Voices of Alaska: Optimism for our state in 2018

  • By Sen. Dan Sullivan
  • Tuesday, January 9, 2018 11:25am
  • Opinion

As Alaskans, there’s no doubt that we face significant challenges, including high crime rates, especially domestic violence and sexual assault, thousands of Alaskans struggling with addiction, and a continuing recession that has left too many without jobs. These are issues that I’ll continue to focus on in the coming year. But when I look out at 2018, I am struck by one overriding feeling for our state: optimism. There are numerous reasons for this.

First, the cornerstone of Alaska’s economy—responsible resource development—is making a dramatic comeback. Congress’s recent action to open the 1002 area of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge is a key part of this. For decades, thousands of Alaskans—Democrats, Republicans, and Alaska Natives—have advocated for opening ANWR. And despite millions of dollars spent by opponents of this Alaskan dream, reinforced by the stale and truth-challenged talking points of their allies like Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and a national media that was consistently hostile to opening ANWR, we did it.

This is an important victory for all Alaskans. But our comeback is not just about ANWR. Several new discoveries and developments on the North Slope, including a significant expansion of the Point Thomson field, all point to the potential for billions of dollars of new investment, significant increases in TAPs throughput and state revenues, and hundreds if not thousands of good-paying Alaskan jobs. At long last, we also now have a federal government that once again wants to be a partner in opportunity for Alaska, not an obstacle. For all of these reasons, our state has the potential to again become one of the hottest energy plays in the world.

But it’s not just oil and gas that make Alaska’s natural resources the envy of the world. Alaska has the most sustainable and abundant fisheries in the world, supporting tens of thousands of jobs in our state. As chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, I am working to make sure that Alaska remains the superpower of seafood by increasing market opportunities for our world-class products and streamlining federal regulations that often encumber family-owned vessels.

Second, due to the historic tax reform bill that was just signed into law, middle class Alaskans will see bigger paychecks which will help our families who are seeking to offset Permanent Fund Dividend cuts. For example, under the new law, an average family of four, making about $75,000 a year, will get about $200 more a month in take home pay, or about $2,400 a year, and a single parent making $41,000 a year will get a $1,400 tax cut. Our main-street businesses will also see relief and will be given the incentive to reinvest here in Alaska, and help get us out of a recession.

Third, we are accelerating ways to add much-needed diversification to our economy. Tourism businesses are increasing, as are other small businesses like micro-breweries and distilleries. Recent technological investments across our state—particularly in our telecommunications industry—have the potential to turn Alaska into a global tech corridor. Young Alaskans, with their energy and entrepreneurial spirit, will be key to creating the next generation of businesses and industry. The best way to unleash their energy and spur diversification is through policies of less government, and more economic freedom. That’s what this tax bill and current efforts at regulatory relief are doing.

Fourth, we are reversing federal policies that slashed defense spending and attempted to significantly reduce military forces in Alaska. In the face of rising global national security threats, we successfully fought to stave off these misguided cuts, which would have hurt economies in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Further, we’ve made the case to our colleagues in Congress and the Executive Branch that because of Alaska’s strategic location, we should be a destination for more troops, including those serving in the Coast Guard, and more military investments. In the last three years, we’ve been able to authorize over $1 billion for military construction in our state.

Nowhere is this more important than in our missile defense system, where a bill that I authored—the Advancing America’s Missile Defense Act—recently became law as part of the broader National Defense Authorization Act. This included an additional $200 million that has just been appropriated to build a much-needed missile field at Fort Greely. Enhanced missile defense is important for America’s national security in the face of threats from North Korea and Iran, but will also provide hundreds of good-paying jobs for Alaskans.

Finally, we’ve relentlessly advocated for getting outstanding Alaskans into the highest levels of the Trump administration to implement these policies and to protect Alaska’s interests. Former DNR Commissioner Joe Balash is now the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, in charge of all oil, gas and mining activities on federal lands. Chris Oliver is the first Alaskan to permanently head up all federal fisheries for NOAA. Former Alaska State Senate President Drew Pearce is a senior official at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Chris Hladick, Alaska’s former Commissioner of Commerce, is now the Region 10 EPA Administrator. And Tara Sweeney was recently appointed by President Trump to be the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State of Interior for Indian Affairs—the first Alaskan to hold this important position.

All the pieces are in place for Alaskans to work together towards a common purpose— creating a more prosperous, vibrant state, where all people and all cultures are respected, where we are safe in our homes and in our neighborhoods, where our great entrepreneurial spirit can be set free and where our families and children view Alaska as a place of unlimited opportunity and promise for generations to come. In the upcoming year, Senator Murkowski, Congressman Young and I will work as hard as we can with you to make sure those pieces come together.

Happy New Year Alaska. It’s an honor of a lifetime to serve you.

Dan Sullivan represents Alaska in the U.S. Senate.

More in Opinion

A roll of “I voted” stickers sit at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau in 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strengthening democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska

Priya Helweg is the acting regional director and executive officer for the Region 10 Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Happy Pride Month

This month is dedicated to acknowledging and uplifting the voices and experiences of the LGBTQI+ community

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30.
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

Fixers from Alaska and elsewhere step in after guilty verdict

Ballot booths are set up inside Kenai City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Perspective from an election worker

Here is what I know about our Kenai Peninsula Borough election system

Apayauq Reitan, the first transgender woman to participate in the Iditarod, tells the House Education Committee on March 30, 2023, why she opposes a bill restricting transgender rights. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The imaginary transgender sports crisis

House Bill 183 is a right-wing solution to a problem that doesn’t exist now and never will.

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Session ends with budget, dividend and bills passed

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Listen to PAs; support Senate Bill 115: Modernizing PA Practice in Alaska

Health care is rapidly evolving, demanding a more flexible and responsive system

Mount Redoubt can be seen across Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file photo)
Opinion: Hilcorp Alaska: Powering Southcentral Alaska — past, present and future

Hilcorp Alaska has and will continue to fully develop our Cook Inlet basin leasehold

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024 (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Collegiality matters

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Juneau Empire file photo
Larry Persily.
Opinion: Alaska might as well embrace the past

The governor, legislators, municipal officials and business leaders are worried that the Railbelt will run short of natural gas before the end of the decade

The Alaska State Capitol on March 1. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Physicians oppose Alaska Senate Bill 115 — Independent Practice for PAs

Alaskans don’t want access to just any health care, they want access to high quality care