Barring more human beings – through increased births and more newly arrived residents – Alaska’s state slogan, “North to the Future,” will never be fulfilled.
This was a key part of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s annual State of the State speech delivered to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Jan. 30 in Juneau.
Dunleavy began his address with a strong appeal for measures that encourage natural resource development. He blasted radical environmental activists and outside groups that want to lock up Alaska’s vast oil, gas and mineral reserves, claiming such voices undermine the state’s economy and ultimately Alaska’s future.
“I came from the working class, and my values are with the working class,” Dunleavy told lawmakers, who recently assembled in Juneau for the legislative session. “Our job is to be the voice of the voiceless.”
Dunleavy said special interest groups simply want to lock up Alaska’s resources and turn it into a “protectionist state.”
Without good paying jobs that can support families and children, Alaska will continue to suffer from a lack of people who are needed in order for the state to flourish, he maintained.
“How do we create opportunities for our kids and our grandkids?” Dunleavy added. “Let’s face it, people will go where there is opportunity.”
He noted that every time oil drilling in ANWR, timber harvests in Tongass or projects like Pebble Mine get killed, there are people who celebrate. That, he claimed, is not what the vast majority of Alaskans want or need to thrive.
“We’re in competition for people,” he said. “We need more people in Alaska.”
While Dunleavy never mentioned the word “abortion,” he did say Alaska needs “pro-life policies” that encourage more families and kids. This, he said, “shouldn’t be controversial.”
As for those who claim that the state’s declining birth rates and a languishing population are a benefit to Alaska, Dunleavy said such developments will eventually spell “suicide” for the state.
On the education front, Dunleavy countered the narrative, long pushed by teachers’ unions, that Alaska needs to increase its Base Student Allocation (the amount of money given to school districts for each enrolled student). Simply pouring more money into district coffers is not the answer, Dunleavy suggested.
“As long as the conversation is only focused on money, it’s difficult to discuss outcomes,” he said, adding that Alaska must put money where it can spark the greatest educational improvements. To that end, Dunleavy called on lawmakers to approve his bill (House Bill 106), which would provide added monetary incentives directly to classroom teachers.
By increasing teacher take-home pay, the investment is more likely to generate improved academic outcomes, Dunleavy suggested.
“We need great teachers,” he said. “We need more teachers.”
Dunleavy later turned his attention to high energy costs for Alaskans, saying he wants to remove electrical tariffs and advance natural gas development to drive down costs.
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On the housing front, the governor said he wants to increase the number of affordable homes as a way to entice more people to Alaska. He proposed creating a mortgage assistance fund for Alaskans who want to purchase their first homes.
Food independence was another major theme of the night with Dunleavy calling on lawmakers to support local farming initiatives such as allocating money to help farmers with feed, expanding power lines in Delta, and establishing loan programs for local agricultural projects. All of this is part of Dunleavy’s focus on helping Alaska become food independent.
He concluded by claiming that he will continue to fight for the annual Permanent Fund Dividend payment for Alaska residents.
“The reason I fight for the PFD is because it is an Alaskan institution and it benefits the working families of Alaska,” he said, adding that as long as he is governor we will “continue fighting for the PFD.”