“This is a freight train hurtling down the tracks,” said Sitka Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of the effort to recall Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy. “If the recall election were held tomorrow, this governor would no longer be the governor,” he added. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Sitka Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins says that if a recall election were held tomorrow, Mike Dunleavy would not be Alaska’s governor any more.

Kreiss-Tomkins stepped in on short notice to address Sitka’s Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday (9-11-19). In addition to noting the record number of signatures gathered for the Recall Dunleavy petition, Kreiss-Tomkins remarked on the governor’s polarizing appointments to the state Board of Fish, and his “scorched earth” approach to budgeting that will likely send the legislature back into special session in October to protect the state’s Permanent Fund.

Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins is one of eight representatives and senators serving on a committee (the Bicameral Permanent Fund Working Group) to try and figure out what the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend should be. Sitka’s Republican Senator Bert Stedman is also on the committee. Gov. Mike Dunleavy staked his election last fall on paying Alaskans each a $3,000 dividend this year — under the formula prescribed when the dividend was created four decades ago.

Kreiss-Tomkins doesn’t necessarily think a big dividend check is a bad idea.

“Mind you, I’m not categorically opposed to a large dividend,” he said, “but only if you have the money to pay for it. And in Alaska, we don’t.”

Alaska doesn’t have the money — only if you don’t include the Alaska Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve, the account which holds roughly two-thirds of Alaska’s $66 billion nest egg, and can be drawn down on a simple majority vote of the legislature. That’s what Kreiss-Tomkins says would have to happen to pay the $3,000 dividend check — or any pay for any other whim of the legislative majority,  which Kreiss-Tomkins called “the flavor of the day.”

“I would say it’s completely irresponsible fiscally to liquidate the Permanent Fund to satisfy a short-term political or policy objective — no matter how meritorious people think that objective might be,” Kreiss Tomkins said. “But spending down the Permanent Fund in the short run, in a way that really mortgages the future — it taxes the future of Alaska. Because if you spend down the money now, down the road a decade from now, 50 years from now, that money will not be there and the earning potential of that money is gone and liquidated.”

Kreiss-Tomkins belongs to a slim legislative majority which wants to see more of the Earnings Reserve Account transferred to the Permanent Fund Principal, where it falls under constitutional protection. They also want to see the dividend formula modernized to eliminate the wild swings that produced the $3,000 figure this year (known as “Percent of Market Value”). They’ll likely return to Juneau in October in special session to hash that out, and to make a final decision on the amount of this year’s dividend checks to citizens. 

Gov. Dunleavy will have veto authority over the dividend, but Kreiss-Tomkins thinks that the recall effort will pull the governor’s agenda more in line with the majority of Alaskans. Needing only 28,000 signatures to launch a recall petition, supporters of the all-volunteer effort turned in over 49,000.

“This is a freight train hurtling down the tracks,” Kreiss-Tomkins warned. “From what I’m hearing directly and also back-channel through members of the governor’s office, they are considering it an existential threat to the administration. And I think they’re right to do so. If the recall were held tomorrow, this governor would no longer be the governor. I think that’s very clear.”

Kreiss-Tomkins cited Dunleavy’s “scorched earth” approach — zeroing out the ferry system, and senior benefits, to name but two state programs — as the primary reason that the legislature and even prominent Republicans had united against him. 

But there were other, less high-profile policies that were beginning to undermine the faith of some core constituencies in the state. For example, Kreiss-Tomkins cited the governor’s appointments to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, the regulatory body which governs all commercial and sport fishing in state waters. Since inception the Board has always had a balance of three commercial fish representatives, three sport fish representatives, and one subsistence representative. Kreiss-Tomkins suggested that Gov. Dunleavy — with his first three appointments — has signaled that he intends to change that balance.

“By the end of this administration, if he gets to the end of his administration,” said Kreiss Tomkins, “the Board of Fish in all likelihood will have seven members from the sport fish or charter fish community, and none from the commercial community.”

Kreiss-Tomkins says that a $350,000 campaign contribution by Anchorage real estate developer and sport fish advocate Bob Penney is the reason the governor is championing sport fish.

Despite all this, Kreiss-Tomkins said there was an upside. A seven-year veteran of the Alaska Legislature, Kreiss-Tomkins told the Sitka Chamber that he’s never seen the members work better together. “There’s a discipline and a concerted effort to work on issues that create the broadest coalition of support,” he said. “There’s a recognition to set aside divisive issues and focus on core issues like the budget and the Permanent Fund.”