Alaskans from across the state called into a hearing on the state budget this week to protest proposed cuts to spending and urge the legislature to find alternatives to cutting. The House Finance Committee has been taking public testimony on the state’s operating budget throughout Alaska.
Monday night the committee listened to telephone testimony and heard from residents of Petersburg, Wrangell, Prince of Wales Island, Nome, Cordova, Dillingham, Kotzebue and Kenai. Many testifying focused on spending cuts proposed by Governor Dunleavy
Wrangell High School senior Abigail Armstrong supported funding the state ferry system.
“I believe that sports are very important to our small town,” she said. “They allow us kids to stay active and invest time into something we are passionate about. Without transportation it makes it very hard for us to travel in other ways and which our school may not be able to afford due to our school funding cuts.”
Southeast school districts rely on ferry service for school sports and activities throughout the fall, winter and spring. The Alaska Marine Highway would end service this October under the governor’s budget.
Mara Lutomski is president of Petersburg’s school board but was not speaking on behalf of the board. She urged the committee to reject the proposed spending cuts including those to school districts.
“Every cut to education in a small district will affect kids,” Lutomski said. “This 25 percent proposed cut is not cutting fat or finding efficiency. It is degrading and devaluing the teaching profession and education in our state. It is telling teaching professionals to go teach somewhere else. It is telling young families who cite quality schools as their first priority for where they choose to live to move somewhere else because Alaska doesn’t invest in education.”
Petersburg’s school district would see an annual loss of around one point four million dollars under the governor’s budget proposal, along with the loss of over 400-thousand dollars in school bond debt payment each year.
Others blasted the governor’s proposed spending cuts and urged the legislature to use Permanent Fund money to balance the budget or other sources of revenue. Petersburg fisherman Craig Evens called the governor’s budget unacceptable and devastating to the state.
“I’m in favor of an income tax,” Evens said. “I’m in favor of an equitable oil tax. I oppose repayment of prior dividends. Until new revenue mechanisms are put in place, I oppose full dividends.”
Another Petersburg resident Barb Marifern spoke for continued state funding for education, ferries, public radio along with health care and mental services. She also urged the state to continue providing fish tax revenue to municipalities.
“We have a 1.6 billion dollar deficit and I understand the governor’s proposing to give 1.9 billion to Alaskans,” Marifern said. “I don’t agree. We need all these public services to make a healthy community. I want to live in a healthy community.”
Not all testifying were against the governor’s budget proposal. Wrangell fisherman Mike Lockabey wanted spending cuts and larger Permanent Fund Dividend checks.
“I for one realize what you must do to retain our state’s financial health in our unique financial position,” Lockabey said. “You must cut in almost all programs. Please do not be deterred by those who proclaim don’t cut mine.”
The House finance has held public hearings in larger communities around the state this month, including in Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka and has heard from hundreds of Alaskans on the state budget.