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.
Calvin Schrage | Nonpartisan | Occupation: Executive Director, Frontier Tutoring | Age: 29 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: I have not previously sought or held public office; however, I have sought and been elected to the boards of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and Abbott Loop Community Council. | calvinforalaska.com
Why are you running for office?
I am a lifelong, third-generation Alaskan who literally learned to walk, talk, and ride my bike in the community I am now running to represent. This last fall, my wife Heather and I got married and bought the same home up the street from Abbott Loop Elementary that I grew up in. I care about our community and I want to make sure my family - and yours - have the same great opportunities that I had growing up here. That means good schools, safe streets, and economic opportunity.
With our current leadership, I am concerned for our shared future here in Alaska. Whether it’s years of financial mismanagement and an empty savings account, prolonged attacks on our schools and universities, cuts to public safety and senior benefits, or an inability to set party politics aside to serve our community, our elected officials have failed us. I am running to give our community a new voice, one that listens, shows up, and has the energy and dedication to ensure a bright future for our community.
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 state has handled this pandemic well in some regards and poorly in others. Dr. Anne Zink has done a great job of informing Alaskans of the risks associated with COVID-19 as well as simple steps we can take to keep our friends, neighbors, and families safe. Thanks to this information and the actions of our state leaders, our community transmission rates are lower than that of other states. At the same time, it concerns me that the majority of our federal CARES Act funds - intended to help small businesses - were held up by the governor and the legislature for months rather than being distributed as intended. This issue has finally been resolved, but only after months of inaction by our state leaders including our current incumbent Mel Gillis.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
The state has to have a role in rebuilding our economy after the damage done from this pandemic. A first step would be ensuring that the remaining federal funds are promptly used to support our businesses, workers, and those most impacted by the coronavirus. Given that we had record high unemployment even before COVID hit, and that interest rates are lower than ever, now is the time for us to invest in Alaska, address our backlog of capital projects, and get Alaskan’s back to work for the good of our families and for the good of Alaska.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
There are many issues facing the district, however, nearly all depend on us resolving the state budget. That said, one issue not directly tied to the budget which I would like to highlight is the poor planning of roads within out community. Too often, we see new construction that fails to provide adequate pedestrian access to our parks, trails, and neighborhoods. If elected, I would be an advocate for our community and work to ensure that our children and families have safe and reliable means to navigate our district.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
With years of overspending by our current and former elected officials, our state savings have been drained and deficit spending is no longer an option. It’s past time we create a sustainable state budget based on the needs of Alaskans and not the price of oil. To do this, we are going to have to have everything on the table. Whether it’s additional cuts where money can be saved or it’s new revenues, we as a legislature need to come together, make some tough decisions, and find a way to fund essential services while limiting the burden on the people of Alaska. Only by working together to resolve this crisis will we end the continued boom-and-bust cycle we’re all too familiar with today.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
The Permanent Fund and Permanent Fund Dividend is critical to Alaskan families and to the future of our great state. As such, we must protect the permanent fund for future generations and make sure Alaskans - today and tomorrow - can count on the PFD each year without having to worry about how much the legislature may take this year or next. I believe this could best be done by constitutionally protecting the 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?
To the extent that we are able to further reduce the cost and scope of state services without causing irreparable harm to our people, we should continue to cut spending. At the same time, we must ensure that we meet our constitutional obligation to educate our young, maintain our infrastructure, and protect the people of Alaska. Should additional revenues be required, I will work tirelessly to ensure that the burden on Alaskans is minimized to the greatest extent possible.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
As someone who attended our local schools - Abbott Loop Elementary, Hanshew Middle School, and Service High School - and who is starting a family of my own here, a strong and healthy education system is something I care deeply about. To improve our schools, we need consistent and reliable funding so that we can end the repeated pink slipping of teachers year after year. Absent forward funding, this pattern will only continue resulting in a prolonged out migration of talent and ever increasing costs associated with the recruitment and retention of our teachers.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
As a recent UAA Graduate myself, and someone who runs a small business here in town that hires 80% of our employees straight out of the university, I understand the critical role that our universities play in our community and in our economy. The drastic cuts we have seen in recent years, supported by the current incumbent Mel Gillis, have greatly weakened our university. As a result, we’ve seen vital programs cut, educational opportunities limited, and our ability to produce the next generation of workers greatly reduced.
The University of Alaska and the state need to work together to find a lasting solution and ensure we have a thriving yet affordable university system. My vision is for the university system to become less dependent on state funding and more self sufficient. This is a long-term goal, but one that can be achieved if the state and the university system work together.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
Alaska’s issues with sexual assault and domestic violence are longstanding and complicated. That said, there is much we can do to address these issues including greater investment in public safety officers like state troopers and VPSOs, improved access to mental health and addiction services, as well as better training for our educators and school staff so that they can properly recognize and respond to domestic violence and sexual assault when it occurs.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
There are a number steps we can take to improve the economy here in Alaska, but the first step is developing a sustainable budget. Beyond this, investments in education, responsible resource development, arctic research, and new industries like aquaculture and manufacturing could go a long ways in improving our economy. Addressing the high cost of energy here in Alaska would also help to expand economic opportunities in our state.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
I am opposed to Pebble Mine. The people of Alaska have come out strongly against this project as it would jeopardize our one-of-a-kind salmon runs in Bristol Bay.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
It’s time we elect a new generation of leaders who are willing to work across the aisle and do what’s right for Alaska. That’s why I’m running for State House, to represent our community and make sure our next generation of Alaskans has a bright future in Alaska. I’d be honored to have your vote on or before November 3.