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Tuesday, May 21, 2019
HomePolitics and PolicyMat-Su testifies: Cut the budget

Mat-Su testifies: Cut the budget

WHILE KETCHIKAN AND BETHEL VOICE GRAVE CONCERN OVER CUTS

The statewide discussion about the state budget is under way this weekend. On Friday, it was Juneau, and Saturday members of the House Finance Committee fanned out to Ketchikan, Bethel, Mat-Su, and Kenai to hear what Alaskans have to say.

Today, the Finance Committee leadership, which is under the control of Democrats, appear in Anchorage, Sitka, and Fairbanks to hear from Alaskans about the size of government and how to pay for it.

It’s a discussion prompted by the proposed budget of Gov. Michael Dunleavy, who downsized the government footprint to be about 78 percent of what it is today– a $1.6 billion cut starting July 1.

MAT-SU IS ‘DUNLEAVY COUNTRY’

Nearly 200 people attended the hearing in Wasilla, and the testimony went about two-to-one in favor of Gov. Michael Dunleavy’s austere budget and constitutional amendments to limit taxes, pay a full Permanent Fund dividend, and put a spending cap in place.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, a North Pole Republican member of the Democrat-led majority, moderated the meeting under the watchful eye of Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Democrat who changed his party registration to undeclared so that he could form a caucus controlled by Democrats, but with Republican members.

Edgmon was noticeably uncomfortable in the conservative Mat-Su Valley and left about a third of the way through the hearing. He was heading to Kenai to monitor that hearing, which was occurring later in the day.

Some in the Mat-Su who testified expressed concern that education and health service cuts would devastate the state. A few attendees landed in the middle, favoring both moderate cuts and taxes. One person mentioned saving the ferries. But, as one woman put it, “this is Dunleavy country and karma is a b*tch!” She, like many others, said government had grown too large and she didn’t want to pay taxes for more of it.

With 11 pages of people signed up to testify, and about 17 names per page, some people gave up and left before they could be called to give their opinion at the Mat-Su Legislative Information Office.  Not all could fit in the room, so they spilled into the outer office and small meeting room to wait their turn.

The beginning of the meeting trended 90-10 in favor of budget cuts, but as the hours went on, more teachers and health care workers arrived and testified about the need for either a static budget or more funding for programs. Several from the “red for ed” movement came and spoke for saving education from the chopping block.

But teacher Dee McKee, winner of the BP Teacher of Excellence Award (2017) told the panel that education is an area that does have waste.

She pointed to the Nome School District, which receives funding for more than 1,500 students, but that the school only has 674 students. She was referring to the multiplier effect that incentivizes school districts to label students for special education, so the district can get more money.

“We have ghost students. This is insane. If you’re looking at education, and if this is typical, it’s got to get fixed,” she said.

Lisa Shelby, a principal at Susitna Valley Jr/Sr High spoke about how well her students do in graduation rates and test scores, compared to others around the state, and how much the school does for students, including providing a lot of lunches for students from lower-income families.

John Nelson, a financial adviser who ran for Congress in 2018, testified, “We do have a spending problem. We do have to get it under control.”

In Bethel, the testifiers were most, if not all, opposed to spending cuts.

Beverly Hoffman said that she was born in Bethel and was worried, saying even the mention of cuts had created chaos.

“This administration has just wanted to shock the crap out of us,” she said, “It’s deplorable, that’s the word. We know how to live here. We’re grateful for PCE [power cost equalization payments]. It’s ludicrous. I wish he [Dunleavy] came here today. Boy he’d get an earful. We deserve the best in education. The best in public safety, the best in health [care].” Hoffman is a local activist for the failed Stand for Salmon initiative that was on the November General Election ballot and opposes the Donlin Mine.

Meanwhile, back in Wasilla, Tammy Miller was telling legislators that she has learned how to cut her expenses when she’s faced losing a portion of her income “and I also look at how my money is used and I don’t throw good money after bad.” She expects government to do the same.

Berkley Tilton, married to Rep. Cathy Tilton, encouraged lawmakers to use the existing historic formula for calculating the Permanent Fund dividend and to initiate a spending cap, as proposed by the governor, and Lyle Downing (no relation to this writer) testified that the dividend should not be considered a revenue stream for services.

