Last week, I shared with you my vision for the Last Frontier – an agenda that highlights the priorities of Alaskans from Kotzebue to Ketchikan. It’s time to examine the way things have always been done. It’s time to leave behind the “that-won’t-work-in-Alaska” crowd.
True to that mantra, this year’s agenda is packed with bipartisan solutions, proposed and developed by Alaskans I’ve spoken to this past year. If you haven’t had a chance to watch this year’s State of the State Address, please allow me to share that vision with you now.
Last year was a watershed moment for Alaska.
We addressed the crime wave that held our communities hostage by enacting comprehensive criminal justice reform and removing violent criminals and sexual predators from our communities.
With innovative solutions like the Alaska Development Team, we grew Alaska’s economy while working together to end the longest recession in Alaska’s history. We now enjoy the lowest unemployment rate in state history, our wages are the highest in a decade, and our state’s GDP growth is among the fastest in the nation.
But it’s time to look to the future.
I share Alaskans’ concern regarding the future of the Permanent Fund dividend. That’s why I’m excited to introduce a uniquely Alaskan solution in the form of land voucher payments. We live in a state where only one percent of our land is privately owned. Let’s give Alaskans their own slice of Alaska while improving our state’s financial outlook.
This is just one example of how we can make government work better for everyday Alaskans while bringing spending in line with our revenue.
Creative solutions are being implemented all across my administration. A newly formed data analytics team has already tracked down $4.7 million in questionable expenses and unauthorized travel across 2018 and 2019; a bill to create a brand-new Alaska Inspector General post will promote accountability, integrity, and efficiency, and a brand new state lottery will allow Alaskans to contribute to our state’s financial future in a new way.
For hardworking Alaskans and those who wish to join our recovering economy, I’ve announced legislation to streamline professional licensing and add Alaska to the interstate nursing compact. These are bipartisan bills that will help grow our economy, address healthcare shortages, and aid military families as they transition to our state.
Speaking of those who defend our nation, the Heroes Act will provide our servicemembers with a pathway to free college education, while the Department of Fish and Game has been tasked with researching ways to improve fishing and hunting access for our wounded warriors.
More than ever, this year’s spotlight is on people and outcomes, and nowhere are outcomes more important than our schools. As a teacher by trade, I’m proud to stand behind the Alaska Reads Act. Early identification of struggling students, reading interventions, and early education programs represent an excellent first step towards addressing our reading crisis. Combined with a new focus on tribal compacting, I can’t wait to see the progress we make.
Finally, we must address our fiscal future. Last year’s budget reductions were made in response to a sudden $2 billion downturn in revenue precipitated by the collapse of oil prices. While necessary, they took the oxygen out of the room, so to speak. Critical elements of a long-term solution were left on the table.
This year, I’ve proposed a flat budget to give us time and breathing room. But solutions must be taken up this year. The legislature was elected to act, and together we must focus on a sustainable path forward.
Part of that solution is expanding our economy beyond oil. We are a state with 32 of the 35 critical minerals on earth, the greatest fisheries and forests in North America, and more renewable energy potential than anywhere else on the planet. We can diversify our economy, create wealth and jobs, all while protecting Alaska’s 365 million acres of unmatched beauty.
Like Alaska, the year ahead is full of both obstacles and opportunity, but I know we are up to the task because we are a state and people like no other. We are Alaska.
When we’re faced with monumental challenges, be it fires, earthquakes, or floods, we figure out a way to work together. And by working together, we can show the world that “North to the future” is not just a motto, it’s who we are and how we live.
Having been given this one moment in time to do what’s best for Alaska, it’s up to us to make it count.