After a whirlwind tour around town on Friday, Governor Bill Walker sat down with the Seward Journal to talk about his vision for the state’s future. He spoke about several of the centerpiece aims of his administration, including the Alaska LNG project, expansion of trade with China and the use of Permanent Fund earnings to pay for government services.
“I’m very optimistic and bullish on the future of Alaska,” Walker said. “I think we’re making that financial turn now.”
This is an edited version of that interview.
Seward Journal: How might the proposed natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Nikiski help Seward?
Governor Walker: A couple ways. One, there would be activity in Seward during the pre-construction and during construction as far as pipe coming in. I was in Valdez when the oil pipeline actually began, and half the pipe came through Seward and the other half came through Valdez. So Seward can certainly anticipate a significant amount of activity at the port. Secondly, all the people I’m seeing trained here at AVTEC would be working on it in some way if they chose to. And then there would just be the general revenue to the state which helps pay for facilities like AVTEC.
Would you like to see lines coming off the pipeline to bring gas to places like Seward?
Absolutely. You know I’d like to see that pipeline look like a centipede with offtakes every place you can possibly imagine. How to do that economically I can’t really say for sure, but I think that, I mean, the more people benefit from that pipeline the better.
Do you still think that the pipeline is economically feasible? The last time I checked, the export price of liquefied natural gas is lower than it was during the last slump.
Well, you certainly don’t build them for what the price is today. You don’t flip a switch and it’s on. So you have to look out in the future. Really, it’s the buyer, the market, that has to make that determination, because a project of this nature cannot get financing without long-term contracts for the purchase of the gas. So that’s what you negotiate — a price that both buyer and seller have confidence in.
You’re going on your third trip to China for a trade mission this May. What is your goal for this trip?
Well, this trip is much broader than LNG. My goal is to expose the opportunity [of] Alaska to China, and we’ll see the success of that if we see a continued uptick in Chinese tourism. We have seen a significant increase since President Xi was here last year. We’d love to see that continue to grow. We’d love to see direct flights from Asia to Alaska. Years ago, there used to be what’s called a triangle fare. You could leave California for Alaska and fly through Hawaii at no extra charge. Everybody did that, because that’s an area that they wanted to see. So if you have an option of flying from Beijing to Washington, D.C., and you can either go through Seattle or come through Alaska at no extra charge, you’ll pick Alaska.
How do you make the case that we should be using Permanent Fund earnings to pay for government?
You have to have some way to pay for the schools. How do you pay for AVTEC? How do you pay for the roads? How do you pay for the Alaska Railroad? You have to figure out how to pay for the services that we provide. But you have to do it in such a way to make sure that the dividend program is permanent. That it continues on for generations and generations, not just for five years and then away it goes. So I had to do what I had to do. The legislature followed suit and made some similar modifications. That was not a fun thing to do, but we are the only state in the nation without a broad-based tax and the only state in the nation with a divided. It’s pretty unique. We want to keep it that way and make sure that the dividend is there not just for my grandchildren but for my grandchildren’s grandchildren.
This interview has been edited for content and brevity.