Last week, I introduced a budget containing a $5 billion recovery package to get Alaska back on its feet. There is no doubt we are facing a once-in-a-generation challenge. With 40,000 Alaskans on unemployment and 90,000 having received assistance this year, we are in unprecedented territory. Our three top industries – oil, seafood, and tourism – are recovering from devastating blows.
We must act decisively. We must chart a path forward.
Thankfully, we have the tools to ease the suffering of our fellow Alaskans. Over the past decade, the Permanent Fund has grown by an enormous $39 billion. In fact, the fund’s value has increased by over $11 billion in the past eight months alone.
I am proposing we utilize just over half of this year’s growth to address the 100-year crisis before us. This will allow for distribution of the remaining portion of the 2020 PFD along with a full PFD in 2021, providing nearly $5,000 in relief to every qualified Alaskan.
Hundreds of thousands of Alaskans have been impacted by layoffs and reduced hours. Families have delayed trips to the dentist and medical care; they are behind on house payments and putting groceries on their credit cards. This short-term relief is desperately needed and could begin as soon as March.
Secondly, I have developed the framework for a $350 million bond package that I believe will put Alaskans back to work in the mid-term. This bond package will target roads to resources, renewable energy production, and critical infrastructure production. Separately, this year’s substantial capital budget will provide $1.4 billion for badly needed construction and maintenance at a cost to the State of only $59 million.
I want to be clear that a bond package is not something I suggest lightly, but with interest rates below 2.5% and no state bond sales in the past 10 years, I believe this is a prudent and fiscally responsible relief measure. Of course, the final decision will be yours. A bond sale will require a special election this spring where Alaskans will decide for themselves to accept or reject this issuance. Whatever the outcome may be, I will respect the will of Alaskans.
We must also maintain our focus on addressing Alaska’s fiscal challenges. While this year’s budget is unique in that we are required to address an economic emergency on a scale not seen since the Great Depression, taking extra funds from the Permanent Fund’s Earnings Reserve account is a one-time solution. To that end, I am introducing a set of constitutional amendments that will move Alaska toward a sustainable fiscal future.
The first is a permanent fix for the Permanent Fund. The dividend debate must be settled this year. My amendment will protect Alaskans by guaranteeing the dividend and preventing any changes to the dividend formula without a vote of the people. As for the formula, I am proposing a 50-50 split between Alaskans and government spending. This is considerably higher than recent dividends while acknowledging the reality that our state can no longer be funded solely by oil.
As I have promised many times before, any changes to the dividend must receive your support and approval. I have asked the Legislature to include a question on the ballot for the bond package asking if Alaskans agree with this proposed change. This will ensure that your voice is heard well before you are asked to ratify the constitutional amendment.
The final two amendments will complement these efforts by fixing the existing spending cap that Alaskans already approved decades ago, and by ensuring that any new tax proposal is put before the voters of Alaska. When combined with this year’s spending reductions, which amount to $500 million since FY19, I believe this is a budget approach that upholds my commitment to restoring Alaska’s fiscal footing.
I have great hope for Alaska’s future. With the first shipment of vaccines arriving last Monday, the end of the pandemic is in sight. Alaska, thanks to our strategic location and abundant natural resources, has advantages most nations can only dream of. With the prospect of a transcontinental railroad, access to unlimited tidal, hydro, and geothermal power, and new industries like mariculture springing up, I genuinely believe we can lead our nation “North to the Future.”
This is a budget that recognizes the need to dream big and grow our economy again. By providing relief to individual Alaskans, jump starting our economy with a healthy capital budget, and making the tough decisions required to reduce spending and secure our future, we can come out of this pandemic stronger.
I stand ready to work with the Legislature and all Alaskans as we move forward together.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy
More respect for Your Hometown University, please
This past weekend, I “presided” over the University of Alaska Anchorage’s fall 2020 graduate hooding and commencement ceremonies that occurred on Dec. 12 and 13. More than 1,000 students earned degrees or credentials. I put “presided” in quotes because this year is not normal in any sense of the word. The state is using the Alaska Airlines Center (AAC), where we hold our commencement ceremony, as a temporary outpatient infusion center for COVID-19 patients.
