believe Alaska’s revenues should come from the ground and not from the pockets of Alaskans. We must get control of our legislature’s runaway spending.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
Well, it’s pretty simple: we need to not spend more than we have. It’s unfortunate that previous legislatures have left us in this position, but we’re going to have to do the best with the information and resources that we have.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
Previous legislatures have completely disregarded what the law says about distribution of the permanent fund. If the formula for the fund doesn’t work, it should be changed, and not ignored. The rule of law is important for a society to function, and Alaskans need to see that their lawmakers have the same respect for law that we expect them to have.
As for the dividend, at a time like this, you want to provide as much assistance as you responsibly can to Alaskans through the dividend program. That money belongs to Alaskans, and it’s been kept for a rainy day. It’s currently raining pretty hard.
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 support reducing annual spending to match what we can afford to spend. The legislature has gone too long without a real, functional spending cap.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
It’s simple, put more money into classrooms and less into administration. But, also attach stringent performance measures and minimum educational standards to the money we grant to the School Districts.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
Our university system needs to focus on preparing workers for Alaska’s unique economy. We shouldn’t need to import resource development experts from the lower 48. STEM and trade training should be prioritized far above the liberal arts programs that dominate UA’s program offerings.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
Arrest and then aggressively prosecute and sentence those who break the law. Higher mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted. You can’t allow those who have been convicted of sexual assault and domestic violence to be back on the street in a few weeks or months. Protect victims before criminals.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
The obvious first step is to re-open the economy across the state. We need to give resource development and industry the confidence they need to make long-term, major investments in Alaska’s future and stop threatening them with arbitrary tax increases. We need our cities to step up and stop enabling crime, addiction, homelessness, and mental health issues in our streets. Strong, not soft, policies are needed. We need people to want to buy homes, open businesses, and spend their money at shops; we need cities to end the enabling policies that force tourists to look elsewhere.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
The proposed mine project should go through the same rigorous permitting process as any other mine and should be judged on the merits of safety and cleanliness – like every other project must do.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
I appreciate your attention and would love to hear from you. Please visit McKayForAlaska.com to learn more about me or to connect via email or phone.