In his annual address to the Alaska Legislature, Gov. Mike Dunleavy identified successes from his first four-year term in office and called for action on a list of administration priorities, including more funding for a “statehood defense” program that has launched a series of lawsuits against the federal government.
Speaking Monday night at the state Capitol in Juneau, the governor also said he would work with state legislators to make Alaska “the most pro-life state in the entire country.”
Doing so, he said, would require affordable housing, improvements to education, economic opportunity and quality of life. Dunleavy also said it would be important to consider life “from the moment of conception on.”
He did not include a firm proposal for meeting those goals.
In June, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the governor said he would introduce an abortion-related constitutional amendment this year. He has not yet done so, and officials in the governor’s office did not say whether he will introduce one.
“Alaska does have constitutional protection for abortion, so I would suspect — though I don’t know this — that he would propose a constitutional amendment,” said Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage.
Rep. Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage and the House minority leader, said in a written statement that he was encouraged by the governor’s speech and hopes that it means that in areas like the state’s base student allocation, he will support “investment in maternal and children’s health, raising BSA educational funding, and restoring defined benefits for our hard-working public employees.”
Legislators generally praised the speech, saying they are optimistic that the governor’s second term will mark a change from the administration’s often-combative relations with the Legislature in his first four years.
“Overall a positive, forward-looking speech, but I guess the devil’s in the details, and I look forward to hearing the details,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage.
Though the governor’s “pro-life” message lacked details, other elements of his speech have already been introduced in his budget.
One of the administration’s biggest pushes is an expansion of its statehood defense initiative, which funds lawsuits, frequently using hired attorneys, against the federal government.
“When federal agencies are clearly wrong, when they’re misinterpreting the Statehood Act, ANILCA, or other laws governing our relationship with the federal government, we have an obligation to stop them,” Dunleavy said, referring to the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that conserved much of the land in Alaska.
Speaker of the House Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said that’s in line with the priorities of the House’s coalition majority.
The administration has already requested and received millions of dollars that it has used for lawsuits on a variety of topics, and the governor’s newest budget requests $10 million more for the effort.
Legislators say they’re interested.
“I think we need to continue to move forward and protect our natural resources to make sure we stay in business,” said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka and co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
The governor also requested $5 million to market Alaska as an area of opportunity for new businesses. The North to Opportunity program, as the governor termed it Monday, is an existing effort the Dunleavy administration has already used to advertise Alaska to fishing companies, tourism businesses, aerospace ventures and even the U.S. Navy SEALs.
Dunleavy said he would “declare war on fentanyl,” a drug that has contributed to a rising number of deaths in Alaska and elsewhere.
Police in Skagway suspect two weekend drug overdose deaths in that community were linked to fentanyl, and the governor has already said he will introduce legislation to increase criminal punishments for drug dealers whose product results in a fatality.
Shortly before the governor’s speech, a hundred-strong rally outside the state Capitol urged Dunleavy and lawmakers to increase the state’s per-student funding formula, known as the base student allocation.
That topic is expected to appear frequently in this year’s legislative session, but the governor’s speech did not mention it, and lawmakers noted its absence.
“I wish he would have spoken more about education,” said Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak. “I don’t think we heard much specificity about how we would solve that problem.”
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