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.
Ben Carpenter | Republican | Occupation: Legislator | Age: 45 | Residence: Nikiski | Relevant experience or prior offices held: Two years in the Alaska Legislature, retired military with 21 years of service | carpenterforhouse.com
Why are you running for office?
I grew up in Alaska and I love my home state. After spending many years outside serving in our military, my wife and I decided to return to Alaska and make it home for our family. I believe Alaskans are standing at the edge of a financial precipice and are looking for leaders of courage to do the hard tasks necessary to prevent the financial ruin of our state. I have the temperament and leadership experience necessary to assist with solving the problems we face.
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.
Our initial response to prevent overwhelming our medical community’s capacity to care for ill and injured Alaskans was the correct response given the information available at the time. As the numbers of ill Alaskans has thankfully not materialized as we anticipated, as we’ve learned more about the virus, and as our response capacity has significantly increased, it is clear to me that there is no longer a need for an emergency declaration or a continuation of health mandates. Our medical professionals are able to manage the effects of the virus on Alaskans without jeopardizing our way of life and economic security.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
The state should immediately eliminate restrictive measures on our economy and allow Alaskans to get back to work and business owners to fully open their businesses. The state will never be able to afford to financially restore Alaskans affected by the government induced shutdown and the best way to care for our economic engine is to allow Alaskans to do what they do best.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
Two issues impacting members of the northern Kenai Peninsula are the uncertainty of our state’s economic future and inadequate results in our primary and secondary educational institutions. I will work with other members of the legislature to produce a sustainable budget that businesses can count on for years to come. I believe that educational outcomes will improve when parents have more control and responsibility for our schools. Rather than continuing a one-sized-fits-all approach to a system of education, I will work with other legislators to provide the means for communities to empower parents in the running of their schools.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
The first step to providing a sustainable budget is to properly prioritize our budget. I will work to place all spending in three categories: constitutionally required, statutorily required, and discretionary. With the budget properly prioritized we will be able to identify policies that are driving our high cost of government and identify areas that require greater efficiencies. I will work to improve our constitutional spending cap so that it is effective at doing what it was created to do: limit the growth of our state budget. I will also work to place the PFD into the constitution so that annual Permanent Fund earnings are not a source of conflict but are a reliable source of revenue for Alaskans and their government. In the short-term, using available funds from our DGF and ERA accounts may be necessary to bridge the gap between current revenue and the timing and availability of funds any decision for creating additional revenue may generate.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
The dividend program is of great benefit to our private sector and should be protected constitutionally. My hope is that the Alaska Permanent Fund continues to grow and provide a semi-reliable source of revenue for Alaskans and their government. I will work with legislators to determine the best way to divide up the annual earnings between the dividend program and government spending and codify the agreement in the constitution so that it becomes a part of our sustainable budget.
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?
This question presents a false dilemma and isn’t helpful to creating a sustainable budget. I do support a reduction in spending and when the budget is properly prioritized, the services that become candidates to be cut will become more apparent. From a big picture view, Health and Social Services and Education budgets are the largest and therefore will need the most scrutiny.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
As previously stated, empowering parents to exercise more control and responsibility for the outcomes of their schools will be a great first step to correcting the downward trend some schools are experiencing in their educational outcomes.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
Alaskans need a vibrant university able to better stand on its own merits without state funding being the majority of its revenue. Alaskans don’t need an expensive and administratively bloated university. Our university system needs to be consolidated into one university with multiple campuses that is more in line with our population size and demand for educational services.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
One of the best things to reduce domestic violence is good paying jobs. I will work to stimulate economic growth by eliminating barriers to developing our resources which will create jobs and help reduce stress in our families. Less financial stress will in turn help reduce incidents of domestic violence. Stiffer penalties for engaging in domestic violence and sexual assault will also help reduce occurrences by putting perpetrators in prison.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
Alaska will remain a resource state and by developing those resources our economy will grow and diversify if the conditions are present. One area of improvement for southcentral Alaska that would greatly improve the conditions for economic development is less expensive electricity. Investing in infrastructure necessary to reduce the cost of generating electricity would help stabilize and grow our economy. Considering that we import about $2 billion of food annually into the state, developing our agriculture capacity would pay immediate returns to our local communities as a portion of that $2 billion could remain in the state.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
I’m encouraged that our robust permitting process is progressing and will provide the best possible outcome for Alaskans. If the proposed mine is environmentally sustainable and will not endanger our fishing resources, it should become apparent in the permitting process and should be allowed to proceed.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
It is important to select members of our community to represent us in our governing bodies who will bring trust and respect to those bodies. The focus of the state legislature must be on the long-term wellbeing of our state and we must resist the temptation to demand our representatives to “bring home the bacon” to our respective districts if we are to find solutions to the financial challenges facing us collectively. Please consider selecting representatives who will grow the people’s trust in the legislature by putting our state first and addressing our most pressing financial concerns that have escaped solution for far too many years.