Two candidates are vying for the House District 36 seat, representing Ketchikan, Metlakatla , Hydaburg, Hyder and Wrangell. Incumbent Dan Ortiz, who is unaffiliated, and Republican challenger Trevor Shaw sat down with KRBD for an on-air forum Tuesday evening.
Here is a summary of that discussion.
When answering questions about how they will handle decisions in the Alaska Legislature, both Shaw and Ortiz point to their records in public service.
Ortiz, a retired Ketchikan teacher, has been the House District 36 representative for two terms, or four years; and Shaw has served on the Ketchikan School Board since he was 18 years old – five years.
Shaw recently resigned from the board following a successful petition to place a recall vote for his seat on the local election ballot.
The primary job of the Legislature is to come up with a spending plan for the state. Alaska has been working through a significant budget deficit since the price of oil tanked about four years ago, and many cuts have already been made. Some have called for additional cuts.
Ortiz said there might be some small reductions that can still be made, but anything significant would have a significant impact. And, there already has been an impact, he said.
“The infrastructure investments aren’t being made, the repairs to state owned buildings, roads, our marine highway system, they’ve all been hurt by reductions in the capital budget,” he said. “The operating budget, we’ve also made significant cuts. On average, different departments have been cut by as much as 20 percent across the board, with the exception of education and Health and Human Services.”
Those cuts were necessary, Ortiz said, but headed into the future, the state needs to come up with a better plan. He said he doesn’t want to cut state funding for education or Health and Human Services, and he wants to maintain funding for fisheries as much as possible.
Shaw said there are options the state can explore to better share costs, including in education. He said the Legislature can work toward making the required local contribution for public education a statewide requirement.
“In Ketchikan, the average homeowner pays $663 towards education, towards the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District providing education for our students,” he said. “That’s something that’s not a statewide mandated tax. If that was made statewide, there would be an increase in revenue to the State of Alaska between $120 million and $150 million.”
Shaw said when considering budget cuts, he takes a careful, holistic approach. He won’t specify now what he might consider expendable, but Shaw said everything will be on the table for discussion.
If elected, Shaw said he would work toward stable funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System and early funding for public education. He also would like the Legislature to move faster on approving a budget.
“Something that I would introduce on day one is a change to the legislative rules that the budget must come before both bodies of the Legislature, be considered and adopted, within the first 30 days,” he said.
Shaw said state agencies, their employees, schools and others need to know sooner rather than later what will be in that budget. When asked how realistic that plan is, he said such a rule would at least hold lawmakers accountable.
Ortiz said it takes time to build a state budget, and 30 days wouldn’t be enough.
“You need to have the different departments prepared to present their budget and to be able to go through that. That takes time in hearings, in different committees,” he said. “I applaud the overall goal of having a budget at an earlier time, but 30 days? No. I don’t think that can be possibly done.”
Ortiz said his main priority headed back to the Legislature would be to establish a long-term plan to stabilize the state’s finances. He said lawmakers got partway there last session when they agreed to restructure the Alaska Permanent Fund program and use some of the earnings for state government. But, he said, there still was a deficit and more needs to be accomplished.
The statewide election is Nov. 6. The Alaska Legislature’s 31st session starts on Jan. 15.
The two candidates also discussed bipartisan decision making, helping younger Alaskans get into the fishing industry, SB91 – the criminal justice overhaul bill – and where they stand on the Stand for Salmon ballot proposition.
Here is a recording of the entire one-hour forum. It starts a little ways into Shaw’s opening statement.