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.
SHELLEY HUGHES | Republican | Occupation: Project Consultant / senator | Age: 62 | Residence: Palmer | Relevant experience or prior offices held: House 2012-2016; Senate 2017-present| AlaskansforHughes.com
Why are you running for office?
Solution-focused consensus builder who wants Alaska to once again be the great land of opportunity for this and the next generation.
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.
Considering we were treading in unknown territory, early precautions and urging best practices made sense. DHSS did a good job tracking and reporting data, but serious constitutional questions remain re: the extent and duration of the mandates. Government should not pick winners and losers. Checks on the executive powers need to be instituted.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
First, kudos to municipalities that targeted the bulk of COVID funds to private sector to minimize economic damage rather than to government programs. The state did and should suspend more regulatory requirements fro reduce business costs. If there ever were a time for a more adequate PFD, this is it. Propping up the public sector rather than stimulating the private sector results in an economic drain in the longterm and should be avoided.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
Life/safety road projects have been focus and are progressing (although never fast enough based on our explosive growth), so I’ll pivot to 1.) the need for economic diversification to create more and better jobs, and 2.) the need to prepare youth for productive lives via an accountable education system and an accountable treatment/rehabilitation safety net for those who’ve been off course. I have been championing the private sector Alaska-Alberta rail project as key to #1 for our port and others in state.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
Our operating budget is disproportional to our small population and economic output; it is therefore unaffordable and unsustainable. Proposals:
- Fix spending cap in constitution
- Establish independent sunset audit commission to provide glidepath
- Use $2 billion tucked in various funds to assist in glidepath
- Divert some of $400 million in annual petroleum property taxes to state.
If gap remains, economists recommend a sales tax with exclusions as the least disruptive to economy, the least apt to cause outmigration of productive residents, the least amount out of Alaskans' wallets, and the most out of nonresidents' wallets.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
The issue should be settled in constitution, including inflation-proofing, for fiscal planning sake and to allow focus on other pressing issues. Split must be fair to be settled; otherwise, it won’t have the people’s support. Educate Alaskans: resource development equates to growing Fund. Grow Fund to $100 billion & beyond.
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?
See above re: sunset audit commission. More than $2 billion is going to healthcare providers and to school districts. Stricter Medicaid enrollment, work requirements, aligning rates with other states, and eliminating some optional services would save several hundred million. Districts spend half their budgets on administration, much due to healthcare costs. If small districts consolidated administrative services and if all districts pooled with state employees to lower health costs, that would result in another substantial amount of savings.
We also need to be honest about the PF earnings. When we say the ERA is going down to $5.5 billion from $10.3 billion when obligations are subtracted, we have to also say that $5 billion was just transferred out of the ERA to the corpus on July 1 as extra inflation proofing, and we have to say that in 2019, the fund grew by $4.1 billion and in 2020, it grew by $3.1 billion.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
We’re toward top of heap in per student spending yet at bottom in statewide scores. We’ve got a problem with accountability and results. We are failing our children and it is wrong. It’s time for education transformation.
- Students must master objectives to promote to next grade.
- Students should read by age 9.
- Direct dollars away into classroom (we have worst spending ratio of classroom instruction to administration of 50 states).
- Regionally consolidate administrative functions.
- Increase superb quality, interactive virtual options (not a screen babysitting a student)
- School formula should reward teachers who improve student mastery.
Education is only the great equalizer if students actually master the material. If we’re brave enough to restructure education, we will open doors for our students that will not be open otherwise.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
Merge where we can. Focus on programs that make sense for Alaska (those that are in demand or relate to Arctic and wouldn’t make sense elsewhere). Fewer but more superb programs would be better than many subpar programs and would draw students from outside as well as keep more of our best and brightest in state. Importantly, this would increase the university’s credibility and standing, and thus its ability to draw research dollars and alumni giving.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
Prior to being stripped of Judiciary chairmanship due to abusive binding rule and being denied hiring a former prosecutor as an aide by Senate President, I planned a review of sexual crime and human trafficking statutes. Without the staff and resources, I was unable to conduct this work. It still needs to be done by next Judiciary Committees. I do not support defunding the police and will work to ensure they have the resources they need.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
- Decrease regulatory and tax burdens
- Ensure youth are prepared to be productive contributors (not dependents on agency programs)
- Promote innovation, entrepreneurs, and emerging technologies
- Improve and build needed infrastructure
- Promote investment to increase NS development and production
- Support increased responsible resource development
- Leverage Arctic, northern global position
- Champion Alaska-Alberta rail line (private sector endeavor)
- Tackle high health care costs
- Settle PFD issue so regular, annual cycle
- Ensure size and cost of operating budget is not disproportionate to economic output
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
With emerging technologies, if science demonstrates fish will be jeopardized, then no. If opposite, then yes.