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.
Bill Johnson | Democrat | Occupation: Retired | Age: 68 | Residence: Delta Junction | Relevant experience or prior offices held: I know about hard work , from my teen years working for my dad to my rural life style. I know about accountability from my years of fighting wild fires, where you have to make quick, correct decisions and take responsibility for the results. I know about the relationship between labor and management from my years working for a union. My background teaching history allows me to use the knowledge of the past to help shape our decisions for the future.| billjohnsonforhouse.com
Why are you running for office?
The current Representative for District 9 is a single issue candidate focused on the unrealistic idea of a $6,700 PFD check. That is basically an attempt to buy votes. We need elected officials who are willing to do the hard work of figuring out how to pay for our necessary government services. Grandstanding has no place when doing the work of the people.
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.
We are muddling through the pandemic. Masks are proven to be effective, and that their use not only limits the spread of the disease but supports the local economy and consumer confidence. Wearing one protects the people you come in contact with from getting the disease if you are infected but don’t realize it. Social distancing supplements the masks, it is not a substitute. And, wash your hands. This simple message is not being strongly supported by the state government.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
Even before the pandemic Alaska’s economy was in shambles. Alaska has the highest unemployment rate in the nation and ranks 49th out of 50 in job creation. District 9′s unemployment rate is 10%, which is greater than the Alaskan average of 6.5%. And that was pre-pandemic. I will encourage policies that will create jobs for Alaskans and District 9 workers, including access to broadband internet and strengthening vocational and technical training.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
Our ferry system is a part of our transportation infrastructure and the cuts last winter to the system was unconscionable. Our ferries serve Alaskans and the system needs to be maintained. The road system in District 9 is also in need of attention. Take a drive on the Parks highway and then the Glenn. There is a very noticeable difference.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
We cannot cut our way to sustainability. We have to find new, reliable sources of revenue. A good start would be to stop giving oil companies massive breaks on the taxes they owe us. One company, Conoco, made $5.2 billion profit since 2016. At the same time they only paid 16.5% in taxes. In Texas the rate is 30%. Alaskans own our oil, and for several of the last years we’ve literally been paying them to take our resources, and that’s not right and it’s not smart. Voting yes on the Fair Share Act (Ballot Measure 1) is good for Alaska and fair to the oil companies. They don’t need billions in tax breaks, we need the money to run our state.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
I have received every Dividend that Alaska has paid. I have used my money to make my life better. As a former seasonal worker I know how appreciated that fall boost in income can be. But, the time has come to take a hard look at our situation. We do not have enough money to cover FY 21.
We must look for new revenue (I have already talked about that in the previous question) and we must look carefully at how we spend what we have. The Dividend program casts the state $680 million this year. That is equal to the amount of money it takes to fund Transportation, the Judiciary, the Legislature, the Administration, Natural Resources, Law, Fish and Game, Revenue, the Governor, Military, Labor DEC and Commerce. These are all necessary programs to keep a modern government functioning. Is it more important to fund these programs or is it more important to make sure Governor Dunleavey gets a Dividend check? If we want to keep our Dividend we must figure out how to pay for it.
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?
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
Stabilize the funding. Teachers and administrators should not end each school year not knowing what the next year’s budget will be. I will fight to restore funding to K-12 education after the drastic Dunleavy cuts.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
I believe that the University of Alaska is a cornerstone to building and sustaining a diverse economy in Alaska. It provides a direct stimulus through wages and an indirect one through the innovation that it nurtures. I support fully funding the University of Alaska system so that it can provide educational and research opportunities to Alaskans of all ages. I will fight to restore funding to UA after Dunleavy cuts.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
Alaska has a serious problem and we must take aggressive action to stop the violence. Victims of crime must not be overlooked – we need policies and programming to ensure that they are treated with respect and care when they seek help. We also need to help victims in and out of the criminal justice system access the healing resources they need to move beyond their traumatic experiences.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
We must stabilize our state operating budget to provide an environment wherein business can make a profit, workers can earn a living wage, and all can enjoy health benefits. If we expanded Medicaid thousands more Alaskans would have access to health care and the federal government would cover much of the cost.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
Wrong mine. Wrong place.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
Remember to vote. Ask for an absentee ballot if you are worried about going to the polls in these days of Covid. Vote early to avoid the rush on election day. Voting is the bedrock of democracy.