Dunleavy, Begich spar over crime, budgets and dividend
Mike Dunleavy and Mark Begich agree on very little, except for perhaps two things: Each wants to be governor and each believes the state needs wholesale new public safety legislation that instills public confidence and keeps at-risk offenders off the streets.
Republican nominee Dunleavy and Democratic candidate Begich participated in the final debate of this election season, hosted by KTVA and moderated by news anchor Joe Vigil.
Each candidate wants to succeed Gov. Bill Walker, who suspended his campaign two weeks ago at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. Walker's decision left a head-to-head dual between Begich and Dunleavy in the home stretch leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
The stark philosophical differences between the two candidates came of no surprise and emerged immediately. Rewriting the sweeping crime bill – Senate Bill 91 –is about as close as the adversaries come to agreeing.
The Legislature has come under fire after passing the bill, which critics quickly panned as ineffective for not being tough enough. The bill has since received two amendments – SB 54 and House Bill 312 – to address shortcomings identified by Walker and the Legislature.
Dunleavy has repeatedly criticized SB 91 and said it still needs a full repeal and replacement. He supported the Senate’s initial version of the bill, but voted against the final bill that cleared the Legislature in 2016.
“We are going to make sure criminals are on the run, not the law abiding citizens,” Dunleavy said, while reiterating an endorsement from the Public Safety Employees Association, which includes Alaska State Troopers. “There are many lawmakers that are chomping at the bit to actually repeal SB 91. They understand the people of Alaska have lost faith in this bill.”
Begich, too, has called for a clean sweep of SB 91.
“You have to deal with the courts, which is closed a half day (Friday),”said Begich, who earlier accused Dunleavy of being part of budget cuts that reduced law enforcement work force and prosecutors. “We have to change the paradigm of fighting crime.”
The discussion then moved to the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend; a political hot potato that’s dogged the Legislature for three years with reduced payouts each of those years, and will likely create more angst next year. Dunleavy, who was in office for the first two reductions, says his administration will pursue a fully funded dividend according to state law and would be willing to replenish the reduced payouts from each of the last three years.
While a governor can propose a budget to include a full dividend, the final word belongs to the Legislature that appropriates money. The governor can make further cuts – or vetoes – but he cannot add money.
Dunleavy says he’s worked with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to advocate for a fully funded dividend, citing his support for a bill by Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski from Anchorage. Dunleavy added he’s already had discussions with lawmakers on how to end the reduced payout next year.
“My goal is to pay a full PFD and to go back and make sure that Alaskans get the PFD that was also cut,” Dunleavy said. The plan would cost between $4.3 billion and $4.5 billion from the earnings reserve that has close to $19 billion.
Begich says the best way to ensure a dividend for long-term payouts is to enshrine it in the state constitution and take the year-to-year guess work out of legislative budgeting.
“It ensures that it will be here today and continue into the future,” he said. “The next thing it does is takes it out of the hands of these politicians who have cut the dividend three years running. It puts it in the hands of the people. Otherwise every session, you know what they are going to debate? The price of the dividend.”
Questions then turned to budgets. Chronically low oil prices have forced lawmakers into massive savings draws, but without creating any new revenue streams.
For four years, state lawmakers and Walker failed to agree on a long-term fiscal plan while burning through $14 billion in savings and tapping into the Permanent Fund earnings for the first time in the state’s history to pay for government services. It was a step Begich called “half-baked” and a product of a “poor planning, long-term view.”
The impasse included rejecting every one of Walker’s tax proposal, including an income tax and increase to motor fuels, alcohol and tobacco. Alaska remains the nation’s only state without a state income and sales tax while other states have one or both.
Begich said he would not commit to a specific tax as a quick fix while ruling out a gasoline tax and a wage tax.
“Whatever that package is, I’m not wedded to any one of them,” Begich said. “I just want to make sure we have to be realistic and be honest. At the end of the day, there is going to be a gap and we have to fill it.”
Dunleavy sought specifics, asking, “What kind of tax? Who’s exempt? How much. Those are the issues we don’t discuss when it comes to taxes. We talk about it as if it’s some magic amulet that you just rub on an income tax and make it better. You’ve got to manage this government better first.”
Voters do have a third choice: Libertarian Billy Toien will also appear on the ballot.
Early voting is underway. Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.
Editor's note: During the debate both candidates cited $6 billion as the costs of paying a full PFD and restoring those dividends cut each of the last three years. The $6 billion includes the dividend payout and a prospective budget deficit also to be covered by the earnings. The dividends alone would cost between $4.3 billion and $4.5 billion.
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