Election season is in full swing, and Homer received its third visit from a gubernatorial candidate Thursday. Scott Hawkins is running in the Republican primary this summer. Hawkins focused his pitch to voters largely on preserving Permanent Fund Dividends and cutting the budget.
Hawkins held a Q&A event at a local restaurant Thursday. He presented himself to voters as a businessman who could drill down into the state’s finances and manage the Legislature.
“You’ve got 60 cats you’ve got to herd, 20 in the Senate and 40 in the House,” Hawkins said to a few laughs.
Hawkins is the founding president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation. He also owns a supply chain management company and a tourism business.
Hawkins spent most of his time talking about and fielding questions on the state’s fiscal woes and Permanent Fund Dividends.
“My position on the dividend is that we can raise it significantly. We can sustain a much higher dividend, especially if we do that hard work of cutting the budget,” Hawkins touted. “We can support a dividend that’s in the $1,700, $1,800 range easily.”
That’s larger than this year’s $1,600 dividend. Hawkins argues that larger PFDs could partially be supported by doubling the time it takes to qualify and by temporarily revoking dividends from those convicted of non-violent crimes.
Hawkins also opposes splitting the draw on the Permanent Fund earnings reserve between state government and PFDs. The Legislature voted this session to draw on 5 percent of the reserve’s market value annually, bringing the budget gap from $2.4 billion down to $800 million.
Hawkins also pushed back against the idea of any broad-based taxes and he said he would push the Legislature to make cuts instead.
“The governor has to submit smaller budgets and the governor has to say, ‘when you send the budget to my desk, any amount over this line is going to be vetoed, and I’m going to decide where the priorities are, not you,’” Hawkins said.
Hawkins did not detail where those cuts would come from. As of this fiscal year, the Legislature has cut state spending by about 40 percent. He also said the Legislature needs to implement a spending cap, something Senate Republicans have pushed for.
When it comes to increasing revenue, Hawkins said the state should focus on putting more oil into the pipeline and working with the federal government to roll back regulations.
“We need a governor that can engage well with the current administration, the Trump administration, but the opportunity is there,” he said.
The roadless rule was of particular interest to Hawkins. He said removing the regulation could bring back the logging industry in Southeast Alaska and provide opportunity elsewhere in the state.
When asked about Gov. Bill Walker’s push for a natural gas pipeline, Hawkins said he supports the project but added that he’s leery about giving the Chinese government too much control.
“Chinese entities have a very bad habit of spying on U.S. companies and stealing intellectual property,” Hawkins argued. “They have got horrific human rights records. We have to recognize who we’re dealing with.”
Hawkins also focused on what he calls Alaska’s “crime wave.” He said he would push for the repeal of Senate Bill 91, a criminal justice reform bill that Hawkins said created a catch-and-release program for non-violent criminals.
Hawkins may face steep competition at the ballot box on Aug. 21. Former Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell and former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy have both filed to run for the Republican Party’s nomination.