Governor - Mark Begich

(Photo Courtesy Alaskans for Begich)

Name: Mark Begich

District: Governor

Area: Alaska

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Where were you born? Anchorage

If you weren't born in Alaska, when did you come here?

Age on election day: 56

If you've attended college, which schools did you attend? What's your highest degree achieved?
High school, Steller Secondary

What is or was your main career?
Businessperson

If you've held or run for public office before, which one(s)?
Anchorage Assembly, 1988-1998 Mayor of Anchorage, 2003-2009 United States Senate, 2009-2015 Chair of Alaska Post-Secondary Education Commission, 1995-2002 Chair of Alaska Student Loan Corporation, 1995-2002 Member Board of Regents, University of Alaska, 2001-2002

If you have a spouse or significant other whom you live with, what is their name?
Deborah Bonito

If you have children, what are their first names and ages?
Jacob Begich, 16

Why are you running for office?
I am running for Governor because when more than half of Alaskans think our state is heading in the wrong direction, it is time for change. I see huge opportunity for our state, but I don't see a vision for how we get there from Governor Walker, and Mike Dunleavy’s extreme agenda will only take us backwards. With growing public safety concerns, a lagging education system, and a lack of long-term fiscal stability, folks are frustrated with a state they see as a rudderless ship with no direction. I believe Alaska’s best future can only be built by bringing together all Alaskans. It shouldn’t matter where you live, how much money you have, or whether you have a lobbyist, our leaders are supposed to listen to you. Strong leadership steps up and fights for our future. That’s the kind of leader Alaska needs – and that is who I will be.

What are the most important issues facing Alaska?
Crime, the economy, and education all must be addressed. I would constitutionally protect a sustainable PFD, which would have been over $2,000 this year. After inflation-proofing the fund and using the POMV formula to determine a sustainable dividend level, I would dedicate remaining funds for pre-K-12 education, freeing up general funds estimated at $1.3 billion this year and providing stable, long-term education funding. This would help ensure that the Permanent Fund and education funding are not on the political chopping block every year. I would reform delivery of government services and move away from paying cash for capital budgets – using general obligation bonds to provide a stable, structured approach. Only after making the above changes would I review, revamp, or add new revenues if needed. I also have a comprehensive plan to fight crime in Alaska detailed in next question. You can read more on my website at www.begich.com.

What would you do to reduce crime in Alaska?
There has been a systemic failure on the state level to address the exploding opioid epidemic and increasing crime within our communities that has led Alaska to be ranked #1 for crime nationwide – this is unacceptable. When I was Mayor of Anchorage, my administration cracked down on crime – adding more than 80 police officers as well as 2 prosecutors to the U.S. Attorney’s office who were part of a strategic effort to get drug dealers, gang members, and violent criminals behind bars and off our streets. We have to do several things simultaneously: address the opioid epidemic, substance abuse, and mental health issues; invest in local police through state revenue sharing; fully staff the Departments of Public Safety, Law, and Corrections; utilize innovative partnerships with federal prosecutors and leverage state resources; closely coordinate state and local government efforts; and bolster public safety in rural communities.

Should dividends be paid under the original dividend formula?
My plan would constitutionally guarantee a sustainable PFD while also protecting the fund from politicians, today and down the line. My “Invest in Alaska Plan” involves using the percentage of market value (POMV) formula and includes: 1. Constitutionally protecting the PFD – because the Legislature should not be spending all its time debating the amount of the Dividend each year 2. Inflation-proofing the Permanent Fund 3. Using 50% of POMV formula for a sustainable dividend for Alaskans 4. Dedicating remaining funds for pre-K-12 education Using this common-sense approach would guarantee Alaskans a PFD, free up general funds previously used for education – this year that number could have been as much as $1.3 billion – and protect education funding from being used as a political football.

Should Permanent Fund earnings be used to pay for state government? How much?
See above – Permanent Fund earnings shouldn’t be handed over to politicians every year to plug budget holes or be used for pork-barrel projects.

What, if anything would you cut from the budget?
I believe our focus should be on more efficient government. For example, I would propose moving from a one-year to two-year budget cycle to help create fiscal stability and free up government resources that are constantly focused on planning the next budget, which is both inefficient and wasteful. Many programs have already been hit by indiscriminate cuts, with the impacts already becoming apparent – look at what the cuts to Alaska Psychiatric Institute have caused in terms of the increase in Alaskans with untreated mental illness on the streets. But there are ample opportunities for efficiency and consolidation – for example, the state currently operates two social service databases, each at substantial cost, because the job wasn’t done right and there’s no confidence that one system can be safely turned off. We need to fix these errors and implement accountability and transparency before we enact additional program cuts.

Should Alaska have new or increased taxes? What would you suggest?
I will never support any revenue increase that falls disproportionately on Alaskans who can least afford it – families struggling to get by, children, people with disabilities, or seniors. That’s not the way to build a stronger Alaska. The first thing we need to do, as a state, is to identify the investments we need to make for long-term success: public safety, infrastructure, education, and more. We need to identify the efficiencies that can be implemented in state government, and that takes an active and engaged governor.

Only after we have done a needs assessment and improved efficiency will we know how much revenue we need, and if we need additional revenue, I will bring the Legislature together with communities, experts, and others to determine the most effective and targeted ways to deal with new revenues.

Have humans contributed to climate change, and if so, does the state bear any responsibility to undo some of the effects?
Yes, science shows that humans have contributed to climate change. In Alaska, we are experiencing the impacts of climate change more intensely than almost anywhere else. Alaskans see it around us every day – warming waters, changing fish patterns, and impacts to our coastal communities. We have villages at risk of falling into the ocean and rural communities where buildings are crumbling due to permafrost thaw. I also believe that with the proper leadership, Alaska can seize new opportunities to address these challenges. Acting on climate change is an international imperative, but we are already developing the expertise to help the rest of the world deal with both mitigation and adaptation to climate change impacts. By addressing climate change head-on and providing the opportunity for the private sector to hone its skills, we can market Alaska as a global leader in climate change and a model for how to take action.

Do you agree or disagree with Gov. Walker's decision to expand Medicaid in 2014? How much do you believe that decision cost the state treasury?
I agree with the decision to expand Medicaid – I voted for the healthcare law that allowed Medicaid expansion to happen, even though I knew at the time that it could cost me the next election. Expanding Medicaid is a no-brainer – the federal government paid 100% of the medical costs of new enrollees through 2016, 95% of the costs until 2020, and then 90% from 2020 onward. Estimates suggest that if Medicaid expansion ended, about 44,000 Alaskans would lose health insurance – and we can’t go back to the bad old days of higher costs and more uninsured Alaskans. When an Alaskan is sick, they’re going to receive treatment one way or another, and the costs are passed along – without expanding Medicaid, that’s more people using high-cost emergency rooms, more people not receiving money-saving preventative care, and more people dying from not addressing health issues right away.