Gov. Mike Dunleavy shared an upbeat vision for Alaska’s future in his first State of the State address to the Legislature Monday, Jan. 23. It was the first address in his second, and final term.
The governor ticked off accomplishments of his first four-years including crime dropping to historic lows; a state ferry system no longer financially struggling, and the rescue of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, or API, the state’s only mental health acute treatment center.
In 2017, a year before Duneavy took office, crime was at a 19-year high in Alaska. By 2022 it had dropped to a 41-year low.
API, meanwhile, had dropped to 19 beds for acute psychiatric cases early in Dunleavy’s first term and was in danger of closing. It is now back up to 71 beds, he said in his speech.
Rural public safety has improved. Village Public Safety Officers had dropped to 45, down from 100 in 2014, but had been built back to 68 by the end of 2022.
Budgets have been tightened, too. The state general fund budget is 4 percent lower in the governor’s proposed budget than it was when he took office four years ago. Oil tax credits, once a near-billion-dollar financial liability, have been mostly off, and debt service on state bonds is down.
“Last year we paid the largest Permanent Fund Dividend in history at a time when Alaskans needed it the most,” Dunleavy said.
Much is still to be done, however. A package of crime-reform and justice bills were introduced in the Legislature last year but didn’t pass, with some bills not receiving a single hearing. Those will be introduced again along with a bill making sales of lethal drugs like fentanol a second-degree murder offense rather than a misdemeanor, as it is under current law, Dunleavy said in his speech.
The governor also said he will continue a vigorous defense of Alaska’s “statehood” rights that are threatened by elitists and billionaires in the Lower 48 who see Alaska as a giant recreation park. He faulted the administration of President Joe Biden for playing into this, introducing 41 executive orders since taking office to curtail Alaskans’ “ability to achieve the promise of statehood,” Dunleavy said.
Defending Alaska’s statehood rights will take more than litigation. “We need to be better in telling our story,” about a good environmental record and responsible resource development, the governor said.
In his new term, Dunleavy committed to supporting vigorous recruitment and training in the health care professions, where there will be 5,000 jobs needing to be filled over the next few years.
He pledged more support for housing in rural communities for professionals including, for example, Office of Childrens’ Services workers in addition to professionals in education and public safety where there is now housing support.
He promised support for recommendations of the Bycatch Task Force in fisheries as well as more research on fish stocks that are endangered, There will be more support for “food security” initiatives like mariculture, a small but fast-growing industry.
Traditional farming will get more support, too, such as in an expansion of electric power in the Delta farming region east of Fairbanks and a food processing facility in the Mat-Su that will serve state correctional institutions but will also be made available to local private growers.
The governor also introduced special guests during his speech, individuals who have made significant contributions to public well-being: They include:
Heidi Lieb-Williams is the Chair of the Governor’s Council for Disabilities and Special Education, and is a champion at the state and federal level for Alaskans facing physical or mental challenges. Her work has changed laws like the minimum wage exemption, allowing employers to pay smaller wages to Alaskans like Heidi. Her tireless efforts helped us repeal that exemption last year, in which the governor was proud to sign.
Daisy Lockwood Katcheak
Dunleavy first met Daisy Lockwood Katcheak, the city administrator of Stebbins, when the remnants of Typhoon Merbok hit the west coast of Alaska. Katcheak already had a damage assessment completed and a contractor and a plan to rebuild the seawall. “Due to her leadership, focus and diligence, she was chosen for the Shirley Demientiff Award at the annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives,” Dunleay said.
Sergeant Carlos “Julian” Navarro
Navarro was hired by Kawerak Inc. in 2009 to serve the community of Golovin as a Village Public Safety Officer. “For the past 13 years, Sergeant Navarro has served his community with a calm and quiet presence as he’s taken on bootleggers and drug traffickers and worked with our State Troopers to hold offenders accountable,” the governor said.
“In 2015, he saved the life of a four-month-old child in distress by performing CPR for over two hours while waiting for a medevac flight to arrive from Anchorage. His actions helped protect lives again this past fall as the remains of Typhoon Merbok approached the coast. In addition, he ensured that the community was prepared and that elders were sheltered,” Duneleavy said.
“Katie Botz made a huge difference for all survivors who feel they might not have a voice (following an assault). Katie believed that speaking up would help keep others from experiencing what she’s gone through and that speaking up would ensure that justice would be served on those who victimize others,” Dunleavy said.
Rebecca Morrissey is a second-generation psychiatric nurse at API. “Since 2016, she’s worked in the adult psychiatric unit and, most recently, in hospital education. She’s seen the darkest days at Alaska Psychiatric Institute, and she’s also seen the exponential turnaround in the past four years. Through her dedicated work and the work of so many others, API is now providing the services Alaskans expect us to deliver,” the governor said.