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Governor Dunleavy talks with KTVF/KXDF about the issues facing Alaska

On Thursday, July 23, Governor Mike Dunleavy discussed the issues facing Alaska with KTVF/KXDF.
On Thursday, July 23, Governor Mike Dunleavy discussed the issues facing Alaska with KTVF/KXDF.(Alex Bengel/KTVF)
Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 8:23 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Governor Mike Dunleavy visited Fairbanks last week to meet with his cabinet and discuss the post-pandemic economy with local businesses.

On Thursday, July 23, Governor Dunleavy discussed the issues facing Alaska with KTVF/KXDF.

Topics included the impact COVID-19 has had on the labor situation in Alaska. “Although a number of restaurants, for example, could do a lot more business, they’re constrained by the labor market. They’re not getting enough people to want to work right now, for various reasons, and we’re trying to dive into that to find out what the reason is, if this is a short-term phenomenon, is this something that’s going to be mid-term, or was there really a cultural shift? Because this is going to have potential ramifications going well into the future. So sitting down and listening to folks who actually own businesses, what their trials are, and the tribulations, the fallout from COVID, is really important,” the Governor said.

Dunleavy said he has never seen anything like the current worker shortage during his career in government. “I don’t think anyone has,” he said, adding “The pandemic caused a lot of quick changes to the way business is conducted. There was a lot of remote work. A number of folks decided that they didn’t want to be engaged in an office situation, or they had to stay home. A parent may have had to stay home to help educate their kids because schools were shut down, and businesses grew up that catered to folks staying at home, whether it’s delivering food right to the door, Zoom or like-communications really changed things. The question is, we’re trying to find out was that a short-term change because of the pandemic and things will get back to normal in the next year or so? Were there some shifts that may never return that will have impacts on the economy and thus discussions for the workforce and what employers are going to look for?”

Dunleavy explained that other governors with whom he’s had discussions have seen similar developments around the country.

Starting this month, the Alaska Legislature has formed a Fiscal Policy Working Group in the hope of developing a sustainable plan for the state’s future. Governor Dunleavy has been in communication with the group’s leaders. “Everyone wants a permanent, sustainable fiscal approach in Alaska.”

The Governor explained, “As we know, especially the last several years, the history of oil is up-down, up-down, which doesn’t lend itself well to a sustainable, predictable revenue flow for government, and so we always knew that the Permanent Fund would play a role in assisting with filling up some of the revenues. The question is what is the role of the PFD (Permanent Fund Dividend)? And that’s where a lot of us are having these discussions. There are some of us who believe the PFD was set up as a safeguard to protect the Permanent Fund as well as give people of Alaska a ‘piece of the action’ when it comes to royalties, because as we know Alaskans can’t own the mineral resources under their feet; and there’s others that believe that it was really set up for government, and government only. So we’re trying to come up with a way that we can possibly bridge that gap so that we can move forward, because I think once we get this out of the way, there’s going to be tremendous opportunities for Alaska.”

The governor hopes to see a resolution on the PFD issue come out of the legislature’s August Special Session. He said if the details can be worked out, it will open up many possibilities. “Investments, improving our educational outcomes, making sure we’re the safest state in the country, having a fantastic university, et cetera... so it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with. I hope it’s dealt with here in August. I think most people want it to be dealt with sooner than later, so again I’ll be optimistic and we’ll see what happens.”

Dunleavy said once the PFD issue is tackled, the budget will be next. “We would have those discussions as to what we really want this budget to look like in terms of growth and why. You have an operating budget. You have a mental health budget. You have capital budget. Capital budgets have been kind of anemic the last couple years, just because of the shortfall in revenue; but again, we’re a new state, we have to build out Alaska, and we would foresee that we would like to see some robust capital budgets going forward.”

The Governor acknowledged the importance of companies that generate revenue, from Mom and Pop Shops to large corporations. “We’re glad they’re here. They help produce revenue. They help create jobs. But really the backbone is going to be the Mom-and-Pop operations, and the pandemic has really hit them hard in ways that nobody could have ever foreseen.”

