Congressman Don Young speaks on issues from ferry system to military suicide prevention

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) Congressman Don Young was in Fairbanks over the weekend during the February recess from Congress. While he was in town, we spoke to Young about issues facing the interior and Alaska as a whole.

We sat down with Congressman Don Young while he was in Fairbanks over the weekend to talk about issues facing the interior and Alaska as a whole. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)

When asked what some of the biggest challenges facing Alaska, Young said the state is coming out of a slight recession. “There’s a little bit of malaise in Alaska. Where are we really going? How are we going to do it? I am always optimistic about Alaska; there is a tremendous amount of resources in the state, a lot of energy is here, we just have to have the attitude [that] we can do it, and start going again,” said Young.

Young says they try to help the state on a federal level. “Like the highway bill, [a] tremendous amount of money comes in the highway bill, the defense bill, the F-35s, we’ve done a lot of work with the F-35s, getting them stationed, a billion dollars in construction... that’s all federal for the state of Alaska, in the state of Alaska, for Alaskans,” said Young.

He says Alaska has to recognize that it is an energy resource state and develop it more rapidly. “I know some people don’t agree with that, but if you don’t do that, you don’t have jobs that stay in the state of Alaska, “said Young.

The Budget

When it comes to President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, Young says, “I’ve been through 47 budgets and I’ve never listened to the president yet, regardless of party.”

Young says that is why they are elected. “Under the constitution, we’re the ones that write the budget, we’re the ones that raise the money, and we’re the ones that appropriate the money -- not the president. That’s his ideas. So we just leave them, I don’t pay them any attention, and I’d say 99% of the congressman don’t either,” said Young.

President Trump’s proposed budget calls for the elimination of the Denali Commission, but Young says he doesn’t think they will lose that institution. “We’ve been funding it all this time, it works really well, and it’s been one of the bright spots of how government should work. Primarily we did it because there was so much bureaucracy between receiving the money in a community, we really wasted it -- so now it goes directly to an effort,” said Young.

The Alaska Marine Highway System

Young says one of the problems he has had with the state is when areas of Alaska are not concerned with issues that do not directly affect their region; but Young says, “We’re all in this together and that’s very important to recognize.”

“Now the ferry system itself is important in Southeast because it is called our highway system. That’s where we come in -- the money that we appropriate for the highway system, including the ferries, is applied to the state. My concern now is the state legislative body, again, appropriates the money. Everybody is blaming the governor; it is the state legislative body -- they appropriate the money,” said Young.

He references how federal matching dollars work, how the state has to put money in to receive the federal funds. “If they don’t see that, then they may lose that money because I can’t keep that money in the highway bill for the ferry system unless there’s matching funds from the state,” said Young.

He says the state now has a choice with the ferry system. “Do we fund the ferry system? That means people in Fairbanks have to help pay [for] it. As far as the highway goes, we put the federal dollars in it, and we have a highway system in the Southeast and that probably will happen. Right now though, we never even kept up the maintenance up on the ferries. We have what, one working at all? It was poorly managed, poorly organized and really did not look down for the future, and they expanded too quickly,” said Young.

He said highways always lose money, but that they should have kept up with the maintenance on the ferries.

Fort Wainwright Suicides

When it comes to the issue of suicide on Fort Wainwright, Young says he has seen progress from the Army.

“The Army has been very receptive, the military is finding out there are problems, and they’ve got some ideas. In the report, maybe they did not emphasize as much as I would like to have emphasized. I think the military person that is stationed in Alaska should be vetted before. Are they fit for the dark nights and the long days? Are they fit for the cold... That type of thing. Some people are not. They should not be stationed in an area they can’t adapt to,” said Young.

He also mentions the impact if some of the soldiers are separated from their families, compounded with the dark. “I think it’s a reorganization of stationing people that can adapt to Alaska,” said Young.

Young says he is continuing to “argue” with the Army over what he believes should be done to prevent suicide of Fort Wainwright soldiers.

“The report is not all everything I wanted, but they recognize there is a problem. It is not just in Alaska, we just have a higher rate. Again, it goes back to the enlistment officers. Some people aren’t qualified to be in the military, let alone be stationed in an area that gets dark, and that’s one of the biggest things, [along with] cold. So that’s something we have to do,” said Young.

The SAFE Banking Act

The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act helps cannabis businesses who are operating legally under state law to bank safely. The legislation protects the financial institutions who are serving these businesses from punitive actions by the federal government.

Young helped this legislation pass the House. “It’s an ironic thing; I have been Co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and I’ve never smoked a joint in my life. But the people of Alaska voted for it, I want to run it as a legal business. The idea that banks cannot participate in any fashion, no banking can take place from a retailer, a grower can’t borrow from a bank... it’s really not healthy,” said Young. He believes the act will become law, possibly even by the end of this session.

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