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.
Jamin L. Burton | Non-affiliated | Occupation: Teacher | Age: 40 | Residence: Wasilla | Relevant experience or prior offices held: Leadership experience at church, as a board member of a non-profit, and as a leader in education. No prior public office.
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.
At the time of writing I think the state leaders have done pretty well. We have the lowest deaths per capita in the country. Our testing availability is keeping up with demand and our health care system has not been overwhelmed. The state has tried to balance public health with freedom and economic opportunity. Looking back, I think there are things we could have done differently, but they have done a good job trying to do what is best for Alaska with a constantly changing situation. As we move forward I hope that we focus on preserving freedom, economic opportunity, keeping things open, while making sure we don’t overwhelm our capacity to provide testing and health care.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
Alaska was in the midst of financial crisis before the pandemic. We are facing dire straits and need to balance economic recovery with a precarious fiscal situation. I hope that the we are able to work together to find federal funds to help us with recovery that allows the state to focus on getting its own financial house in order.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
Obviously the fiscal situation is number one, but that is a statewide issue. Things that district 7 is struggling with are crime and infrastructure. Domestic violence, sexual assault, drug use, and related criminal activity require both continued commitment to helping law enforcement and increasing our ability to actually prosecute and hold people accountable. I will work to increase our prosecutorial capacity in order to reduce the number of plea deals offered to those accused of felonies, especially those that involve firearms.
Regarding infrastructure, our businesses and residents needs traffic flow capacity to keep up with growth, especially on the Parks Highway and KGB.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
I think continued examination of ways to responsibly cut spending is prudent, but this will not be sufficient alone. I will advocate for the implementation of a fair broad based state tax, and my preference is a sales tax. Having visited nearly every home in district 7 over the past year, I have heard time and again that this is the preferred solution for people in my district. People aren’t opposed to paying for basic services, but they want that to be fair and structured to protect against political mismanagement. I also think that this discussion will change based on the outcome of proposition 1.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
The Alaska Permanent Fund and the mineral rights that were part of its creation should be under the control of the people it belongs to, the citizens of Alaska. I support Governor Dunleavy’s approach to try and let the people decide if and how this should change. I recognize that Alaska’s financial situation is dire, but the dividend doesn’t belong to the politicians. That being said, if elected, I fully recognize that I am one of 60 people in the conversation and don’t intend to make a promise or guarantee that I cannot keep. I promise to advocate for this position, but with the understanding that this is only one part of the very complicated and dire position the state finds itself in.
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 do not have any specific cuts that I would recommend. I want to have time and information to examine the budget and truly understand what the impact of those cuts will be to real people. I do support a broad based sales tax to make up the shortfall, and would also be willing to examine the oil-tax structure as a part of this equation.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
The number one indicator of student success that can be controlled and influenced by schools is high quality instruction. We need to have administrators that know what high quality instruction looks like and are committed to following processes to help teachers deliver high quality instruction. We also need teachers committed to improving their instruction and ensuring that they are meeting individual student needs.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
Education, including vocational training, is the best way to provide social mobility and equity. It lifts people out of poverty and opens up opportunity. It helps people to become confident and capable. It provides economic stability, helps reduce crime, and improves job opportunity and productivity. Having a robust university system is vital to Alaska’s future. Students that go outside to university are much less likely to build their futures in Alaska. Our University has been forced to reckon with the fiscal crisis that Alaska is facing, but needs to be supported so that there continue to be opportunities for young people within our state.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
We need to bring people together from law enforcement, prosecution, communities, and lawmakers to find and enact changes that will make a difference. No single person, group, or agency can fix this pervasive problem. It needs to be all of us working together to change our expectations, our culture, the processing of evidence, the prosecution of those accused, and protections afforded to victims. Continuing to work with federal agencies would also provide additional resources to assist in this struggle.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
In order to grow, businesses need stability. Alaska has not had fiscal stability in years. We need consistency and predictability so that business feel confident in their plans. We have to solve our fiscal situation, balance our budget, and determine our priorities so that business have confidence to hire new employees, expand offerings, and take risks needed to expand. Alaska has always been a natural resource state and we need to continue to support infrastructure, and we need to continue to open access to Alaska’s land and resources. We need to improve health care affordability so that business, insurers, and individuals aren’t spending such a high percentage of their resources on healthcare.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
I support the responsible development and utilization of our natural resources and am not opposed to mining. That being said, we have regulations and permitting processes in place to ensure that we protect our water, land, and other resources. At this moment I am not satisfied that Pebble has demonstrated the ability to responsibly proceed with the project. If at a future time, I feel they have demonstrated that ability, I would support the project, but at current time I am opposed.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
I believe that when we elect people, we are electing more than their platform. We are electing them as leaders and individuals. I am committed to working with others to build relationships and build understanding between diverse groups to find solutions that match our needs. We need to be united as a Alaskans to meet the challenges we are facing. I am committed to building unity instead of divisiveness.