Is Walker being squeezed between Begich, Dunleavy?
On the governor’s race the street talk in Alaska is that Democrat Mark Begich is expanding his support base on the liberal left side of the slate while Republican Mike Dunleavy on holding his conservative voters on the right, and that independent Bill Walker, in the middle, is getting squeezed. Most of the betting is on Dunleavy being the state’s next governor. However, this is really too volatile to realistically predict. What is known is that whoever is elected will win with a minority of voters, less than 50 percent, in this three-way race.
Begich swings left, endorses salmon initiative
Begich is surprising many by swinging further left, for example in endorsing the controversial “Stand for Salmon” ballot initiative. Critics also accuse Begich of pandering to “save my Permanent Fund Dividend” voters by promising to put the PFD into the state Constitution, which may have legal problems. The plan also faces dubious prospects of getting the three-quarters vote in the state Senate and House needed to put the question on the ballot. Also, experienced legislative observers say Begich’s proposal for a large statewide general obligation bond for capital projects is unrealistic because many types of projects won’t fit well on a g.o. bond. Also, it will be virtually impossible to prevent the bond authorization from becoming a “Christmas tree”in the Legislature, a sure-fire road to voter rejection at the ballot box. Begich, an experienced former mayor and U.S. senator, surely knows this.
Meanwhile, Dunleavy is frustrating his opponents by keeping silent about positions on issues other than broad generalities. He likely fears that being too specific will only inspire criticisms. The fact that he is such an unknown should be a concern, but this hasn’t surfaced yet. Dunleavy is close to the influential sports-fish lobby, which indicates a leaning in the sports vs commercial fish competition. He is also sounding more moderate in some pronouncements. For example, he told the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce that a $4 billion state operating budget adjusted for inflation sounds “right.” (The actual operating budget this year is about $4.6 billion.)
Walker runs on record of addressing state’s fiscal challenge
Meanwhile, Walker is running on his record of supporting a fiscal restructuring, accomplished through Senate Bill 26 and the percent of market value formula for tapping some of the Permanent Fund income to help support the state budget. The governor also said that rising oil prices, along with the POMV plan, will ease the state deficit. At a $73 oil price (year-long average) and the POMV draw the state budget will balance, the governor said. However, that does not address the need for a state capital budget or for the $1.8 billion-plus deferred maintenance backlog on public buildings including the university.
However praiseworthy the record is, what many voters remember is that Walker cut the 2015 PFD sharply, from the amount specified in a formula in state statute. That he did this in the midst of a state financial emergency, and that the Legislature basically followed a similar course in setting the 2016 and 2017 PFDs through a budget action, doesn’t seem to matter to many voters.