Text of Gov. Sean Parnell's address
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The prepared text of Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell's State of the State address, presented to the Alaska Legislature Wednesday evening in Juneau:
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Lieutenant Governor, former Governor Sheffield, distinguished guests, and fellow Alaskans:
I come before you to discharge a duty as old as our democracy. At the beginning of every legislative session, Alaska's Constitution requires the Governor to report on the state of our state.
That is as it should be, because in our country, government reports to the people, not the other way around.
Over the next 90 days, we must heed voices far beyond the echo of this chamber. We must hear not only the voters who cast their ballots in the last election, but also future generations, who will cast judgment on the legacy of opportunity we leave.
This is the voice of history - and we must answer its call.
As I look around this chamber, I see many fresh faces - lawmakers who, I have no doubt, will rejuvenate our debate. Join me in welcoming our newest members and their families.
As I look around, I also remember lawmakers who once served. This past year, we said farewell to Representative Carl Gatto and former lawmakers Al Adams, Cheryll Heinze, Bruce Kendall, Michael Beirne, and Henry Pratt.
We also remember nine military service members who deployed from Alaska and perished before returning home. They gave their lives for our freedom, and now, we live forever in their debt.
Let us stand to thank our service members and veterans — all who have stood in defense of our country.
I want to honor one veteran in particular. He was going to be with us until technical issues at the Juneau Airport prevented that.
After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Rod Bain joined the 101st Airborne Division. A member of Easy Company, he landed - under fire - with his "Band of Brothers" in Normandy, on June 6, 1944.
When Sergeant Bain came home from war, he gave Alaska 25 years of service as a teacher and administrator in schools, from Kake and Petersburg to Anchorage.
An educator, a commercial fisherman, and a veteran, Rod Bain represents the best of Alaska, and the best of America.
We are honored to have Sergeant and Donelle Bain's daughter, Donna, with us here tonight. Thanks to the legacy that Alaskans like Rod and Donelle Bain have given us, our state - the Last Frontier - has remained first in freedom.
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Tonight, I can report to you that our economy remains prosperous, our natural resources remain abundant, our schools remain hopeful, our workers remain competitive, and the state of our state remains strong.
In a time of economic retreat across much of America, Alaska has stepped forward as an outpost of opportunity. Over the two years between 2009 and 2011, more people moved to Alaska than at any other time in nearly two decades.
Americans aren't just looking North to the Future, they are moving North to the Future - and for good reason. While other states run unsustainable deficits, Alaska has billions in budget reserves. While America saw its credit rating shamefully downgraded, we have seen ours upgraded to AAA.
While the federal government in Washington has grown faster than taxpayers can afford, we've held State agency spending growth in Alaska to less than one percent - the lowest increase in recent years.
No wonder Alaska has been recognized as one of the best-run states in the country. That is, in part, a tribute to your convictions, and to your commitment to your constituents. I thank you.
The question before us tonight is not: What is the state of Alaska? The question is: How can we keep the state of Alaska strong?
Make no mistake: Our present prosperity does not guarantee our future security. The choices we make during this short session will have long-lasting consequences. So let us choose wisely and well.
SAFETY AND RESPECT
To keep the state of our state strong, let us choose a future of safety and respect.
In recent years, we united against three great evils: domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking. Last session, we defined sex trafficking as the terrible crime that it is, and I was proud to sign that bill into law.
Now, when we catch sex traffickers, we can give them a one-way ticket to the one place they belong - prison.
This session, I ask you to build on that effort by passing comprehensive crime legislation addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking.
The bill I propose would increase sentences for child pornography, ensure sex traffickers serve all of their time, require "johns" who target minors to register as sex offenders, and allow court-ordered GPS tracking of abusers, stalkers, and assaulters.
By passing this legislation, we will send a stern message to criminals who prey on the weak: You won't get away, and you will pay.
To ensure predators and other criminals have nowhere to hide, I ask you to fund 15 more Village Public Safety Officers for communities that often have no other law enforcement.
