Shortly after Joe Biden was sworn in as the nation’s 46th president, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in an interview that he’s open to working with the new president. But he also said he’s prepared to oppose the new administration if it seeks to block developing Alaska’s natural resources.
That was one of the first things President Biden did on Wednesday when he announced he’d put a “temporary moratorium” on all oil and gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge immediately after taking office.
“I’ll work with anyone to come up with things we can agree on, and where there are some issues that I believe are harmful to the state of Alaska, I’ll oppose the administration,” Dunleavy said. “If I think they’re going to hurt opportunities in the state of Alaska for jobs, opportunities to keep our kids and grandkids here, opportunities for wealth, I’ll oppose them.”
Dunleavy said he plans to have a dialogue with Biden administration officials, but if he sees a consistent pattern of opposition, the governor will “use whatever tools are necessary” to fight back.
“Alaska’s viewed very differently by the rest of this country,” he said. “And they don’t necessarily see this as a sovereign state. But they see it as a vision of a larger park. In 1959, that was not the vision.”
And Dunleavy said that’s not his vision for the state, either.
Regarding the Alaska legislative session that convened this week, he said his top priorities are to:
- Settle how Permanent Fund dividends are set;
- Pass constitutional amendments to limit state spending and require public approval for tax increases; and
- Pass a bond package to fund capital projects.
Dunleavy is proposing an amendment to the Alaska Constitution which would set an annual draw from the Alaska Permanent Fund, and frame dividends as a proportion. The exact amount of the draw and share for dividends would be enshrined in state law.
He said he wants to make a bigger-than-planned draw from the Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve account just one more time: His 2022 budget proposal draws more than $3 billion above what the Legislature and the Permanent Fund Corporation have said is sustainable.
“I don’t have any intention of drawing down the ERA,” he said. “As a matter of fact, if you look at the Permanent Fund approach that we’re taking, it would, again, settle the question with the input of the people. And it protects the earnings reserve within the fund. So, this is a one-time event from my perspective.”
Dunleavy acknowledged that once constitutional changes to the PFD are in place, the state would have fewer options to balance the budget.
“Yes, it hems us in, but it gives us certainty, and it gives us an opportunity if there’s going to be any changes, for example, with taxation, that the people of Alaska are part of that equation,” he said. “So … starting out with the PFD, I think allows us to have discussions on a whole host of other issues with regard to the fiscal approach.”
He pushed back against the idea that voters would reject any new or increased taxes, in defending his proposal to require the public vote on taxes.
“If it’s explained in the manner that the people of Alaska understand, that a certain revenue measure would help pay for this service or this program, etcetera, etcetera, I think the case can be made,” he said. “And I would be confident that the people of Alaska — again if it’s explained well — would concur with that.”
Dunleavy added he’s “inherently suspicious” of adding revenue, pointing to a history of the state spending money that’s available.
Finally, Dunleavy praised Alaska’s vaccination team for leading the country in vaccinating residents so far.
Dunleavy, who is 59 years old, hasn’t received his first shot.
“I am going to wait my turn, and that’ll be determined by our health team,” he said, adding he wants the most vulnerable Alaskans to be vaccinated first.