The Trail

Dunleavy, Begich debate mental health services, the budget and air quality in Fairbanks

NOTE: KTUU Channel 2 and Alaska Public Media (Channel 7 or 91.1 FM in Anchorage) will host a debate between candidates for governor Mark Begich and Mike Dunleavy at 7 p.m. Thursday.


Republican candidate for governor Mike Dunleavy teased on Wednesday that something "interesting" is just around the corner in the Alaska governor's race.

"Get ready, because I think you're going to see some pretty interesting advertisement going on in the next couple of days," he told a room full of members of the business community at a debate in Fairbanks. It was hosted by the Alaska Chamber and the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.

The hourlong debate was the second one in which Dunleavy has gone head-to-head with Democratic challenger Mark Begich since Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, suspended his campaign for re-election last week.

The two talked about mental health services in Alaska, the state capital budget, air quality issues in Fairbanks, and more.

One of the first questions was about how the candidates would work to balance the state budget in December when one of them inherits it from the Walker administration.


Begich said his goal would be to get through the first year in order to deal with a longer-term plan.

"There may be utilization of some of those constitutional budget reserves just to plug it while we're figuring this out," he said. "But the real issue is the budget in 2020. That has to be a sustainable budget, not utilizing one-time money in savings accounts, because if you do that, we will pay the price down the road."

[With Begich the only candidate planning to attend, a traditional Kodiak debate on fisheries is canceled]

Dunleavy cited oil prices and prioritizing spending on specific areas.

"If oil holds in the $70 range, $75 range — which is not something we want to bank on long-term, of course — we're looking at about $3.1 billion in addition revenue," he said.

Dunleavy would prioritize spending on public safety, education, transportation, and management of natural resources, he said.

"Some of the other things will have to be up for negotiation," he said. "If we need to, we'll use some of the savings out of the constitutional budget reserve, statutory budget reserve, but I can tell you this: during this year and then going into the summer, we're going to take this budget apart, piece by piece."

Later in the debate, moderator and Alaska Journal of Commerce managing editor Andrew Jensen asked the candidates whether President Donald Trump's administration has been good or bad for Alaska.

"I think he's actually doing a pretty good when it comes to these policies on resource development and regulations," Dunleavy said.

Begich said there has been "some good and some bad." The Trump administration launching the process to lease the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling is a "great move" for Alaskans, Begich said.

"From the flip side, the issue on the tax bill — now, I will personally benefit from the tax bill," Begich said. "But the reality is, the deficit in this country is up to $1 trillion a year now … we pay the price when there's a deficit that high."

In a rapid-fire portion of the debate, the candidates had to hold up a sign that said either "yes" or "no" in response to whether they would support various types of taxes. Here's how they answered on those:

— Income tax: Begich said yes, Dunleavy said no.

— Payroll tax: Both said no.

— Sales tax: Dunleavy said no. Begich said yes, adding "depends if it's seasonal."

— Increased taxes on the oil industry: Both said no.

— Increase in the motor fuel tax: Both said no.


— Increase in the mining tax: Both said no.

–Increase in the fishing tax: Both said no.

To close out the debate, Jensen asked, in the spirit of the Halloween season: "If there was a costume that would best describe your campaign, what would it be?"

Begich cited an ad for Dos Equis beer.

"You know that commercial, 'most interesting man'?" he said, to laughs from the audience. "I'd say this campaign is the most interesting campaign I've ever seen."

Dunleavy said Begich "would be good as Dracula, sucking the life-blood from Alaska," sparking some applause. For his own answer, Dunleavy said he would be "just an honest broker. I think that'd probably surprise the heck out of folks coming out of Juneau."

Annie Zak

Annie Zak was a business reporter for the ADN between 2015 and 2019.