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.
Liz Snyder | Democrat | Occupation: Public health professional and educator | Age: 39 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: EDUCATION: Univ. of Florida (UF) Bachelor of Science, 2002; Emory Univ., Master of Public Health, 2004; UF, PhD in Soil & Water Science, 2009; POLITICAL: Secretary, NE Community Council; North Slope Science Initiative, Science Tech. Advisory Panel (2014-2016); PROFESSIONAL: UAA, Assoc. Professor of Public Health (2009-Present); Co-Founder, Food Research, Enterprise, & Sustainability Hub (2018-Present); Procter & Gamble, Researcher (2006) SERVICE: AK Food Policy Council (past Co-Chair); Soc. of Practitioners of Health Impact Assessment (Co-Found.)| electlizsnyder.com
Why are you running for office?
I’m running for office because now, more than ever, we need to come together as Alaskans. We need leadership willing to put in the hard work necessary to find common ground based on shared values of integrity, independence, respect, and compassion -- and to put people before politics.
These are the values of many Alaskan households, including my own family’s -- and these are the values I want to see reflected in our government.
Our current leadership is failing. Alaska has become highest in the nation in unemployment, our savings are drained, there’s inadequate investment in public safety, the mental health and opioid crises have not been addressed, there has been no diversification of the economy (and now oil prices have collapsed), and public trust in our state government is eroded.
As our next representative in the legislature, I’m prepared to meet the challenges facing our state and to see that Alaska is prepared for what may come. Together, we can do better.
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. With respect to case numbers and health outcomes to date, as compared to the Lower 48, our public health leaders have done a good job in uncertain times, both at the state and municipal levels. I was honored to serve on a team of university researchers who helped inform the pandemic response by providing modeling data, making evidence-based recommendations to reduce community impacts, and evaluating response protocols. With respect to the timely and organized distribution of AK CARES funding to local businesses, however, the answer is no. The slow roll out by our current administration, due to under-staffing and inexcusable oversights in eligibility requirements, have worsened the impacts of the pandemic, and demand for funding now exceeds what is available. This has had devastating consequences for our families and businesses.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
A big one -- in terms of ensuring adequate federal support and in terms of doing what we can here on our own. Pressuring the federal government to pass a stimulus package is critical. Even as the first round of support runs out, we continue to see cases rise and businesses fail. Now is not the time to stop advocating for support for Alaskans. At the state level, there are a variety of roles -- from continuing rental/mortgage relief, to relaxing certain regulations to support business adaptations, to following through on promised investments in our local industries. Most importantly, the state needs to listen to Alaskans. They are telling us what they need, and it is our job to respond.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
Homelessness continues to impact our district, and all of Anchorage. This issue, and its many underlying factors (including addiction, unemployability, trauma), has been largely ignored by our current Rep. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year addressing the fallout (e.g., emergency services, crime, property restoration, hunger), when we should be focusing our resources on prevention.
Accessible and affordable healthcare is another priority. Our current Rep. has consistently supported the insurance industry over individual Alaskans, fought expansion of federally supported care services, and has made no meaningful progress in driving down costs. I will work to increase access and reduce costs. For example: shifting our healthcare model from one focused on “fee for service” to “value-based care” -- meaning I will work on legislation to incentivize more holistic care focused on the quality and efficiency of care, rather than the quantity of services provided.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
Current leadership has decimated our Constitutional Budget Reserve, even while we’ve cut hundreds of millions of dollars from our state budget. Even with these drastic cuts, we face a huge budget deficit. Yes, we should continue to find and eliminate any remaining redundancies and inefficiencies in government services, but even this won’t fill our budget gap. Part of the solution is fixing our current oil tax structure, which is robbing Alaskans of our fair share. Previous changes resulting from SB 21 did not bring the revenue, jobs, or development we were promised, and this cannot be explained by oil price drops alone. Following a fix to our oil tax structure, we must explore opportunities to diversify our economy in a way that reduces our dependency on a single volatile industry. For example, the past two administrations have acknowledged, but not whole-heartedly pursued, expansion of our mariculture, agriculture, and sustainable energy sectors.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
I share the same view as our incumbent, based on past public comments. I support full pfd payments based on the original formula, but recognize that we need to have a collective conversation about the sustainability of this approach and agree to any necessary changes. And in light of our current budgetary shortfall, I do not support back pay of previously reduced pfds. I would prefer to see us grow the Permanent Fund -- some have targeted $100 million -- so that we then have an incredible, sustainable resource to support current and future generations of Alaskans. With such a resource, we would be the envy of the rest of the US.
