Summary of the Alaska State of the State Address
By Stateline Staff
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell used his first state of the state address to call for new merit scholarships to Alaska universities, a two-year suspension of the state's gas tax and stepped-up measures to stop an "epidemic" of domestic violence and rape.
The GOP governor, who came to office in July when Gov. Sarah Palin (R) resigned following her unsuccessful run for vice president, reminded lawmakers during the Jan. 20 address that he had served in both the House and Senate. Currently, the state House is controlled by Republicans while the Senate is divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
Under Parnell's merit scholarship proposal, all Alaska high school students would be eligible for tuition help at state universities or for job-training programs. To do so, they'd have to take more rigorous coursework than what's required for high school graduation; the amount of their scholarships would depend on their grades.
"Merit scholarships work. States with merit scholarships have measurably higher graduation rates, measurably higher academic achievement, and measurably higher post-secondary completion," Parnell said.
The governor also said the state could afford to suspend the gas tax for two years because, thanks to oil taxes, Alaska had large enough budget reserves to last for a decade. He said upkeep of the state's roads and infrastructure did not depend on the gas tax.
On what he called a "personal topic," Parnell called for cracking down on domestic violence and rape.
"We cannot be indifferent or uncommitted when our children are nearly six times more likely to be sexually assaulted in Alaska than anywhere else in the nation. We cannot stand aside when our reported rape rates are 2.5 times the national average. That — fellow Alaskans — is an epidemic," he said.
He said his administration is already taking steps to reverse those numbers, by hiring more police officers and training them to reduce domestic violence and rape. Parnell also called for a new law requiring sex offenders from other states to register with Alaska authorities if they move to Alaska and is pushing for more funding for domestic violence shelters and a new public-awareness campaign.
Parnell also used the occasion to blast the federal government for imposing environmental regulations that prevent economic growth in Alaska. He said health care legislation pending in Congress further threatened Alaskans by taxing them years before any benefits would arrive. He asked his attorney general to prepare for a lawsuit to be filed if a law is passed.
"We best realize statehood's promise and grow our economy when we determine our destiny — not Washington," he said.