Before entering politics, Governor Dunleavy worked as a teacher, principal and superintendent. He also served on the School Board for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

“What we really need more than anything now, in my opinion, is for kids, students to be able to think on their own, think critically, ask the needed questions, don’t necessarily follow the herd or agree with everything - and by doing that, you don’t just scratch the surface on things, but you dig deeper and you get kids armed with the approach to life that everything should be looked at, everything should be examined with an eye on improving things, whether in sciences, in math, and so forth going forward,” Dunleavy said.

The governor thinks the university system in Alaska is valuable for that purpose. “We hit a couple tough years because of fiscals, budgeting, revenue; but the issues that the world is grappling with, especially the arctic, especially in Alaska, especially on the Pacific, the university can play an absolutely crucial role in researching those issues, coming up with ideas on how to solve some of these issues going forward.”

According to Dunleavy, his administration and the universities want the same thing. “They want a great, world-class university that, again, solves some of the issues that are facing us, and is able to educate students that wish to be educated with the knowledge that their research finds - so I see the university playing a critical role going forward for the state of Alaska.”

The governor thinks Alaska has been blessed by its location in the world and by its natural resources. “The issue has always been man-made policies, policies from Washington, policies internally, outside groups trying to dictate the future of Alaska. These are all man-made issues - but the need for our minerals, the need for our rare earths and our other resources, are not only going to be there, there’s going to be more demand. As we look at a ‘new economy’ based upon renewables and different types of energy, there’s tremendous opportunity for Alaska.”

Dunleavy said that mining of resources in Alaska makes sense for jobs, national security and environmentalism. “If you do it here, where it’s being scrutinized, you have a better chance of saving the environment not just here, but overseas. If you push it overseas where it can’t be scrutinized, we’ve seen examples where the environment is actually wrecked by resource development not done the right way like we do here in Alaska. So I think the opportunities are tremendous. I just hope we can get the groups and the individuals to understand that it’s better off being done here for a whole host of reasons than over there for a whole host of reasons.”

The governor also sees great potential for tide, wind, solar and biomass energy in Alaska.

At a time where distrust of journalism and the media is on the rise, and terms like ‘fake news’ dominate the headlines, the governor gave his opinion about the place of journalism in American society. Dunleavy views journalism as an issue that, in recent times, is being questioned. “I think Journalism has a responsibility, just like politicians have a responsibility, to inform the people of their locale, city, town, state, country, what are really the facts?”

According to the Governor, “There’s journalism, which tells a story, but there’s also news reporting, which is supposed to report, quote, ‘the news.’ I would say that, just like any other profession, there needs to be an element of integrity where when you’re looking in the camera, or you’re writing on a piece of paper, you’ve got to do a gut check, and quite honestly an ethics check. All of us do. Is what we’re conveying to the people accurate? Is what we’re conveying to the people honest? Is what we’re conveying to the people facts and figures, and are they going to be allowed to make up their own mind?”

Dunleavy has seen a change in the journalism profession. “I have journalists themselves that tell me, quite often, that there has been a drift in the concept of journalism, that when they went into college and they wanted to be a journalist, they didn’t realize that there may be those above them that want to write the storyline a little different for a purpose. The purpose should always be informing, not propagandizing.”

The Governor attributes that shift to economic incentives. “We have to seriously tap into a whole host of, quote, ‘news or information’ outlets to try and triangulate to see what really is. The old days, when I was a kid, there was three TV stations: ABC, NBC, CBS. Everyone knows about Walter Cronkite, etc, etc. But what’s caused this shift, or at least the belief that there’s been a shift? I think it’s a competitive market. I think it’s become a business, and I think the businesses that journalists work for, I think there’s a lot of pressure to sell a newspaper, to try and figure out what people want to hear.”

But according to Dunleavy, there’s hope for the future, and for drawing a distinction between reliable news and tabloid journalism. “There’ll be those that, I think, over time, will shake out as real news, that if you want the real news, you’ll go here,” he said, adding, “It’s my hope that they don’t pretend to be each other, that news is news, and that other stuff ends up being that other stuff. I think that’s how it’s going to shake out.”

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