Carol Carman spoke about education funding, but then turned to Speaker Edgmon and addressed him on another matter that has been on her mind:

“Rep. [Matt] Claman has an ethics problem. He is chair of Judiciary, and he is a practicing lawyer. What are you going to do about it?” Under the ethics rules of the Legislature, Claman is not allowed to serve in a position where he has a conflict of interest, and as a trial lawyer, he is handling criminal justice reform legislation as a committee chair.
Rep. Wilson said she would take that comment back to Juneau for consideration.

After nearly three hours in Wasilla, 187 had signed up, 85 had testified, and it was running about two-to-one in favor of budget cuts.

Other legislators who attended the meeting in the Mat-Su included Reps. DeLena Johnson, David Eastman, and Cathy Tilton and Sens. Shelley Hughes and Mike Shower, all from the Valley. They are part of the 15-member Republican minority that was created after fellow Republicans Tammie Wilson, Chuck Kopp, Jennifer Johnston, Bart LeBon, Gary Knopp, and Steve Thompson left the Republican Majority and joined Democrats in a coalition, which already had two putative Republicans in it.

Farther to the south, 150 people in Ketchikan attended their hearing on Saturday and many said they want the ferry system, education, and social services saved. Ketchikan is the headquarters of the Alaska Marine Highway System, yet also was a stronghold for support for Gov. Dunleavy in the recent election. About 50 people spoke during that Saturday hearing, moderated by Rep. Daniel Ortiz.

Hearings continue today:

Anchorage: Sunday, March 24 from 2-5 p.m. at the Anchorage LIO, 1500 W. Benson Boulevard, Anchorage

Sitka: Sunday, March 24 from 2-5 p.m. at Centennial Hall Assembly Chambers, 330 Harbor Drive, Sitka

Fairbanks: Sunday, March 24 from 2-5 p.m. at the Fairbanks LIO, 1292 Sadler Way, Suite 308, Fairbanks

(With apologies to Kenai, this writer was not able to monitor that hearing on Saturday.)

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Democrats and Independents ran the Alaskan government for the last 4 years, draining the Alaska Constitutional Budget Reserve from over $15.25 billion to under $1.74 billion.

    Unfortunately, the Democrats and Independents have left Dunleavy’s Administration little choice but to cut government as much as possible and balance the remaining portion of the budget on PFD’s.

    Hopefully everyone has learned a lesson, “We cannot grow the size of Government on deficit spending”.

    • Grizzly, I would suggest you do some research on who actually passed these bloated budgets in the past. While it’s fun to point the finger at Democrat’s and Independents, it’s factually incorrect. Hold all responsible, accountable for their actions. If you don’t, your view holds no weight and is nothing more than propaganda speech.

      • Who was in Alaska Governors mansion? An Independent named Bill Walker. Who controlled the Alaska House of Representatives? Democrats, that were led by Speaker of the House, a Democrat named Bryce Edgmon.

        Its too bad that those in power couldn’t work with the Republican majority in the Senate.

        I would suggest you take your own advice… and do some research.

        • Grizzly, the budget passes through both bodies before making it to the governor. The Senate touches that budget just as much as the House. If you think the House and Governor can make things happen without the approval of the Senate, you don’t understand government. Take a look at what’s been happening at the federal level and you’ll hopefully grasp what I’m trying to explain. I’m not attempting to talk down to you, I just feel you’re missing part of the whole.

          • I already told you, but you apparently have a hard time reading. Neither the Independent Governor, nor the Democratically controlled House worked with the Republican Senate. Hopefully you will comprehend what I have written twice now.

          • While Walker sat in the rep house conducting the outcome. Bryce Edmon is a thief

      • To a point, agree, now LtGov admitted he voted for more spending than he should have.
        Yet Grizzly has a point though, although not stated. When we had a Republican majority in the House, we sadly had to still dip into the CBR, thus the Dem-Socialists demanded bringing back cut funds to vote for the CBR spend. Thus, in essence, the Dem-Socialists ruled the budget for many, many years.
        This is a problem brought on by both sides. Parnell and his scholarship for good grades when we didn’t have the money to begin with as one example

    • SB21 whipped us out! Never saw the increased production and revenue we were promised from that tax cut we gave the oil companies and now the solution being offered is to get rid of over ten thousand jobs both public and private and dismantel a state that took decades to build. We’ve been cutting the budget during the last administration, hundreds of millions. Now this administration wants to decimate whats left.

