U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski is in Juneau to address the Legislature in a joint session.
She met with the Empire for an interview, where she talked about Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget, Alaska’s recession, the Green New Deal, oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, her relationship with President Donald Trump and the future of federal shutdowns.
Her main point to Alaska’s legislators today? People are important. It was the same motto she pushed to Trump in her movement to end the government shutdown last month.
“If you don’t have a school or a health facility in a community, you don’t have a community anymore,” she said. “The functions of government are pretty basic, but look at those things that really allow us to be able to attract and retain the best and the brightest. It’s good schools. It’s good health care. It’s access to transportation.”
She said Alaskans will need to be engaged in the ongoing process of passing a state budget.
“We have become so tied to what that dividend is, I think it makes us forget what else we do as a state and a state government,” Murkowski said. “Alaskans need to be engaged in this conversation, because if you put (the dividend) front and center, it comes at the expense of your government services, of the things that we expect that our government is there to provide for us.”
She said she has long supported the use of a portion of the Permanent Fund to help balance the budget. But, she said, Gov. Mike Dunleavy campaigned on the promise to not do that, and Alaskans elected him. He wasn’t the only candidate who supported cutting the state budget and paying out larger PFDs, either, she pointed out. But Murkowski said she is wary of the mantra “PFD over everything.”
“The dividend at the expense of everything else takes us to a place I’m not sure is healthy for us,” she said.
‘Expansive, improbable, impossible’ Green New Deal
Democrats launched a sweeping plan to transform the U.S. economy to combat climate change and create thousands of jobs in renewable energy. But Murkowski was skeptical of the resolution. She said it’s more of a presidential policy than an energy policy.
At least six senators running for president or considering White House bids backed the Green New Deal put forth by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and veteran Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts. The nonbinding resolution calls for a “10-year national mobilization” on the scale of the original New Deal to shift the economy away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal and replace them with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. It sets a goal to meet “100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources,” including nuclear power.
“It is an amazing resolution. I am amazed even more so members of Congress just went ahead and signed on to it with such a bare framework, because they’ve got to answer for the fact they signed off on something that says, ‘We’re going to get rid of fossil fuel in 10 years,’” said Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
She said what has happened in the energy space is extraordinary and that the country has been working on reducing reliance on fossil fuel, but to have 100 percent elimination is still way out in the future.
“If we really want to get serious about this, let’s not get caught up in the gotcha moments, or something that is so, so, just expansive and improbable or impossible,” Murkowski said. “If you’re saying you’re going to be off of fossils in 10 years — that’s impossible. What I worry most about the Green New Deal as it’s been outlined is that it is going to distract us from coming up with creative solutions that will take us to where we all want to get. I want to be in the same place when it comes to energy security, and a future that is clean when it comes to our emissions. That is not pie in the sky. That’s something we should be working toward.”
• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2228. The Associated Press contributed to this report.