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To navigate safely in difficult waters requires a seasoned mariner who fully understands the situation and draws upon a wealth of experience and skill to plot the best course ahead.
By now, most Ketchikan residents know of the State of Alaska’s difficult situation and its potential impact on Ketchikan. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed a budget that, in parts, would end the Alaska Marine Highway System on Oct. 1; remove about $7 million in funding for Ketchikan schools; take raw fish tax revenue away from our municipal government, and end state assistance on paying bond debt. Worse, Dunleavy and his administration have made it abundantly clear that the impacts of these changes are not their concern — it’s just a numbers game to them.
Fortunately, there is separation of powers in Alaska’s government. It’s the state Legislature, not the governor, that holds the actual power of appropriations. Thus, Dunleavy has submitted his proposed budget to the Legislature for consideration.
The Dunleavy budget has now landed in the Senate Finance Committee. This is where Ketchikan — and the rest of Alaska — can take heart. Why? Because at the helm of the Senate Finance Committee’s consideration of the state operating budget is the one legislator who, in our opinion, is the most qualified and capable of navigating Alaska through the Dunleavy budget storm.
Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, is the right leader in the right position at the right time.
Stedman understands many things — business; government and private sector finance; the workings of state government; and the people, place, cultures and economy of Southeast Alaska.
Stedman has worked in commercial fishing, construction and as the longstanding owner of a Sitka-based investment services firm. He has served at the municipal government level with the Sitka City and Borough Assembly and the Sitka Planning Commission.
He has served as Ketchikan’s state senator since 2003. He has extensive experience with the Senate Finance Committee, having previously served as its co-chairman from 2007 to 2012. He knows Dunleavy, who served in the Senate with Stedman from 2012 to 2018.
Stedman also understands the oil industry, having served on The Energy Council and the National Petroleum Council.
On resume alone, Stedman is the legislator most capable of steering the Senate Finance Committee and Legislature as a whole toward a rational budgetary solution.
Beyond resume, the handling of the early Senate Finance Committee hearings by Stedman and Co-Chair Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, indicate a firm grasp of the Legislature’s key role in the budget process. Stedman, in particular, has put the Dunleavy administration on notice that the Legislature will have its say.
Most important for Ketchikan, Stedman understands how Dunleavy’s proposed budget would affect this community.
“The overall impact to the community of Ketchikan, I figure, with the other facets of the budget as presented, would probably eliminate about 20 percent of the economy,” Stedman said in a video commentary posted Wednesday on his Senate Majority website. “The pulp mills eliminated about a third (of the local economies) when they shut down. These are staggering numbers.”
Indeed they are. And it’s worth repeating the rest of Stedman’s comments here.
“So, clearly there's a better solution — and we're going to pursue it as vigorously as possible,” he continued. “And I look forward to sitting down with Gov. Dunleavy and working through some of these issues.”
Stedman said he believes that Dunleavy “has no interest in shutting down the economy of the state of Alaska.
“We have a cash flow problem. In other words, we have a deficit issue that we’ve got to fix over the next couple of years, and we'll work with (Dunleavy) to accomplish that goal and keep the economy going,” Stedman said. “But taking out 20 percent of the economy is not the solution, and I personally believe that (the Office of Management and Budget) did not think through the proposal to its ultimate conclusion, which is the annihilation of 20 percent of one of the largest towns in Southeast.”
Stedman understands the situation. Better yet, he has the experience and skill to navigate the Legislature’s response in crafting a solution that won’t sink the economy of Ketchikan or any other Alaska community.
Dunleavy can still play the spoiler later with line-item vetoes from the Legislature’s budget. But for now, and throughout the process, Stedman is the legislator needed at the helm.