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?
As I’ve stated before, we must fix our oil tax structure. If we are truly an oil state, then we must ensure we aren’t being shortchanged for our resources. This alone will nearly fill our budget gap. We can also continue to make a few more cuts to services to find efficiencies, but I am not willing to remove any services that are helping Alaskans during a pandemic that estimates tell us will take 2-3 years to recover from. If we must tap into our rainy day permanent fund reserve this year to ensure Alaskans stay in their homes, feed their families, and keep their business operating, then that’s what we must do. But I will also advocate that the Legislature reevaluate the original formula to ensure we are meeting the best interests of Alaskans today and tomorrow.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
Strong schools and student success are driven, in part, by quality teachers working with adequate resources. Right now, we are spending a large portion of our education budget on skyrocketing healthcare costs, instead of directly meeting the needs of our students. We must place a priority on bringing down the costs of education staff healthcare, while also ensuring the quality of that care. Additionally, we as a state have failed to ensure a competitive retirement plan, and to avoid pink slipping our teachers when the Legislature doesn’t pass a budget on time. This is no way to retain good teachers, and it is costly to replace them. Our current Representative is on record in opposition of forward funding education, and has not been proactive in addressing healthcare costs.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
I have worked at UAA for the past 11 years, and it has given me unique insights into the needs of Alaskan students, the challenges of delivering quality education under a shrinking budget, and administrative decision-making, which will be useful as a Legislator tasked with funding the University. I would like to see UA deliver quality, competitive cost-effective educational opportunities to Alaskans -- and to prepare a workforce ready to meet the needs of today and the needs of new and growing industries tomorrow. I would also like to better quantify the role of UA as an economic engine. UA brings in millions of dollars in federal and foundation funding, and provides services to the surrounding community and expertise to decision-makers. I want to make sure our University operates as an asset, not a burden.
Additionally, pursuing a college degree is not the only option for Alaskans following high school. I will also be a champion for vocational training and entrepreneurship.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
First and foremost, I will turn to the experts on this topic for guidance, including organizations/agencies who address this issue, colleagues who work in this area, and those Alaskans who have been victims of sexual assault and domestic violence themselves. Generally speaking, the field of public health knows there is a spectrum of necessary responses. This ranges from ensuring availability and accessibility of professional staff who are trained to receive reports and assist at-risk individuals, to ensuring rural communities have the necessary qualified public safety officers, to enacting and enforcing laws that prioritize protecting the victim, to addressing factors such as substance misuse, childhood trauma, and loss of economic opportunity.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
In addition to some of the priorities I’ve previously listed, it is important to recognize the connection between a strong Alaska economy and workforce development (through quality education), affordable healthcare (to support a healthy workforce), and now, a persistent focus on recovering from the pandemic. I would like to reduce the regulatory burden and costs associated with growing the mariculture industry to a $100 million industry over the next two decades (a plan for this already exists; and our current Representative is on the record advocating for pulling permit fee support for these entrepreneurs); to continue leading the nation in the percent of new farms and new farmers; breathing new life into the tourism industry; and incentivizing sustainable energy development.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
Like 62% of Alaskans, I oppose the Pebble Mine. The long-term economic, cultural, and food security value of our wild salmon fishery cannot be put at risk for short-term profits that would primarily enrich non-Alaskans and irreversibly change the landscape of our state. Outside interests cannot override the wishes of Alaskans. Further, with the recent release of video of Pebble executives touting their power over Alaska politicians and the democratic process, it is clear that the best interests of Alaskans have never been their priority.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
As long as Anchorage remains in the high risk category with respect to daily new COVID-19 cases, I and my team will not be knocking on your door. Instead, I leave the decision to connect in person to you, based on your comfort level. I hold weekly outdoor campaign bus events throughout the district, rely on phone and text, look forward to scheduling outdoor visits, engage on social media, and hold online meetings. Please don’t hesitate to reach me at 903-5799 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and ask me anything!