February 4, 2023

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy told lawmakers late Monday he wants to work with them to make Alaska the “most livable state in the country,” with policies that support families and the state affordable and desirable place to live.

“Children are a blessing and should not be seen as a burden. But we all have to accept that raising a family is more of a challenge today than many of us were growing up,” the Republican told a joint session of the Legislature during the first State of the States speech of his second term.

He cited inflation and housing, food and energy costs, which he says are “making people think twice about expanding their families or even starting one.”

He said if policymakers are successful, they will enact policies that lower the cost of living, address health care options and help create jobs with wages that can support families.

The Alaskan Supreme Court has interpreted the state constitution’s right to privacy to include the right to abortion.

Dunleavy said lawmakers have an opportunity in this session to “change the course of Alaskan history.” He called for action on a range of initiatives, including legislation to fight crime and public health, and efforts to boost the state, which he described as a “resource powerhouse.”

The speech, delivered a week after a new legislative session began, also touched on familiar topics for Dunleavy, who in November became Alaska’s first governor since 1998 to win two consecutive terms. This included fighting federal actions seen as slowing or delaying energy development projects.

He also touted what he saw as accomplishments of his first term, like passing legislation to improve students’ literacy skills and paying residents $3,284 last fall, which was a combination of the annual dividend from the oil fund of the state and a special energy relief.

The checks were approved by lawmakers last year when oil prices were around $115 a barrel. More recently, North Slope Oil has been in the $80 per barrel range. Dunleavy is proposing a dividend of around $3,860 for this year. Republican Senate Speaker Gary Stevens has expressed concern that the amount is excessive given commitments to other state services.

The Senate majority has expressed an interest in addressing issues of education funding and teacher retirement and retention.

The 20-seat Senate is controlled by a bipartisan coalition of nine Democrats and eight Republicans. The 40-seat House of Representatives has a 23-member Republican-led majority that includes two rural Democrats and two rural Independents. Two House Republicans — Representatives Louise Stutes and David Eastman — are neither in the majority nor in the minority.

Dunleavy struck an upbeat tone in his televised address, saying he was optimistic about the start of the new session “because I believe what we’re doing now over the next four months is not just Alaska’s course for the next four.” years, but also for the next 50 years and beyond.”

He spoke about efforts to improve food security and his proposal to monetize carbon. Lawmakers have expressed interest in learning more details about the carbon plan, which Dunleavy billed as a way to generate revenue for the state.

Members of the Senate majority called the speech positive. Stevens said he saw a change at Dunleavy, whose relationship with lawmakers was at times contentious during his first term. Stevens said he thinks Dunleavy is “more comfortable” in his role as governor and believes the Senate can find common ground with Dunleavy.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, said he appreciates Dunleavy’s comments on supporting families. But he said he hoped part of that effort would include action to solve affordable housing and childcare, which would address a backlog in food stamp benefit distribution and K-12 funding.

Before Dunleavy’s speech, there was a rally outside the Capitol in support of education funding.

House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent, said in a statement that his caucus is “encouraged that the governor is focused on making Alaska a great place to raise a family.” Schrage said adding money to schools, tackling pensions for teachers and public safety officials, and increasing investment in maternal and child health are ways to do so.

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