Since the election is fast approaching, we’re going to introduce you to another mayoral candidate, Andrew Halcro.
Halcro grew up in Anchorage attended East High School, Willamette University and UAA and served two terms in the Alaska House of Representatives. When Mark Begitch was elected Anchorage Mayor in 2003, Halcro served on Begitch’s transition team. In 2006 he ran for Alaska Governor on the Independent ticket against Sarah Palin and Tony Knowles. Halcro live in Anchorage with his wife Vickie, they have two grown daughters. For the last two years, he has served as the President of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.
I asked Halcro how he would describe himself, politically. He said he is a fiscal conservative with a passion for private sector business. He thinks the government has an important role to play for the public, but that the government should stay out of peoples private lives.
Halcro feels that his background in the private sector, in addition to his public service, has equipped him to be the mayor of Anchorage. I asked Halcro his opinion on the development that’s gone into the Port of Anchorage. He said that the city has wasted millions, but that waste is in the past. He says that updating the port is of crucial importance to the city. Although 380 million dollars is needed to modernize infrastructure, Halcro says it’s worth it. He says the city can’t keep spending millions for bandaids.
“Here in Anchorage we have three days worth of food and the port is incredibly important and it has to be the number one priority, capital project priority, of the city.”
Halcro says the city will need to find creative ways to finance upgrades in light of decreased state funding, while mitigating the cost shifts to tax payers
” First off, Anchorage is in a fabulous position. The unemployment rate is 5.1 percent, a very healthy economy fueled a lot by the huge growth in healthcare industries, oil and gas is booming, retail has picked up. So they only sector out there that’s actually declining in jobs is government. And I expect that to continue. I mean, with 50-dollar-a-barrel oil and a billion dollar budget deficit, these folks are going to have to start cutting some jobs. The biggest challenge for Anchorage moving forward monetarily is the cost shifts from the state government to the city government. For instance last year the state gave the city 14 million dollars in municipal revenue sharing, that’s just simply a check that they send out: it’s like a dividend. And with the state facing tough budget times, that’s one of the first things that will be looked at because you’re not talking about laying off employees or shutting down a program you’re just simply talking about not sending a check anymore.”
Halcro says that the city can expect reductions in municipal revenue sharing, school debt reimbursement and money to fix roads and bridges.
He says that what the next mayor of Anchorage is going to need to look to the future, anticipate budget cuts from the state and manage the city around those cuts. But at the same time, he says, its crucial to grow the economy to off set the changing budget.
The mayor, he says, provides the environment for business to thrive.
He says he would like to see Anchorage be the most public safety friendly, business friendly, and education friendly city in the country.
“And so, when you talk about growing the economy, I think there’s a couple of things we need to do. We need to continue to focus on growing our tourism, cause tourism pays millions back to the city in taxes and fees. We do need to get in…and there’s a great opportunity for us to broaden our tax base by actually redeveloping certain areas downtown: East downtown, Fairview, Mountain View. Mountain View has had a considerable amount of investment over the last 10 years. And I think reinvesting in these communities not only broadens the tax base cause it improves the value of these properties, but it also addresses a critical issue which is housing and affordable housing.”
Halcro says that embracing economic development groups like the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation will be crucial to the city’s future. Their job, he says, is to look at ways to diversify the economy. According to Halcro, we have to get back to letting the people who do the best job do their job. We can use the intelligence and experience of private groups instead of letting the mayor and assembly make up economic policy on an ad-hoc basis.
“You have to build up. And one of the things that we, I think sometimes its important to remember that when you’re a city like Anchorage and you’re a hundred years old, there comes a point in time when you have to look in the mirror and you have to identify areas that you can improve upon. And, when I was a kid I started working in my family buisness, Avis Rent-a-Car, at 15, so it was 1979. And my first job was washing cars downtown at our office on the corner of 5th and B Street, right downtown. And if you look East today, towards the Sheraton, that area hasn’t changed at all. It looks the same as when I was a kid washing cars down there. And that doesn’t work for a community that needs land and needs room to grow.”
Halcro says that there is a large group of people who want to live downtown, who want to be near the restaurants and shops. He says the city needs to be aggressive with tax credits and tax deferrals for developers, because Anchorage is an expensive place to build.
I asked Halcro is opinion on how the city should deal with our homeless problem. He said that the cost of public safety for the roughly 200 chronic inebriates amounts to a tax payer treadmill. To fix this problem you have to take a long view, according to Halcro.
“And we have to get serious. Because the problem, the problem or the challenge in the past has been we’ve approached this like nibbling around the edges of a cookie. And you can’t do that, because what happens is you take one step forward and two steps back. And it used to be the chronic inebriate and homeless problem was really limited to downtown. Now its as far south as the Diamond Center. So now you have people in town that haven’t been affected by the chronic inebriate and homeless problem, that suddenly are and they’re suddenly saying ‘we need a solution.’ The solution is you have to take a long view. You need to embrace more housing first projects like the Karluck Manor which has been incredibly successful and it’s lowered cost to tax payers. The second thing is, you need to do more collaboration, you need to get the social services together, not only with the city, but the Alaska mental health trust authority. You need to get all these group around a table and you need to figure out: what does a long term view look like, for solving this problem?”
Halcro says solutions could range from a health campus that provides detox, rehab, and job training to wet housing facilities that keep people off the street. There’s no silver bullet, Halcro says.
On the subject of public safety, Halcro says that the city is 50 police officers short. He thinks rebuilding the police force is a crucial task, but it’s one that will take time.
I asked him what his opinions about marijuana legislation are. He said we need to wait to see what the state hands down.
“You know, personally I voted “No” against the initiative to legalize marijuana. I have always been very supportive of medicinal marijuana. I think it has significant benefits and I think those have been proven consistently, and I think people should have access to that. Why I voted no was my last two years as chairman of the 90% by 2020 education initiative. We did a statewide survey about a year and a half ago, 1200 teachers state-wide, and the number one inhibitor that they listed as being an inhibitor to learning was drugs and alcohol, whether it was in the community or whether it was student use. And I just couldn’t, even though my support for medicinal marijuana is very strong, I felt, okay maybe that can be, hopefully we can come back and address that next, but marijuana is legal. The voters have spoken, we certainly have to honor that, we have to balance public safety and community development with the legalization of marijuana. I do think the city has a key role to play in governing and enforcing the laws, you know, and regulations with regards to marijuana. But it is going to be one of those balancing acts, because the public did say ‘yes, we want this.’ As an elected official you have to respect that, but you also have to do it in a way that balances public safety and community health.”
Halcro says that the mayor should be a strong advocate for the University. He says he’s running on a platform of moving the city through financial challenges, protecting the health and safety of our community, reaching out to minorities, and growing the economy.
You’ve been listening to Andrew Halcro, candidate for Anchorage mayor. I’m Mariah Brashar for KRUA