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.
Andy Josephson | Democrat | Occupation: Teacher; attorney-at-law; state legislator. | Age: 56 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: MOA Zoning Board of Examiners and Appeals/Planning and Zoning Commission 2003-2008; Alaska State House of Representatives, 2013-Present. | josephson4house.com
Why are you running for office?
I believe I offer policy perspectives that would go unheard without my participation. This is especially true on some labor, environmental, and civil rights issues. I also believe that the excesses of the present administration must be checked and I have been a part of providing that critical balance.
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.
No. My great frustration is that the Legislature should have done the following: (1) exercised its authority to appropriate all CARES dollars as it saw fit, after fact-finding hearings, to include (among other things) more childcare and tuition assistance; (2) modified the Uniform Rules to allow legislators to vote remotely; (3) passed a stand alone capital budget; (4) insisted that the administration receive every possible federal dollar we were eligible for from the Congress; (5) overridden vetoes of 4/7/20, or passed new legislation reflecting our insistence on the funding of vetoed items; (6) only accepted RPLs for which there were federal programs and there, only when the Legislature liked the RPLs as written, without significant objection; (7) passed other COVID mitigation measures as needed, including measures extending relief from collection beyond the 6/30/20 expiration.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
A significant role. We should look to the future, but to do so, we must complete a balanced and comprehensive fiscal plan. This will entail consideration of new revenues since we cannot cut to balance, especially after cutting 24% from the Operating Budget to date. We should invest in early childhood education, K-12, our University system, and vocational education programs. We should, as noted, have attempted to override the vetoes of 4/7/20, and failing that, we should have done what we did last summer: passed, for a second time, measures appropriating the vetoed items. (The Governor said CARES Act dollars could supplant the vetoed items but later conceded he was wrong). We should act like a Legislature and, where there are CARES Act and other federal dollars provided to Alaska, convene hearings to appropriate those dollars just like any other dollars. It is our constitutional duty. We should also aggressively seek every federal dollar for which we are eligible.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
First, I represent the area where the UAA Campus is located. My district cares about UAA and its future. The UA system has seen cuts of $90 million/annum in state general fund grants since about 2015. These cuts are excessive, unnecessary, and devastating to programs Alaskans care about and in which they’ve invested their lives. With a comprehensive fiscal plan, most of these cuts were not necessary. I would end them and restore funding to UAA in a predictable and reliable way. Second, my district is among the most urban in Alaska. My constituents want safe streets, a strong economy, a healthy environment, and a balanced approach to fiscal policy-making. To deliver that, again, we need a comprehensive system including some increases to oil revenues and a consideration of a broad-based tax. My voters understand that we can’t cut our way to salvation, especially after we’ve devastated state programs and budgets to date. If there were more to cut, we’d have done it already.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
Again, I would increase oil taxes and royalties, and consider a broad-based tax. Note that I don’t consider the regular 5% draw from the ERA through POMV (Senate Bill 26) as a draw from state savings. So, our revenue problem is about $2.3 billion if we pay a full PFD, and much, much less if we don’t. I believe in the PFD program but, if Alaskans want a PFD under the 1982 formula, they will have to support a broad-based tax and/or increases to severance (extractive) taxes.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
The Permanent Fund is the shining light of our historical fiscal policy. It gets an A+, by any measure. Without it, our situation would be perilous. Instead, it can reliably provide us $3 billion per year of sustainable and predictable revenue. Thank your stars for it! If we continue to grow the corpus of the Permanent Fund, and are patient, it can obtain a place (depending upon variables like population and inflation) where it can virtually provide all we need to run basic state services. The PFD program is the “great equalizer” of our state economy and culture. I would support funding at the 1982 formula, if oil were $100+ per barrel or production exceeded 1,000,000 barrels per day. However, unless residents want to empty our prisons, stop plowing snow, abandon K-12 schools and the University, etc., and terminate our State Troopers, we must have an increase in oil revenue or a broad-based taxes. Our savings are gone. We can’t float all boats without reform and reform, soon!
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?
