Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins is one of a group of legislators urging Gov. Dunleavy to require Alaskans to wear masks in public places, as a way to keep the state open — and the coronavirus pandemic under control.
He also thinks the ferry system has hit an unprecedented low, and a state income tax is inevitable.
Kreiss-Tomkins fielded questions about the mundane workings of state government, and larger questions about racial justice in Alaska, during a recent town hall meeting, held via Facebook from his home in Sitka.
A state legislator on Facebook live is a lot like Ted Williams in a batting cage — he swings at every pitch.
“Yeah, so happy to take any questions,” said Kreiss-Tomkins, after a brief rundown on the latest events in Juneau.
Kreiss-Tomkins had recently returned home to Sitka, after the legislature reconvened in the capitol under strict coronavirus precautions to ratify $1.25 billion in CARES Act spending plan drafted by the governor.
“So, Austin: State trooper training and standards…”
High on the mind of constituents was the nationwide call for racial justice and equitable policing. This is actually an area Kreiss-Tomkins has some authority over.
“The training standards are not in law,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “A lot of that is left to the police standards council, which is a group of law enforcement professionals appointed by the governor, confirmed by the legislature… The State Affairs Committee, which is the committee I co-chair has oversight and jurisdiction on the Department of Public Safety, so if there are issues with troopers, then we can bring those to light.”
Another question on racial justice: Would the events since George Floyd’s death have an impact on equity in Alaska?
“I think this is going to increase the focus of people, and tune people’s eyes and ears going forward to instances where there may be unfair outcomes in the criminal justice system in Alaska,” he said.
Kreiss-Tomkins was peppered with questions by a constituent urging him to repeal, or at least lower, taxes in Alaska, to which he responded that there were no statewide income, payroll, or sales taxes of any kind in the state — a circumstance that Kreiss-Tomkins believes is fuelling Alaska’s ongoing budget crisis.
“I think a state income tax makes a ton of sense,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “And it’s a shame that we haven’t had one for years because it puts the state in a precarious position. Our revenues are incredibly undiversified, and there’s a huge amount of payroll that leaves Alaska every year leaving nothing behind. Just sort of extracting wealth.”
The state’s budget woes are most evident in his Southeast district in transportation. Kreiss-Tomkins didn’t pull any punches here.
“The ferry system is a dumpster fire,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “It is just abominable. It’s so unbelievably frustrating. The governor’s repeatedly vetoed funding for the ferry system. But that’s leaving a lot of communities without ferry service. There’s like no ferries to and from Sitka for literally months. So if you’re trying to get anything to or from here you’re flat out of luck. A lot of the villages are dealing with just skeletal service. I can’t get my car from Juneau to Sitka. So it’s going to take two-and-a-half weeks and cost four times as much on AML. These are the lowest levels of service for Sitka since the 1960s and 70s.”
Although his car didn’t make it home, he personally did. The town hall meeting was on June 4, a little over 24 hours before the state’s travel quarantine was lifted. Kreiss-Tomkins told constituents that he was isolating nevertheless. Alaska’s infection curve — like many other states — is swinging upward again as the state’s economy reopens.
Kreiss-Tomkins says he favors continued — and sometimes compulsory — caution.
“There’s an emerging body of evidence from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and elsewhere, that face coverings reduce transmission of COVID-19,” he said. “I think it makes a lot of sense to be taking stronger measures in terms of face coverings and masks, and I wrote a letter with eight other legislators asking the governor to — in some instances — not just politely ask, but require. Especially in high-risk contexts.”
Despite the isolation, Kreiss-Tomkins assured constituents he was feeling good, and looking forward to the election this fall. No Democrats filed to challenge him in the state primary, but three Republicans will vie for the chance to take him on in November. “I haven’t got much sense of a platform or issues yet,” Kreiss-Tomkins said of his prospective opponents, “but I’m glad there will be a race.”