Normally we would welcome our graduates, their families and close friends to the AAC by the thousands for a joyous in-person celebration. Instead, this year, we celebrated with mailed diploma tubes and a dynamic website featuring pre-recorded speeches, confetti and a scrolling list of our graduates – a COVID-19-era ceremony that could be experienced safely at home. Similar virtual events occurred at UAA’s community campuses spread throughout Southcentral Alaska.
It’s still a happy occasion for me as I reflect on the number of lives we impact and transform at UAA. As I prepare to move on to another university, it is also a good time to reflect on my sadness that your Hometown University is often misunderstood and underappreciated by its own community. Our leadership team, faculty, staff, student leaders and alumni have worked hard over the past couple years to begin to change that perception by pointing out the myriad ways UAA contributes to its community and state, including the contributions of our faculty in Alaska’s COVID-19 response.
UAA faculty stepped up to respond to the pandemic in many ways, including developing predictive models to track infection rates and intensive care unit utilization. They have also trained hundreds of contact tracers to serve the region and the state. I would proudly and confidently stack UAA up against any other open-access, urban-metropolitan university in the United States. UAA is THAT good.
Our students come from all walks of life and reflect the diversity of the surrounding communities and the state as a whole. Eighteen percent of students come from the military community. Over 80% of students work while earning their degree, and many even work full-time despite rigorous course loads. The fall 2020 student commencement speaker Jamie Bagley and graduate hooding ceremony speaker Naidene Baechler are excellent examples of the graduates UAA consistently produces.
Bagley aspires to be a veterinarian. While studying biological sciences at UAA, she worked part time at a local veterinary clinic, gaining valuable, hands-on experience while applying to graduate veterinary programs. She has been active in UAA student government serving in various roles as vice president, president and speaker of the assembly.
Baechler is a shining example of UAA graduates who contribute broadly to Alaska’s communities. She began her career as a program supervisor for the Knik Tribal Council (KTC) just one week after completing her Master of Social Work this past May. KTC knew of Baechler’s skill, talents and capabilities thanks to an internship experience required by her master’s program. Because the timing of the pandemic prevented a virtual graduate hooding ceremony last spring, she and other May graduates were invited to participate in this fall’s event.
Earlier this year, the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States named Baechler one of three Arctic Indigenous Scholars for 2020. The honor is awarded to individuals who are experts in their own Indigenous knowledge systems. Scholars have the opportunity to share that expertise by meeting with federal policymakers to discuss pressing social, political and environmental issues important to their communities.
Although UAA has had its challenges, including a 30% reduction to our base state funding over the past eight years, we remain remarkably strong and resilient. While this fiscal reality led to many difficult decisions, we’re focusing our resources on programs and activities that are in demand while making necessary changes to operate more efficiently and cope with a global pandemic.
In spite of all this, we remain deeply connected to our hometown — nearly 40% of Anchorage residents are affiliated with UAA in some way, whether as an alum, as a current student or as an employer or family member of a UAA grad. These individuals contribute meaningfully throughout the community and deserve your recognition and pride on graduation day — and every day. There is little doubt Anchorage would be a far different place were it not for your Hometown University.
Cathy Sandeen, Outgoing Chancellor
University of Alaska Anchorage
Incoming President, California State University
Alaska Tribal Sovereignty Services – Strengthening Self-Determination Today for Future Generations
Dear Tribal community members, Tribal Council Members, Tribally-affiliated organizations, city governments, and village corporations:
My name is Rita Asgeirsson (Yup’ik), CEO of Alaska Tribal Sovereignty Services (AK Tribal), whose mission is to aid Tribes, Tribal communities, organizations (city governments, village corporations, etc.) and People in exercising Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Determination to meet the needs of their communities today and for future generations.
