November 23, 2022

Gara and Cook Congratulate Governor Dunleavy and Lt. Governor Dahlstrom

Share Potential Policy Ideas  From Travels Across State

“We congratulate Governor Dunleavy and our new Lt. Governor, Nancy Dahlstrom. We hope all who have lost by margins that do not require a recount will uphold voter confidence in free and fair democratic elections.

Both of us wish Mike and Nancy strength as they address daunting problems that face all of us, from struggling schools that impact student opportunity to silent but damaging crises, including the lack of affordable and accessible childcare, affordable housing, and a vastly inadequate mental health workforce that’s needed by children and adults living in crisis.

We want to share some of what we’ve learned by traveling and speaking to people from Ketchikan to Utqiagvik in the event it helps the new Administration. We would offer our help if meaningfully called upon for input.

First, Alaska’s most significant problems can’t be solved for free. Our ideas on revenue to solve these problems – ending $1.2 billion in unaffordable oil company tax subsidies – are not the only options. The Governor won this election and will work on the fiscal plan he and his Administration feel is most appropriate.

Without difficult revenue decisions, this state will remain stuck where it’s been since 2014 – forcing Alaskans to battle for inadequate funds, and to fight over school support, a strong PFD, public safety, or support for needed infrastructure like harbors, roads, and the modern renewable energy projects needed across the state. Progress will be difficult if Alaskans are required to keep battling between things that are needed.

Rural Alaskans have shared problems that don’t get heard loudly in much of the state, including that over 50 communities have no police at all in a state with high rates of sexual assault and other crime.

The problems facing education and public safety call for some similar policy responses. Schools cannot attract and keep teachers as school funding, and therefore salaries have lagged, leaving housing unaffordable for educators and their families. Almost every public safety and education official we’ve met says they lose teachers and police to states that offer a pension benefit, even a modest one.

We’ve heard about a foster care system in crisis. Starting new OCS caseworkers at $25/hour and lowering required job qualifications has created a revolving door for workers who don’t stay to gain the experience they need to protect children and families. We understand this has been an attempt to save money. But too many people no longer wish to serve as foster parents, and foster parent recruitment has come to a standstill. We’ve heard too many cases of foster youth who remain in hospitals after recovery because there is no home available.

Low-wage child and family protection workers, with no relevant work or education experience, cannot be expected to make the best decisions children and families deserve. Today roughly 60% of new workers quit within a year.

Perhaps the most silent problem facing Alaskans is the most immediately damaging to people – a lack of a needed mental health workforce. That harms children suffering from depression and life-altering problems, and those battling addictions and crises requiring long-term care that often is not available in Alaska.

Finally, most Alaskans live on the road system. From damaged fish runs and the damage caused by Outside Factory Bottom Trawlers, to schools and mental health, the problems faced off the road system are, in many cases, much more pressing.

In Nome, for example, lagging school funding, pay and benefits make it untenable to attract and keep needed educators. Inadequate salaries and benefits and an affordable housing shortage, as in too many communities, make it unaffordable for all but the most committed educators to accept and remain in teaching positions.

These problems beg for strong “grow your own” solutions that train Alaskans for the jobs needed in their communities. Police, teachers and mental health professionals from Nome, Bethel, or Kodiak, for example, are better for the community, and residents, and creating local job opportunities than seeking Outside workers who don’t know these communities.

We wish Governor Dunleavy and Lt. Governor Dahlstrom well in navigating a road ahead that would be difficult no matter who won this election.”

Les Gara & Jessica Cook