My Turn: A vision for Alaska in 2014

There is a special pride that comes from being Alaskan; pride in the fishermen helping feed the world; the oil workers coaxing a national energy resource out of the frozen tundra; the small business owners who are creating new jobs and new opportunities; the public employees providing for essential needs; and teachers and first responders who strengthen our communities.

As Alaskans, we have always taken pride in bravely facing the challenges of living in this great state. And this year we have some important choices to make. 

Let’s be honest, Alaska faces tough sledding ahead. The world is changing and new challenges require new leadership. Every day we see reports about declining oil production, which means that unless we adjust course Alaska’s budget will run deficits for years to come. Critical needs in healthcare, education, public safety and infrastructure will go unmet and Alaska will be left behind.

We can continue on that path, or we can choose a new direction. I believe that with disciplined leadership we can weather this storm. That’s the kind of leadership I’ve offered in my five decades of public service to governors of both parties, as head of the Permanent Fund, and in business, on the boards of Alaska Airlines, Sealaska, and the Federal Reserve Bank. Alaska is both a resource-rich and resourceful state. Driven by shared values, I believe we can have a bright future if we face reality and make the right choices. Here is my vision for Alaska:

Restore fiscal sanity to state government

Gov. Sean Parnell’s budget produces deficits as far as the eye can see. We must replace SB21 with a fair, stable oil revenue structure. But SB21 isn’t the only issue. At a time when we’re laying off teachers and cutting health care, spending $33 million on expensive renovations for legislators’ offices and debating pay raises for the governor and other top executives is simply wrong. 

Expand Medicaid to cover more Alaskans

When Gov. Parnell turned down $2 billion for Medicaid expansion, he turned his back on 41,000 Alaskans who have no health coverage. By creating our own Alaska health exchange and not having to rely on the federal website, we can provide affordable coverage for more Alaskans.

Invest in education and make Alaska a world leader in climate research

Let’s have an honest conversation about what it really takes to educate our children, beginning with early childhood education. We must support our teachers and give them the means to bring out the best in every student. We have a duty to support higher education and vocational training to meet workforce readiness, and we need to support pioneering research to address the impact of a rapidly changing climate on our state.

Improve public safety

We must provide funding and resources to hire and train enough troopers and village public safety officers to protect citizens in all of our communities from harm.

Restore trust and transparency to government

It’s not just what state government is doing that’s troubling — it’s how they’re doing it. We won’t succeed with divisive Washington-style partisanship or by ignoring Alaskans’ voices, or our local and tribal governments. We need leadership in Alaska that listens to Alaskans first.  

On Alaska’s 100th birthday, I want the world to say “Alaska got it right.” That we responsibly developed resources for economic progress; we wisely protected other resources for the future; and, above all, that we always invested in our greatest asset – people – through education, job training, and a commitment to economic diversity. That’s how you expand and grow a strong economy that can prosper when times are good and can endure when times are tough. 

I believe that by working together, we can create an Alaska of opportunity, security and health for generations to come. Let’s start building that future in 2014.

• Byron Mallott is the Democratic candidate for governor. The opening of his Juneau office will be held in conjunction with Gallery Walk today at 4:30 p.m. at 209 Seward Street.

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