Petersburg Pilot - Mayor Begich Speaks About Southeast Issues
Anchorage mayor Mark Begich spoke recently about issues affecting Southeast Alaskans. This is Begich's fifth year as mayor of Anchorage. He is running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.
Begich pointed out the advantages of having a senator in the majority. "You get the opportunity to impact the policy that is being developed. You're a part of the effort to bring the large issues forward, maybe on health care and energy," he said. He pointed out that "the majority decides what amendments and legislation comes forward. In the minority you don't have the ability to move much forward, you have no control of the agenda, and you cannot be chairman of any committees."
Begich addressed important issues that fishermen are facing. He praised fishermen as "the ones that provide a huge part of the food chain in America". He says he "likes the idea Senator Murkowski has" with the Fisheries Fuel Tax Relief Act and says, "It is important that we figure out ways to lower costs to fishermen."
One way he would like to help fishermen is to address other costs they are stuck with, besides fuel. "I'd like to see fishermen pool together to get lower costs for healthcare and reform to the healthcare system," he said.
He does acknowledge that "clearly, energy is part of the equation." Along with potential tax breaks, Begich says "new vehicles are being looked at [to reduce energy costs] and we should do the exact same thing with the fishing fleet around the country." He'd like to see new technologies, such as fuel cells, developed. "If we do find new technologies," he added, "there would be a tax benefit to allow retrofitting to the fishing fleet."
When asked about the timber industry in Southeast, Begich replied that he sees the future of timber in smaller mills that produce value-added products. "In Ketchikan I saw small, value-added timber operations that seemed to be very successful," he said. He added, "I'm not sure, in the long-run, what the timber industry will be like in the Southeast area, but I like the value-added programs." Begich said that he sees these mills as "a bright future for the timber industry."
One issue Mark Begich would love to address in the senate is the country's healthcare system. "It's a mess," he said. "I think anyone who has dealt with it recognizes that it's a mess." Begich would like to create access to healthcare and affordability for all citizens, including expanding Medicare and Denali KidCare.
As mayor of Anchorage, Begich said, he was instrumental in providing affordable healthcare to city employees. "When we took over we were averaging a twelve-percent increase per year," in healthcare premiums. "This year we'll have a six-percent increase and next year it will be zero," he stated.
Begich plans to invest in more preventative healthcare. In Anchorage he increased investment for wellness care and wellness programs. "For every dollar you spend, you get a six to seven dollar return down the road," he noted.
The candidate detailed a specific plan for veterans' care. Begich would like to introduce what he calls a "Hero's Health Card." Under his plan, veterans can "take that card and go to any medical facility and get care as a veteran." According to Begich, veterans currently must go to a veterans' hospital, and Alaska does not have a veterans' hospital. "With the Hero's Health Card you can go anywhere and then the institution is reimbursed," he explained.
Begich has not stopped in Petersburg and he does not have any visits planned in the near future.