*As prepared for delivery*
Thank you, AFN, and everyone here today for allowing me to say a few words. It’s truly an honor to be here.
I want to start by taking a moment to recognize all of our Veterans here in the room.
Please, let’s take a moment to honor the Alaska native veterans who proudly served our country.
I also want to thank those of you that worked on the Alaska Native Veterans Land Allotment Equity Act.
This Act gives Native Vietnam Era and Vietnam Veterans who have served, the opportunity to apply for land they qualified for but may have been actively serving overseas during the application period.
As I reviewed your conference agenda schedule, I took note of the amount of discussion focused on current government services, programs and the budget.
This is a good thing. This is something we all should be focused on. We should all be asking the same questions – “How do we get better outcomes for the people of Alaska? How do we ensure such programs and services are sustainable well into the future? How do we work together to build the Alaska we all want for our children and grandchildren?”
Your discussions regarding Alaska’s future from your perspective, and the ideas you come up with, will be valuable and help all elected leaders, including myself, as we tackle the difficult decisions before us. What you have to say about the future of Alaska really does matter and I will take your input seriously.
For decades, we have often measured success by how much money was put into a program, and less focus was put on how well the program or service benefitted our people. This must change. My administration is focused on ensuring what we do in terms of programs and services makes a positive impact on all of our lives.
Increased funding, without demanding better outcomes, has not and will not improve the lives of Alaskans. We know things can be better and we must insist upon better outcomes.
We must insist our children, women, and elders are safe
We must insist all Alaskans have better economic opportunities.
And we must insist on better educational outcomes for our children.
I spent nearly twenty years in rural Alaska. My wife Rose, the First Lady, is from the Kobuk River village of Noorvik. I have many friends and relatives that live in rural Alaska. My three daughters were born and spent much of their early years in rural Alaska, and they like many of you, are tribal members and corporate shareholders. You know firsthand the difficult challenges living in rural Alaska presents.
So, as we prepare the budget for next year that will impact all Alaskans, I want you to know we will listen to your input as we go through this process and incorporate many of the concerns and ideas you raise into next year’s budget.
We all know the budget discussions were very difficult and at times contentious this past year. I will be the first to say that as Governor I must take responsibility for my part in this process and I will work hard to ensure the budget process goes much more smoothly this year. I will make every effort to incorporate the perspective of all Alaskans.
One area I believe we can agree on is making Alaska a safer place for all Alaskans. Making sure all Alaskans are safe is the number one priority of my administration. To that end we will be putting more resources into public safety and rural Alaska stands to benefit from this approach.
Laws to protect victims and hold offenders accountable were passed in the last session and a repeal of SB 91 was finally realized.
More federal funds than ever before have been awarded by Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA), a council within DPS, to 26 emergency shelter and victim services programs throughout Alaska, from Emmonak, to Craig, to Kotzebue, to Nome and other communities as well.
New funding is being released from the CDVSA to support Child Advocacy Centers and trauma informed child victim mental health and legal support services.
Six million dollars will be released to rural communities by DPS in partnership with the federal government to improve public safety infrastructure like holding facilities and office space for peace officers.
All backlogged sexual assault kits, including those collected decades ago, are scheduled to be processed no later than September 2021.
A prosecutor and an investigator dedicated to cold cases have been hired to bring justice to families related to the previously unprocessed sexual assault kits.
In the last nine months, four arrests were made in conjunction to decades old missing/murdered cases in which two of the women were Alaska Native Women. I am committed to solving all of these cases. Justice should be swift. Families should not have to wait decades for answers.
In the last ten months, DPS has focused on increasing the number of Troopers in rural Alaska – More Troopers were hired in 2019 than in any year in the past decade.
Specifically, since December 2018, DPS has filled trooper positions in, Delta Junction, Galena, Nome, Tok, and Bethel.
In the coming year, DPS will continue to recruit troopers, and place troopers in the following communities: Unalakleet, Dillingham, St. Mary’s, Bethel, Nome, Emmonak, St. Michaels and Ambler.
