In remarks to a banquet hall filled with Alaska Republican delegates and guests, former Gov. Sean Parnell delivered a strong message on Friday night: Alaska needs to bring jobs back. Here’s an excerpt from some of his keynote address:
Before I address Alaska’s economic challenges, let me answer another question. Why am I speaking now, when I’ve been mostly silent for the past three years on state policy issues?
[Parnell then told the story of how he and Sandy were at a meeting with President George W. Bush and heard him describe why he refrained from criticizing his successor for a time, out of respect for the will of the people and respect for the office.]
We both thought George Bush was a class act in the years following his departure from office, and Sandy and I both told each other after hearing him, that when our turn came to leave office, that we were going to follow his example, for the same reasons—out of respect for the voter’s choice and out of a desire to give the new administration a chance to succeed.
Now that they’ve had a chance to succeed, and need a help out … the time has come for me to re-enter the public discussion, as an Alaskan, and as an American, because staying silent is not an option where Alaska is so far off-track.
I say, let’s fix Alaska.
Number one on that fix it list — Let’s bring back our jobs.
In the last three years, about 11,000 jobs have gone away. Driven by our economic losses, job losses, GDP losses, and our shrinking population, Alaska came in dead last in a new ranking of state economic stability by U.S. News & World Report and McKinsey & Company. Both U.S. News and 24/7 Wall Street listed Alaska at 50th–out of 50 states for crime and public safety.
Thousands of jobs were lost first in the oil industry, and it took some time for the job losses to spread, but spread they did. Alaskans and companies began leaving the state.
We’ve said good bye to many stores—both large and small. In the oil patch, Apache’s, gone. Pioneer, gone, Shell, gone. StatOil, gone. In the Mat-Su Valley, we have seen the mom and pop businesses under strain, pulling up stakes and leaving.
In 2014, after leaving office, I had 20 years of commercial law experience in my past, and I still work in that area–representing buyers and sellers of businesses. I see the erosion of Alaska’s economy every day in the stories of my clients. It’s a tough time to be in business in Alaska.
But it does not have to be this way.
Alaska’s economic wounds have been self-inflicted and can be undone.
Let’s start with the oil industry and the governor’s decision not to pay tax credits that were earned.
Let’s say you and your spouse saved some money and you want to earn some interest on it. You decide that one particular bank offers the best rate of interest on your savings, so you go into the bank, sign a contract, open an account, and deposit your money. A year later, you go back to the bank to collect your money plus interest, but here’s the thing. The bank says you can’t have it. Neither your original deposit nor any interest.
That’s what happened to the small oil explorers. They sank, in some cases, $150 million or more into their first exploration wells, thinking that they would get the tax credit payments back—because that’s what Alaska law said. When they didn’t, some went into bankruptcy and some postponed further exploration, killing off thousands of Alaska jobs across the last three years of missed exploration seasons, because they didn’t have the money to go forward.
So, you say, what’s the big deal?
Well, let me ask it this way…in my story, the next time you have some money you want to earn interest on, are you going to park it in the same bank—the one that didn’t pay back your money or the interest you had earned on your initial deposit.
Alaska has, in the last three years, earned a deservedly bad reputation among job creators. People and companies with money are unwilling to make significant investments in Alaska due to the risk and uncertainty.
Other states work hard to get new business. Our state punishes business—we’ve become more like California in this sense.
The administration’s motto seems to be, “We love jobs, but we hate business.” The truth is, Alaska needs more businesses, large and small, because we need the opportunities and jobs they create.
These herky-jerky policies have eroded the ecosystem creating Alaskan jobs—and Alaskans are worse off today because of it.
Policy matters to jobs.
Stability matters to jobs.
And, credibility matters to jobs.
The good news is that we’ve faced similar challenges in the past, and we have overcome them. We have the resources and the people—many in this room—to bring back the jobs we’ve lost and rebuild our economy. We understand that a healthy economy matters to Alaskans’ future.
So, what are our guiding principles to foster a healthy economy? How do we bring back Alaskan jobs?
- First, we bring Alaskan jobs back by restoring stability. Put the state’s budget on a firmer foundation, get spending under control; and, when you use the earnings reserve, make sure there are side boards and dividends. Measure every state fiscal policy change by whether it replaces uncertainty with stability. Stability’s byproduct is opportunity for Alaskans.
- Second, bring Alaskan jobs back by restoring the state’s credibility. Don’t pay the tax credits in part; pay off the state’s debt in full. Don’t let the state be the debtor that didn’t make good on what it owes. Choose to restore the state’s credibility.
- Third, bring our jobs back by telling the world that Alaska is once again open for business—and implement policy to prove it; Because we want a future here for our children and grandchildren, we know who we are fighting for…and we know why. Policies that bring Alaskan jobs back, keep our children meaningfully employed here, and, they keep our families close. More Alaska jobs get created when we have a competitive investment climate, rather than a punitive one. More Alaska jobs get created when we reduce the cost of doing business. [State and local government property taxes have gone up on certain properties by 133% in one case I know of, 160% in another—the notices just came out.] Bring our jobs back by competing well.
- Fourth, we bring Alaskan jobs back by fostering entrepreneurialism and welcoming start-ups. We support a friendly environment for job creation among start ups by repairing infrastructure, by incentivizing the build-out of tech solutions, by streamlining government tax and fee collections and by addressing the high cost of health care and health insurance.
The next governor and this legislature need to be laser-focused on growing Alaskan opportunity by bringing back Alaskan jobs. Every policy must be measured by whether it will create Alaskan job opportunity or destroy it. If a proposed policy before legislators even leans in the direction of job destruction, even one scintilla—stop it!
That’s my message: Restore stability; restore our credibility; and, fix Alaska by bringing our jobs back!
So how can you help? What’s your part in all this!
- Our greatest need…we need good candidates in the state house and senate races. If you have ever thought that one day you might serve, then I’d ask you to consider that this could be the hour. [I’m willing to talk with you, to counsel you, to tell you what to expect.]
- Attend public forums and ask every candidate what they will do to create jobs and keep us safe. Do not cede those two issues. We have the high ground and the right policy answers to get our economy on track and to keep us safe.
- Volunteer on campaigns – in our first campaign for the State House, when I was 29 years old, it was my House District 17 Republicans and the Republican women who were vital to our victory – a victory that ultimately led to four years in the State House, four in the State Senate and ultimately to Lt. Governor and Governor.
You, here, have the ability to fix Alaska, and to bring our jobs back. Together, we will do that!
(Excerpt from a speech delivered by former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell on March 9, 2018, to delegates and guests at the Alaska Republican Party Convention in Anchorage, Alaska.)