There are virtually no state services to cut. I might be able to wring $100 million from the state budget, but it is impossible--IMPOSSIBLE--to cut $2.3 billion from the state budget. Don’t believe it? Consider this, if we closed every public school, emptied every prison, and shut down the University, the state would save about $1.9 billion. Read that again, please. I do not--do not--support cutting state services to pay a larger dividend. I might have in 2015, but the cutting has largely been done. Candidates who tell you that no one needs to feel pain, and we can have a “society” (humor for the Seinfeld viewers) and pay a full PFD are lying to the people of Alaska, or are very confused or misinformed. I do believe that there are exempt, political appointees that could get by handsomely with reduced salaries. A deputy commissioner earning $200,000 where his/her boss earns $150,000?
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
If money were not a concern, I’d expand the school year to 210-220 days. (I would split the school year up with a longer spring break and a shorter summer break). I would do everything humanly possible to create a culture of educational excellence in Alaska. I would invest in universal Pre-K. I would have our kids “Play hard, and Work harder”. I would invest in defined benefits (old school pensions) for our teachers to recruit the very best. I would drill, drill, drill our students, while also unleashing their creative capacities. I would invest in more vocational opportunities for our high school age kids. Give them options, but make them work hard in whatever they choose. My proposals would be very expensive, and they would reap benefits. It’s our choice.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
I believe that, at its height, our grant to the UA system was a tad generous. At its peak, we gave UA about $377 million in state grants. But, the University leveraged that money and drew in more than $500 million on its own, and by its own efforts! What has happened to UA since about 2015 is a travesty. It’s been an embarrassment because it’s mostly been unnecessary. In 2016, Gov. Walker proposed that every industry and every Alaskan contribute to their economy. Yes, new revenues, also called fees and taxes. Would our economy be stronger today if we’d taken up Walker’s proposals? Absolutely. We also need to get more than the paltry severance taxes we receive from the oil industry through Senate Bill 21 (2013). My point? The harm we have caused UA has been mostly self-imposed and unnecessary. It’s been devastating and painful to watch. My vision would be to restore programs we never should have cut, ensure basic local control at the MAUs (3 main campuses), and let people dream again.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
For starters, I was an aggressive opponent of Senate Bill 91 and am glad it was repealed. It’s supporters said it did not reduce sentences for sexual assault and domestic violence but I found that to be incorrect, at least on the margins of the law. Almost all of these offense-types are committed by men. So, how do we find the better angels of man’s nature? I think we do this by building strong families and strong, stable economies. To reduce these crimes, we will have to have more support for young families as is seen in European countries. The support of subsidized childcare, free healthcare, jobs that you can actually live on, family/medical leave including paternity leave, and adequate funding of alcohol and drug abuse programs. We also need to invest in anger management and family counseling programs. As with your question on education funding, it will be costly. But, these are the answers.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
Our economy is more diverse than is believed, for starters. I believe we need a future that should afford pristine natural environments that will be more and more coveted as world populations grow and people need to “center” and get away from chaos and restore themselves. I believe we should entertain all the value-added industries we can conceive of. We should invest in climate change technologies and be a leader in this field. We need to invest in Pre-K, K-12, and University programs (see above). We need to support mining only where it has strong local support and threatens only the most remotely possible environmental harm. Note that “stabilizing” the economy comes from the completion of fiscal reforms I’ve noted, above. I believe there are environmentally benign tourism opportunities that can be developed in rural Alaska. I think this is largely untapped.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
I oppose the Pebble Mine in the strongest terms. I would resign before I would do anything that might support the mine, at least directly. I believe the mine is a threat to the last great commercial salmon fishery in the world. Both the Atlantic and the Pacific used to have great commercial fisheries. They were left unprotected and we know the results. I don’t believe that the mine can be developed without harming the Kvichak and Nushagak drainages. Full stop and period. I also think the mine is inconsistent with the economies that exist in the southwest right now. Finally, in a very good year, mining only brings Alaskans through their state government about $100 million. In 2009, the oil industry brought Alaska 90 times more benefit than that (about $9 billion). Think about that. The wealth from this mine with our paltry 3% gross tax leaves Alaska. I do not trust this mine and don’t see its value to Alaskans.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
I can’t think of any.