We've already seen what a difference these officers can make. According to the Copper River Native Association, new VPSOs around Glennallen have reduced assaults.
By adding more VPSOs, we can ensure that Alaskans receive the help they need, when they need it, not days later.
Where population growth has strained resources in the Mat-Su, the Kenai Peninsula, and Fairbanks, I ask you to fund 15 more State Trooper positions.
Law enforcement intervention, of course, is only one front in our battle against domestic violence and sexual abuse. The other front is creating a culture of respect through prevention.
Now active in more than 120 communities, our Choose Respect Initiative has helped break cycles of abuse and exploitation. I thank all of you for leading annual marches in your communities.
The cultural wave of respect we have started has swept across our schools and sports fields, and we will not rest until this hopeful tide washes over every corner of our state.
EDUCATION FOR ALASKA'S FUTURE
To keep the state of our state strong, let us also choose a future of higher standards and higher achievement in our schools. The jobs of tomorrow will require more education and more training, so we must begin preparing our students today.
Of all Alaska's natural resources, our children are unquestionably the most valuable.
In a world where college diplomas and advanced certificates are more important than ever, too many of our young people never even earn a high school diploma.
Alaska's graduation rate remains under 70 percent. As far as I am concerned, that is not a passing grade.
So tonight, I ask you to join me in achieving a new goal. Let's raise our graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020. That's the threshold for an A grade, and that's what we will strive to meet.
Meeting our goal will require raising expectations. To see the power of high expectations, just look at the success of Alaska Performance Scholarships. More than 4,600 young people have already earned these scholarships by taking more rigorous coursework.
By fully funding performance scholarships, you sent our students a hopeful message: When you achieve high standards in the classroom, we in this chamber will help you achieve your dreams.
Meeting our goal will require outstanding teachers. That's why the State Board of Education has not only raised content standards, but now will evaluate teachers based on how well their students learn.
That's why we recommend giving teachers more freedom to teach, by eliminating the unnecessary TerraNova assessment, while leaving our important standards-based assessments in place.
Meeting our goal will require a commitment to childhood literacy. Our next major initiative will be improving reading instruction for kindergarten through third grade, because literacy is a critical building block for success.
Meeting our goal will require an unwavering focus on the low-performing schools that need the most help. We have resolved time-consuming litigation, so we can get back to improving education. Instead of draining resources in courtrooms, we're investing unprecedented resources in classrooms.
Meeting our goal will require innovation. Through the promise of digital learning, we can deliver world-class instruction to Alaska's students anytime, anywhere, especially in our most rural communities.
Our efforts will include partnering with school districts and the Association of Alaska School Boards on the Alaska 1-to-1 Digital Learning Initiative, because when it comes to learning online, Alaska should be first in line.
Finally, meeting our goal will require safe learning environments. We will continue working with you and our local districts to improve school safety and security for Alaska's children.
GROWING ALASKANS' OPPORTUNITY: MORE OIL PRODUCTION
To keep the state of our state strong, let us choose a future of more oil production, not less.
Our state's prosperity has always rested on natural resources. Tonight, that foundation is at risk, not because we are running out of oil, but because we are running behind the competition.
Alaska's North Slope has billions of proven barrels, and billions more waiting to be discovered. What we do not have is a tax system that attracts new investment for greater Alaska oil production.
Our problem is not below the ground. Our problem is above the ground. One recent analysis shows a company will make substantially more, at today's oil prices, by investing in the Lower 48, rather than in Alaska.
Over the past year, Alaska has dropped behind North Dakota in oil production. If this trend continues, we will soon fall behind California into fourth place in our own country. My friends, that's not even on the medal stand!
Making matters worse, our laws give tax credits based on how much money companies spend in oil fields, not based on how much of that spending leads to production.
While Alaskans haven't always seen eye to eye on these issues, we can all see the obvious: Unless we restore balance to our tax system, our oil fields will become obsolete. We must make reforms - and we must make them now. Waiting only makes this problem worse.