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.
Gary Stevens | Republican | Occupation: Retired full professor, University of Alaska | Age: 79 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: Kodiak City Mayor, Borough Mayor, School Board President, 13 years Local Elected Official, 2 years House of Representatives, 18 years Senate, 4 years Senate President, Chair Legislative Council, Chair Education Committee, National President Council of State Governments, Doctor of Philosophy University of Oregon, Army Intelligence Officer, Army Commendation Medal| garystevensalaska.com
Why are you running for office?
There are several issues I have been working on in Education and Fisheries that I would like to see completed. My 20 years of experience in the legislature has given me a perspective few have. I work well with other legislators to accomplish the important things needed during such difficult times. Because of COVID I suspect this will be a shortened session. It is important we hit the ground running, move swiftly through the budget process, and keep legislation to the minimum while protecting legislators and staff from the virus.
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.
Alaska has been fortunate in our low incidence and our response to the pandemic. K12 and the University have adapted responsibly. We much concentrate on jobs and bringing our economy back safely while maintaining support for unemployed workers. The Legislature did its job in moving Federal Funds to the Administration. We now must make sure they are distributed quickly while avoiding fraud
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
Opening our economy as quickly as possible while maintaining public health means assisting local businesses in reopening and recovery. The Federal Government has been generous, but the state has a responsibility as well. We have to ramp up our loan programs to assist the businesses we can. This includes fishermen and processors who we depend upon to maintain a strong economy.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
In fisheries we need to be competitive on the world stage. I will continue to push my bill, SB 130, on Added Value for the industry. Tax credits would allow processors to purchase new equipment and product lines to increase the value of Pollock and Cod. We need to maintain the Marine Highway System. Undoubtedly it will be smaller with fewer ships and voyages but it is essential service be dependable and maintained. In Education we have work to do on bills I introduced to insure students receive collage credit while in high school and bring tribal entities into the K12 system.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
We need an honest discussion on revenues for the long term. A high PFD, full services such as education, police, and social services with no public support like sales of income tax is not possible. That is unrealistic and those candidates who say we can have it all, simply do not know the facts. Our savings are virtually gone. It is past time to have a serous dialogue about the services you want and the revenues you are willing to contribute.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
The Permanent Fund is one of the greatest things Alaska has. We cannot overdraw it beyond 5% of Market Value or in a few years we will damage the fund to the point there will no longer be a Dividend. We must continue to inflation proof the Fund if we expect it to be around to benefit our children and grandchildren.
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 support reducing our budget further. Nothing can be off the table, including our largest items, health and social services and education. I believe there are substantial savings than can be accrued through tightening up social services with a goal of a 5% cut.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
We need to get better at on line teaching. Teachers need better training. Students need more help. The infrastructure needs to be updated. All students should be provided laptop computers.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
The University if an economic driver. All students including adults deserve access to Higher Education programs in vocational and academic training. Our future depends on it. The University has responded effectively to the cuts they have received. We should not cut further or we will have negative impact.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
Sexual assault and domestic violence are crimes that must be fully prosecuted. Victims must be protected, will all the help needed. Perpetrators deserve harsh punishment but while in prison should be provided counseling and education.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
Alaska’s economy is in tatters. We have a bright future in tourism, fisheries, mining and oil. While keeping people safe from COVID we must open our economy as soon as possible, safely, by encouraging value added products in fisheries, supporting our tourist industry, encouraging out of state visitors, avoiding unnecessary restrictions on mining, an maintaining relationships with our oil industry to ensure jobs and production.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
We cannot give up one resource for another. I am extremely concerned about Pebble. A major miscalculation or discharge could have enormous repercussions on our salmon industry, on the lives of thousands of fishermen and processors, and would be particularly devastating to Native culture. Enormous caution must be taken.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
The biggest issue this session will be the budget. When the Governor attempted to cut K12 by 25% and eliminate the Marine Highway, the people of my district were distraught. We need an honest discussion on the budget with answers that work and are mathematically possible. I urge voters to question anyone attempting to buy their vote by making promises they cannot keep.