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Begich and Mallott campaign in Dillingham

Dillingham City School District - KDLG

While campaigning in Dillingham in September, Democratic candidate Mark Begich and incumbent Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott talked about their focus as the midterms approach.

The Permanent Fund Dividend is a key talking point for candidates this election cycle. And Begich is no exception. He is proposing a new formula to determine PFDs. The draw would be based on a percent of the fund’s market value and would be divided between dividends and education.

“Of the earnings reserve, 50 percent goes to the dividend – constitutionally protected – and the 50 percent goes to education. Constitutionally protected, inflation-adjusted, so every year it adjusts accordingly. But also, it would fund Pre-K,” Begich said.

The fund’s principle is already in the constitution, while the earnings reserve account is subject to change by legislators. Under Begich’s formula, this year another $300 million would have been put toward dividends. Begich acknowledged that it doesn’t solve the budget deficit.

“By the time you’re done, you still have about a $5- or $700 million deficit, give or take," he said. "And under our plan, we recognize there’s going to be probably a combination of revenues that will have to be generated to fill that gap. I’m not interested in continuing to cut this budget. You cannot cut yourself to prosperity.”

Possible revenue sources include income or sales taxes; Begich does not support wage or gas taxes. And ultimately, he said, these will depend on the makeup of the House and Senate.

Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott travelled to Dillingham at the end of September to oversee the public hearing on Ballot Measure 1. While he was in town, he campaigned for incumbent candidate Governor Walker. He said that one of the administration’s priorities is education; over the past year and a half, they developed the “Education Challenge.”

“It’s looking at our education system in Alaska from every level, from every perspective, and beginning the process of building a school system for the future, with a heavy emphasis on rural Alaska and rural educational needs. Because that is where the greatest need is. And strengthening the cultural aspects of meeting the educational needs of Alaska’s children," he explained.

Mallott pointed to the administrative order, signed by Governor Walker last month, declaring a linguistic emergency for Alaska Native languages.

“He gave the responsibility to the commissioner of education to begin working with all of the affected groups across the state, to begin the focus in a way that allows those languages to be maintained, never lost, revitalized, and become part of the cultural and language-speaking fabric of this state,” he said.  

According to Mallott, this is a critical step for an inclusive education system.

The third candidate in the gubernatorial race is Republican candidate Mike Dunleavy. And for both the Begich and Walker-Mallott campaigns, the three-way set up of the race is one of the biggest hurdles heading into November.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.