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Governor Dunleavy at Heritage Foundation: ‘Alaska is America and So Much More’

Gabriella Hoffman
by Gabriella Hoffman Read Profile arrow_right_alt

Yesterday morning, Governor Mike Dunleavy (R-AK) delivered remarks at Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

He discussed balancing Alaska’s budget, ensuring residents get more out of the Permanent Fund, reforming education, fighting crime, and pursuing natural resources development, among many things.

“I took office last December in the midst of a financial meltdown in Alaska,” Dunleavy said.

“After years of inaction, the annual deficit had climbed to $1.6 billion dollars. To put this in perspective…our state spending in Alaska is approximately $4.4 to $4.6 billion, so this is a significant budget deficit.”

He added the state is expected to bring in $2.1 billion in revenue in 2019.

To paint how dire Alaska’s financial state was, Dunleavy noted from 2014 to 2016, “the price of North Slope crude oil plummeted from $110 a barrel to just $30 a barrel.”

Dunleavy added state revenue fell from a peak of $4 billion dollars to just $750 million. As a result of this financial crisis, he added, they had to dip into their oil wealth savings account, the Alaska Permanent Fund, to “keep the lights on in Alaska.”

The Alaska governor largely won over his pledge to raise the state’s Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) that is awarded to Alaska residents annually. The fund is currently valued at $64.1B as of September 30, 2019. Alaska Department of Revenue—Permanent Fund Dividend Division lists the 2019 PFD amount to be  $1,606, which Alaska Daily News described as a sum “delivered to 631,000 Alaskans, most of the state population, and come largely from earnings of the state’s $64 billion fund that for decades has been seeded with income from oil-production revenue.”

For context, the PFD was established in 1976 by a constitutional amendment, Article 9, Section 15. It enumerates a minimum 25% of ” all mineral lease rentals, royalties, royalty sale proceeds, federal mineral revenue sharing payments and bonuses received by the State shall be placed in a permanent fund.” Afterwards, monies collected are overseen by and invested through the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, established in 1980, to ensure the funds are distributed to Alaskans every September.

Governor Dunleavy also noted under former Governor Bill Walker’s mismanagement of the state, Alaska’s GDP fell and it was regarded as the “worst state for business in America.”

“I ran for governor because I, like most Alaskans, believe our state’s decline had to be reversed,” Dunleavy said. “There’s simply no reason for a state this rich in natural resources and pioneering spirit to be considered the worst in anything.”

He highlighted the need for transparency in Alaska’s finances to better shine a light on deception. In fact, one bold move, he said, was cutting state spending by $650 million dollars— considered the first major spending cut of its kind in state history. Dunleavy’s critics predicted doomsday outcomes, but he noted a three-year recession is coming to an end, GDP is increasing, and thousands of new jobs, including those in the private sector, have also been created. He also touted the success of this cut by noting the five percent growth in private sector wages.

“I always tell folks Alaska is America and so much more,” said Dunleavy.

“It’s a place where you can open business, complete with all the benefits and protections of a first-world system of governance, America, yet at the same time have access to vast, untapped natural resources that simply don’t exist outside of the third world.”

The governor mentioned how the “Last Frontier” is home to the largest flake graphite deposit on the planet—a resource currently monopolized by China. In addition, he noted the state boasts mineral endowments of every rare and precious metal, how the state is home to half of the nation’s coal deposits, how the state boasts the largest wild fisheries industry in the nation (61% of all fish landed in U.S.), and how the state comprises one seventh of the U.S.’s timber industry—an industry historically crippled by onerous regulations.

Dunleavy also warned of the “dangers of deficit spending” and blamed both parties for perpetuating this.

He also laid out his four budget priorities as “implementing fiscal discipline, honoring the law, enacting truthful budgeting, and keeping commitments to Alaskans” — which he laid out on December 11th, 2019.

The Last Frontier is the largest state in the union by territory. 61.3% of all land in Alaska (or 223.8 million acres) is managed by the federal government—the largest land tract managed of its kind. Nevada, in comparison, boasts the largest percentage of federal land in an individual U.S. state—at 84.9%.

Dunleavy was elected in a whirlwind contest, after facing incumbent Governor Bill Walker (I) and former Senator Mark Begich (D-AK). The incumbent suspended his campaign in October 2018, therefore creating an opportunity for Dunleavy to win. Dunleavy ultimately defeated Begich 51.4% to 44.4%.

Following his election, Dunleavy said:

“Over these past four years, too many Alaskans have been shut out of the big decisions facing our state – from changes to the Permanent Fund to crime policy to addressing the state’s budget deficit,” Dunleavy said. “Elections remind us that in our system of government the people rule, and today the people made their voices heard.”

In July, a recall effort was launched against Dunleavy over opposition to his cuts to Medicaid and education. Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai, an appointee of Dunleavy’s, vowed she won’t allow the recall effort to proceed.

Despite some opposition, it appears Alaska is getting on track again. Watch Governor Dunleavy’s full remarks here:

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