House District 28 race centers budget crisis

Side by side photos of Suzanne LaFrance and James Kaufman, candidates for House District 28.
(Photos courtesy Suzanne LaFrance and James Kaufman’s campaigns)

Republican James Kaufman and Democrat-nominated Independent Suzanne LaFrance are battling to represent House District 28, in South Anchorage, including the Hillside and Girdwood. Both say solving Alaska’s fiscal crisis is their first priority, but their strategies are different.

Several candidates for the Alaska Legislature are running on the idea of trimming the state budget, without inducing major slashes to services like education or Medicaid. Alaska lawmakers have been pushing budget cuts for more than five years, and it’s proved a difficult problem to solve. They say the easy choices are gone and cutting a little here or there won’t make a dent in the deficit.

Even so, House District 28 candidates James Kaufman and Suzanne LaFrance think they can make a difference.

Kaufman, a retired oil and gas project quality manager, said he wants to focus on eliminating inefficiencies within the state budget. He says that will involve frank discussions about what services are most important to Alaskans, but not necessarily massive cuts to services.

“What I’m offering is that sometimes you can actually find ways to deliver the same value of service for less money,” he said.

LaFrance, an Anchorage Assembly member representing South Anchorage, said she wants to see the budget focus on education and public safety, while protecting the Permanent Fund. 

“I’m hearing over and over that people want a plan and they want stability, and that they’re weary of partisan politics,” she said. “And that they’re less concerned about having big dividends than having good quality schools and public safety and roads that are maintained.”

District 28 has the highest median household income in Alaska at more than $150,000, almost twice that of the statewide average. Neither candidate supports a full PFD; in fact LaFrance is against it. She says she supports exploring additional revenue sources, while Kaufman is reluctant to consider them until all inefficiencies are “worked out of the system.” 

With the Permanent Fund dwindling and the state’s budget deficit looming at over a billion dollars, Kaufman says everything is on the table, including a more robust constitutional budget cap and private sector solutions. LaFrance says working with local leaders is key to finding areas to reduce spending.

Kaufman says it’s premature to comment on what restructuring or cuts within government spending could look like. 

“Because you don’t know the big picture until you’re actually in those deeper conversations, you have that flow of information that can be obtained when you’re sitting in that seat,” he said.

Campaign disclosure forms earlier this month showed Kaufman’s campaign raised about $61,000 compared to LaFrance’s nearly $49,000.