The second session of the 33rd Alaska Legislature begins Tuesday, January 16 and Governor Mike Dunleavy will continue working to ensure that the best interest of the people of Alaska is protected and promoted.
Governor Dunleavy will both work with the legislature and utilize the authority Alaska’s Constitution establishes for the office of Governor and executive branch to continue advancing the priorities of increasing public safety, improving education outcomes, ensuring Alaska is open for business, and addressing issues of affordability in Alaska.
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy in reference to the upcoming legislative session said:
“A major focus for this year’s legislative session is affordability. Alaska can be an expensive place to live, but we can also do something about it. Food and energy security, childcare, housing, access to land, and healthcare are the key areas we need to work on to make Alaska an even better place to live. But as we work to solve these issues, we must ensure that we are not focused only on the short term, but that our work sets up Alaska to be prosperous over the next 50 years.
We have the ability to generate wealth to pay for the services Alaskans need but we have to be committed to developing our resources to pay for new or existing programs. We can’t continue to say ‘no’ to developing resources.”
Increasing Public Safety
Public safety has been Governor Dunleavy’s top priority since taking office in 2018.
During 2023, the Alaska Department of Public Safety hired 20 new Alaska State Troopers and 23 new Village Public Safety Officers. The men and women of Alaska law enforcement prevented more than 40 million fatal doses of fentanyl from hitting Alaska’s streets by seizing 83 kilograms of the synthetic opioid in 2023.
Governor Dunleavy’s FY25 proposed budget continues investing in public safety by adding 10 additional Village Public Safety Officers, three new investigators focused on crimes against children, and four investigators fully dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous persons cases.
Improving Educational Outcomes
On a statewide basis, Alaska’s K-12 students are significantly underperforming both when compared nationally and as measured against Alaska’s grade-level content standards. However, there are many exemplary schools that provide a diverse array of models demonstrating how to provide an excellent education to every student.
“The Nation’s Charter Report Card” analyzed national assessment data for charter schools and found Alaska’s charter schools were the best in the country for academic achievement. This research done by Harvard University demonstrates that when Alaskans commit to excellence, excellence can be achieved. Conversations around education and charter schools are a high priority in the coming months.
Work to advance tribal compacting of education is also creating a pathway for better education outcomes for students. During 2023, the Department of Education and Early Development selected five Tribal partners to start negotiating a State-Tribal Education Compacting demonstration project. Ten months of negotiations concluded with a final legislation report that outlines how Tribally Compacted Public Schools can be brought online through new legislation. This report details how to meet the goals of the Alaska Education Challenge by providing culturally based education and increased community and Tribal ownership and school choice.
A great teacher is essential for a great education. Work to address Alaska’s teacher retention and recruitment challenges that began after Governor Dunleavy’s 2020 State of the State address continued in 2023. Drawing on research and findings from the Governor’s Teacher Retention and Recruitment Working Group, Governor Dunleavy introduced HB 106 to provide lump sum cash incentives of either $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 directly to classroom teachers depending on the district where they taught. The bill is currently in the House Finance committee. In August, DEED published Alaska’s Teacher Retention and Recruitment Playbook which identifies practical, professional and policy recommendations to address Alaska’s persistent issues with retention and recruitment.
Alaska is Open for Business
2023 was a year of developments that will positively impact Alaska for decades to come. Governor Dunleavy introduced, and the legislature subsequently passed a bill that will allow the State to maximize the benefit Alaska’s natural resources through global markets for carbon offsets. This bill will promote more active forest management. Together with a bill the Governor signed to establish an Alaska lumber grading program, Governor Dunleavy is working to shift Alaska’s forests from liability that brings in very little revenue and require spending millions of dollars on wildfire suppression each year to an asset that is revenue positive.
Another bill still before the legislature would enable the State to generate revenue by storing carbon in depleted oil and gas reservoirs and other underground formations.
In 2023, the State of Alaska intervened in lawsuits from environmental activists that challenged the federal approval of ConocoPhillips’s Willow Project. The courts upheld the approval, and in December ConocoPhillips announced a final investment decision to move forward with the $8 billion project.
The Alaska Affordability Act
Affordability for all Alaskans has been a primary focus of the Dunleavy administration. This session, Governor Dunleavy will introduce the Alaska Affordability Act that focuses on four of the largest expenses that impact a family’s budget: childcare, energy, housing, and food security.
The Task Force on Childcare was established to develop a plan to improve availability and affordability of quality childcare throughout Alaska. The task force delivered preliminary recommendations in November, and a second report is due in July 2024. The administration will be implementing the task force’s recommended regulatory changes and working with the legislature on additional statutory changes.
The Governor created the Alaska Energy Security Task Force to develop a comprehensive statewide energy plan that will evaluate energy generation, distribution and transmission and identify solutions for Alaska now and in the future with a focus on affordability, reliability, and security. The Energy Security Task Force report was published in December.
In addition to continuing the work in these areas, the Dunleavy administration will also be advancing ways to improve the affordability of housing and increasing food security under the Alaska Affordability Act.
Rising energy costs hit families’ budgets both directly through power and fuel costs, and indirectly throughout their spending as businesses are forced to pass the increased cost of energy on to customers.
The rising cost of energy is squeezing the budgets for families and businesses across the state.
The Alaska Energy Independence Fund will provide loans to families and rural utilities to help finance sustainable energy projects. This includes power generation and storage, as well as efficiency improvements.
Legislation incentivizing new Cook Inlet natural gas production and geothermal energy will also be introduced this session.
To increase the diversity of energy sources in the Railbelt region the Dunleavy administration will propose legislation to streamline the regulatory structure of the transmission lines and include budgetary measures to upgrade and improve the lines used to transport electricity from power plants to homes and businesses. Creating innovative solutions to upgrade the grid and manage the high cost of energy in rural Alaska is crucial for the future affordability of Alaska.
Alaska has an abundance of energy resources and an all-in approach to energy will create the lowest cost of energy, ensure reliability, and avoid dependency on outside sources. Dunleavy expects to have conversations about developing all energy sources available to Alaska.
“I look forward to the next 121 days of working with lawmakers on what matters most to Alaskans,” said Governor Dunleavy. “While we may have different opinions on policy issues, we are all striving to reach the same goal of making Alaska a better place to live and raise a family.”