Alaska Legislature

Alaska Gov. Dunleavy emphasizes GOP education plan and resource development in State of the State address

JUNEAU — Republican Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Tuesday delivered his sixth annual address to the Legislature, urging Alaskans to say “yes” to more resource development and population growth.

Legislators who watched the governor’s State of the State address focused on his support for a House education package loaded with GOP priorities, and on his calls for lawmakers to address a looming energy crisis in the Railbelt.

The governor spoke about successes in hiring more village public safety officers and tragedy when honoring Wrangell Mayor Patty Gilbert after a November landslide killed six in Wrangell.

During his 50-minute address, Dunleavy riffed on Alaska’s “inspirational” state motto “North to the Future” and his belief that forces outside and inside Alaska have worked to curtail resource development and economic growth.

“Unless we change this attitude, ‘North to the Future’ will become ‘no’ to the future,” Dunleavy said.

After Dunleavy’s address, Wasilla Republican House Speaker Cathy Tilton applauded the governor for being “enthusiastic about Alaska, and for really pushing our state motto.”

Kodiak Republican Senate President Gary Stevens said he appreciated the governor’s willingness to articulate his vision for Alaska, but that there would be some policy disagreements with the bipartisan Senate majority.


House Minority Leader Rep. Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent, said the address had been “aspirational” in parts, but he said the governor had “really missed the mark” when it came to laying out solutions for public school education and the state’s fiscal situation long-term.

Dunleavy’s budget proposal unveiled in December came with a full statutory Permanent Fund dividend at approximately $3,400 per eligible Alaskan and a roughly $1 billion deficit. The governor pledged on Tuesday to “fight” for the PFD, but did not explain how a $3,400 dividend should be paid for.

There was only one new measure that Dunleavy previewed Tuesday, which would reduce tariffs across Southcentral Alaska’s electrical grid. Sen. Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, has been working on a similar bill that could help lower costs to deliver power.

The governor’s address was originally scheduled to take place Monday but was postponed by a day after weather-related flight delays in Juneau caused heads of state departments and most of Dunleavy’s guests to arrive late.

‘Drumbeat for more money’

As legislators grapple with how to tackle a public school funding crisis and improve Alaska’s bottom-of-the-nation assessment scores, Dunleavy reiterated his support Tuesday for provisions in a stalled House education package that include plans to establish more charter schools and give bonuses to teachers.

Since Alaska ranked at the top of a new state-by-state charter school assessment last year, Dunleavy has touted establishing new charter schools as a way to improve student outcomes.

“This fact should be a cause for celebration. Every educator, every administrator and every school board member in Alaska should be embracing the opportunity to learn from what’s proving successful,” he said on Tuesday.

The governor proposed a $58 million measure last year to pay bonuses to teachers, ranging from $5,000 in urban Alaska to $15,000 in rural Alaska. Dunleavy said on Tuesday that bonuses would help get funding directly into classrooms, over objections from the teachers union that other education staff, like guidance counselors, also need a salary boost.

The Legislature’s attorneys have warned that those bonuses could violate teachers’ collective bargaining agreements.

The governor said last week that he would veto a standalone bill that simply increases the Base Student Allocation — the state’s per-student funding formula — if that isn’t part of a broader package. During his address, he reiterated that message to legislators.

“For far too long, the drumbeat for more money in the BSA has drowned out nearly every other conversation,” Dunleavy said Tuesday.

Lawmakers were divided along familiar lines regarding the governor’s statements on education.

Eagle River Republican Rep. Jamie Allard, a co-chair of the House Education Committee, said she was “encouraged” by the governor’s approach and said she fully agreed that lawmakers need “to stop talking about the money” and instead focus on improving outcomes.

“If you look at the public charter schools, and you see how successful they are, there’s no reason why the neighborhood brick-and-mortar schools can’t be the same,” she said.

Anchorage Democrat Sen. Bill Wielechowski said the BSA has not been significantly increased in seven years, which has meant labor, transportation and utility costs have all risen sharply for school administrators.

“That’s how we fund education in this state. That’s the fundamental way,” he said in support of substantially boosting the BSA, the Senate majority caucus’ No. 1 stated legislative priority this year.

‘Sovereign suicide’

Dunleavy started his second term last year by telling the Legislature that he wanted to make Alaska the nation’s “most pro-life state.” But he then offered no new measures to curtail abortion in Alaska, which is protected through the state constitution’s privacy clause.


Instead, Dunleavy successfully backed a measure last year to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers, and he announced a task force to study how to make child care in Alaska more affordable and accessible.

The child care task force is set to release its final recommendations in June after child care advocates said in December that substantial new state funding is needed for a sector in crisis. Dunleavy made only passing references on Tuesday to child care.

Data released in January by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development showed that Alaska’s working-age population had declined for the 11th straight year.

During Tuesday’s address, Dunleavy again spoke broadly in support of pro-life policies to encourage more people to have families in Alaska. He said a larger population in Alaska would help boost the state’s economy, and that believing the opposite was “basically sovereign suicide.”

“We’ve seen the results of their efforts over the past 50 years to discourage people from having families, and more recently to restrict and control people through social engineering,” Dunleavy said.

Legislators across the political spectrum on Tuesday said they did not understand what message the governor was attempting to convey with those comments.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at