The team at AK Tribal includes Peter Boome (Upper Skagit Tribe), an experienced attorney, who has worked with numerous Tribes, Tribal courts, federal courts, and on numerous legal issues within Indian Country; and Ramsey Seweingyawma (Navajo), Geospatial Engineer, experienced in geographic information system and other technologies creating useful tools such as interactive maps and land use plans.
As an Alaskan Tribal member who has worked for numerous Tribes and Tribal organizations in Alaska and Washington for 25+ years, I understand the challenges our communities face, and strategic actions Tribes and Tribal people can implement, moving toward stronger communities.
Alaska Tribal Sovereignty Services include, but are not limited to:
•Tribal Self-Governance Compact Development
Compacts between the Department of Interior and Tribes help to uphold Trust Responsibility of the federal government to Tribes. We see trust responsibility upheld by IHS services and various federal dollars set aside for Tribes.
Tribes can enter compact agreements for federal dollars that can be used for Tribal self-governance. These are multi-year compacts which guarantee funds to Tribes annually.
•Community & Economic Development
Determining how to meet community infrastructure needs, while creating jobs that provide living wages for our families is important.
Identifying community and cultural priorities is key to developing community & economy. Every Tribe has strengths and resources – human, cultural, environmental. The origin of economy comes from families and place. Taking care of our families is the goal of community & economic development.
Developing 5, 10, 20 year goals and how to accomplish them through action milestones is key to maintaining healthy communities.
Strategic planning involves identification of community values, Strengths – Weaknesses – Threats – Opportunities, community voice, regional and Tribal economic standing, and a plan for appropriate action goals over a period of time.
•Natural Resource Management
Tribes are connected to an array of natural resource groups. With strategic planning, Tribes can move beyond Tribal Consultation and take active roles in the management of their Natural Resources.
Tribes have authority over their people and homelands, including natural resources. Taking this to the next level means assuming responsibility by asserting Self-Determination and Trust Responsibility.
•Tribal Territory Map Development
Traditional Territory Maps are so important for all aspects of Tribal governance. Identifying territory helps strengthen a Tribe’s role in natural resource management and their “seat at the table,” with States and the Federal government.
Inherent Rights is one powerful tenet of Tribal Sovereignty, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court multiple times. Exercising Inherent Rights such as fishing, hunting, gathering, and ceremony is one way of identifying the natural land and water base of Tribes.
•Access to Native American Legal Aid
With the ever-changing atmosphere of Indian Country, Tribes need professional legal aid to uphold Trust Responsibility, Tribal Sovereignty, and Self-Determination.
Whether you need help on a specific topic of concern, or would like help organizing Tribal Court, Alaska Tribal Sovereignty Services can connect you to lawyers who are Tribal and understand the challenges that Tribal people face when navigating the legal system.
•Funding Opportunity Proposal Development / Grant Writing
Identifying which federal, state, and privately funded resources is one step to meeting community needs. Developing well-written and thorough proposals that are awarded is what Alaska Tribal Sovereignty Services is known for.
Family and Social Services, Village Police and Tribal Justice, Education, Elders, Housing, Environmental, Cultural Preservation, Community Infrastructure, Health, and Economic Development are some areas we are experienced in applying for.
As our Tribal communities navigate through the Covid-19 pandemic, access to basic resources is key to ensuring that Tribes and Tribal communities exercise Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Determination, in addition to asserting Trust Responsibility. This is an area the AK Tribal team fully understands and we know that it makes a difference in improving conditions for all Tribal communities.
You are invited to visit our web page www.aktribal.org and contact Rita directly at [email protected] or (206) 226-9961 phone, for more information.
Our hearts are with you all as we ride out the Covid-19 pandemic. Stay safe and Merry Christmas! Quyana.
Rita Asgeirsson (Yup’ik), CEO
Alaska Tribal Sovereignty Services