Second Anchorage Caucus highlighted by anti-budget sentiment among Alaskans

Published: Mar. 2, 2019 at 10:37 PM AKST
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Those not totally focused on the Iditarod packed into East Anchorage High School on Saturday for the second public testimony session with the Anchorage Caucus.

Hundreds of Anchorage residents gave their two cents on the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020 -- talking about how it will impact education, healthcare, and other Alaska institutions.

"We need spending on infrastructure, education, health, and public safety,” one resident said. “The PFD is essential for many rural Alaskan families. We need the PFD. So, we need new sources of revenue.”

The man had to pause at this point to wait for the audience to stop applauding, and then he addressed the Caucus again. “You've had five years to figure out cuts. Now it's time to figure out revenues," he said.

Anchorage educators wore “Red for Ed” garb, and several testified against proposed cuts to the state education budget.

The Alaska Nurses Association expressed concerns over how the budget would impact providers’ abilities to extend healthcare options to rural Alaskans.

A group of student beneficiaries of the state’s WWAMI program, which allows Alaskan medical students to train in-state, said budget cuts to the program are causing them to look out-of-state to practice medicine.

“I think without that program, we see an increase in doctors leaving the state,” one WWAMI student said. “After the proposed budget considering health cuts to the medical school program, it's the first time in my life I’ve actually looked at moving out of the state."

Some residents prompted their representatives to be strong in the face of political pressures when they head back to Juneau to hash out the budget.

"Moving under a budget that you have no control of is not leadership; defaulting on promises made to local governments in order to balance the budget is not leadership; stealing money back from local entities that have organized and taxed themselves to have the communities they want is theft,” Anchorage School Board member Andy Holleman said.

Anti-budget sentiment filled the theater at East High, but earlier this week Gov. Dunleavy told Channel 2 his proposed budget is a realistic way to balance out the state’s $1.6 billion deficit.

“Right now, based upon our revenue picture and our expenditures, we believe that we have a balanced budget, and that is something to think about going forward,” Gov. Dunleavy said. “We have to hem-in our growth on our budget. Since ‘06/’07, we spent an extra $2 billion dollars a year on the budget, every year.”

The Office of the Governor also shared a statement with Channel 2 in reaction to the testimony at Saturday's Caucus.

“The Governor’s budget represents a sincere effort at tackling our state’s fiscal challenges, including our massive $1.6 billion dollar deficit.

“The Governor welcomes the many conversations and discussions that have resulted in the days and weeks since the introduction of his budget. He looks forward to seeing the Legislature engage in this important process, including presenting their own concrete proposals, plans and solutions to the Alaskan people.”

Representatives are early in the budgeting process and will need to keep hearing from constituents as they work to pass the operating budget for fiscal year 2020.