Over the Easter weekend, the Northern Susitna Valley’s legislators both paid a visit to the Talkeetna Public Library to speak with their constituents. While Representative David Eastman has visited Talkeetna multiple times while a candidate and in office, this was Senator Mike Shower’s first opportunity to speak with the people he represents in Talkeetna.
The town hall proceeded mostly as a question and answer session between the legislators and the approximately twenty people who attended. Questions covered many familiar topics, ranging from the state budget to crime to fish and game management.
One area that both Eastman and Shower say should be a focus going forward is growing the economy. Representative Eastman says there doesn’t seem to be the political will to significantly shrink the size of government at this time, but that revenues simply aren’t keeping up.
“You don’t have economy to support that size of government, and haven’t for a period of time. With oil not going back to $100 per barrel, that’s not going to be the solution in the short term. So, how do we increase the size of our economy? Any small, medium, or large thing that we can do to that, I get excited about, because, long-term, that has to be the solution.”
Senator Shower agrees that growing the economy is a major piece of Alaska’s long-term fiscal stability. He points to examples such as Hong Kong and the city of Costa Mesa, California. Both of those places have targeted particular industries, banking and information technology, respectively, and are incentivizing those businesses to operate there. Shower says it’s possible something similar could work for Alaska.
“It’s very hard, infrastructure-wise, to build a steel plant in Alaska, but why can’t we be the next Hong Kong for banking? Why cant we be the next Costa Mesa for virtual world…why can’t we be the next medical innovation center and figure out as a state to incentivize people to come here? Alaska’s open for business.”
Senator Shower says, for now, drawing on reserves is likely the path the state will take, but that it needs to be a temporary one, as the state’s savings accounts are dwindling. He invited those present at the town hall to help come up with ideas and, as he put it, “throw mud against the wall” to come up with a way to diversify and expand the Alaskan economy.
After the holiday weekend, both legislators returned to the capitol in Juneau.