Additionally, DPS is currently planning to open posts in the following communities as soon as there are enough Troopers recruited. Those communities are, Stebbins, Kobuk, Eek, and Chevak.
DPS will continue to aggressively work to increase the number of Troopers statewide with a focus on rural Alaska. We expect to hire 35 new Troopers in 2020 to fill the positions mentioned above.
We will also continue to support the VPSO program. We will have funding available in the budget to fund every vacant position that an employer needs to fill in the VPSO program, and we will continue to work with stakeholder groups to continually improve our public safety outcomes in rural Alaska. If there are recruits for the VPSO program, we will provide the funding to support those positions.
Education is also an area we all need to focus on. We need our young people to see they have a future in our great state. We spend over $1.2 billion dollars in K-12 education every year. And while we can point to many schools that are performing well, many of us can agree that too often our school system is not meeting the needs of too many of our children.
To address reading performance, the Department of Education applied for and was awarded a $21 million grant to focus on reading. The majority of this money will be going to schools in rural Alaska to address the reading performance of our younger students. All children should be reading by third grade. This multi-year grant will provide high quality reading strategies and funding for staff to address reading performance in a number of schools that are struggling.
As mentioned, too many of our children have difficulty reading, writing, and often struggle with math as well. The Alaska Education Challenge stemmed from recognizing the need for meaningful educational changes.
One of the five strategic priorities of the Education Challenge is to Inspire Tribal and Community Ownership of Educational Excellence.
The committee tasked with developing a recommendation for how to Inspire Tribal and Community Ownership of Educational Excellence, put forward “self-governance compacting” as the strongest mechanism for creating the systemic change needed to improve student outcomes.
For too long, direct involvement by tribes in the education of young tribal members has not been encouraged. This is unfortunate and needs to change. Tribes are a critical entity in the lives of many Alaskans. I believe tribal involvement can help improve educational outcomes in a number of our schools serve tribal members.
I asked the Commissioner of Education and State Board of Education to work with the tribes to facilitate the creation of tribal compacting between the State School Board, tribes, and school districts.
The State Board of Education has adopted this recommendation and has created the Tribal Compacting committee to develop an avenue for tribes to help oversee the education of their children.
Families and local communities need to be directly involved in making educational decisions for children that are tribal members. My administration will be introducing a bill this coming legislative session that will make tribal compacting for education a reality.
I look forward to working with tribes and lawmakers to craft legislation to put tribal compacting for education into law.
Along with a focus on public safety and education, my administration is also focused on economic development, growing our fish and game stocks, getting our fiscal house in order, and settling the debate on the PFD.
As many of you know, I have worked hard at ensuring the PFD is paid in full. Unfortunately, for the past several years the PFD has been a political football down in Juneau. It is my goal to protect the PFD so future generations of Alaskans can be assured of a PFD as Alaskans have enjoyed for almost 40 years.
One more important issue I wish to touch upon before I close is that of Power Cost Equalization or PCE. Although the budget we put forward last year did in fact have funds appropriated for PCE, a legitimate concern was raised about the long-term protection of the PCE endowment. As a result, I am committed to working with Senator Hoffman, Representative Lincoln and other lawmakers to ensure the long-term protection of the PCE fund so that affordable electricity for rural Alaska is never in doubt.
Before I introduce the First Lady, I would like to close by saying that over the past 10 months I have heard from many Alaskans from all over the state regarding the budget, programs, services, and the future of our great state. I want you to know that I have not just heard what you have had to say, but have appreciated the direct and at times difficult discussions that you have brought forth. There is no doubt that we still have difficult decisions ahead of us. But together we can solve these difficult issues confronting us. As your Governor, I am committed to incorporating your thoughts, advice, and counsel as we head into the next legislative session. I truly wish to work with you, and all Alaskans, to move this great state forward.
I would now like to introduce my wife, the First Lady of Alaska, Rose Dunleavy.