      • BS.

  • Put the beer or whatever down before commenting, as this makes no sense. You need to review who has been in charge since oil began to flow in 1978. Not a lot Dems in charge since the House revolt in 1982 bringing Joe Hayes into leadership.

  • No one needs to touch the PFD. The ERA belongs to the legislature.

  • Down in Kenai red-shirted educators extolled that cuts should lead to job loses as people and then people would leave the state ….

    All I could think was at least the childeren in leaveing would have a much better chance out of Alaska to get a better education.

    Oh, non profits bemoaned the lack of funding them meant cuts in their services and their PAYROLES and people would be worse off .

    But I connected the idea that with a true PFD in the hands of the “down trodden” they would not need the non profits speaking as they could with the PFD avoid the middle man non profit personal on PAYROLLS and personally pay for their needs.

    Then the paid non-profit “charities” business employees could shift in to working at a job in the private sector. With PFD money in the hands of the people threshold be a boom in the economy.

    I know many persons who have delayed repairs to homes and cars once planned to deal with since walker thru the Alaskans non governmental and non profit workers under the bus.

    Improvements for the lower class by cutting g government and stick to the PFD formula. That’s how to turn this state around.

    On last thing….. Apparently per one student statement our state students do not count on a good education to get in to college…. No no no…. They count only on sport and art results…..seems even the students know they have been shorted in the academics by our red shirted NEA membership personal.

  • Public education has the only business model in which the worse you perform, the more you get paid. Education can and should be cut.

  • At least two, if not more of the red shirt teachers complained that they can’t get Social Security retirement and wanted that.
    So, I brought up to Reps Wilson, Lebon, Tilton, Eastman and Johnson as well as Sen Hughes this idea. Legislation that ends teacher retirementTRS. Place all teachers and administration, etc. on regular salary criteria like the rest of working stiffs! They they pay full boat taxes, Social Security and Medicare payroll deductions. Then take the existing TERS for each, hand over to Social Security and then when they hit 66 or as it goes up, 67-69 (projected) then get their SSN check, minus Medicare and minus taxes. I get $1571 minus $134 Medicare and minus 7% for taxes. Hmmm wonder how much lower that is to TRS? Per Alaska Commission on Aging Senior Snapshot 2017/2018 average TRS for 2018 $2,965 per person! So they would have to do a 401K (I would advocate no matching) like anyone of us working stiffs!

  • Beverly Hoffman said “This administration has just wanted to shock the crap out of us,” and “It’s deplorable, that’s the word. We know how to live here. We’re grateful for PCE [power cost equalization payments]. It’s ludicrous. I wish he [Dunleavy] came here today. Boy he’d get an earful. We deserve the best in education. The best in public safety, the best in health [care].”

    What’s deplorable is the entitlement attitude of people who do not know how to live without a government handout.

    • Got that right. So many Alaskans have the “We deserve” attitude. That mindset has been created after decades of conditioning. Now that the new sheriff is in town (Dunleavy), the Left can’t stand the changed circumstances.
      Like little children with their toys taken away. The redistribution method of Dunleavy, to return wealth back into the hands of the people….is the correct one.

      • Like “we deserve” a PFD and “we deserve” to live here and not pay for anything? But hell no “we dont deserve a fair share of our oil revenue”
        Yeah we’ve been conditioned all right.

        • How about “we deserve” to be given the contractually obligated royalties for giving up mineral rights on our land?

    • Totally agree!
      BTW, I am a Trump and Dunleavy Deplorable! 🙂

      • You ain’t alone, good buddy Mike.

    • The PFD is a government handout. It’s a universal basic income and is about as ludicrously socialist as you can get. It’s left of Bernie Sanders even.

    • Wealth redistribution = maximun PFD to Alaskans as constitutionally allowed.

      Government tyranny, graft and corruption = surplus of government wealth distributed to individuals in a non-protected class (government workers).

      Solution = action by state executive, supported by the last election.

      END TYRANNY. END GRAFT. END CORRUPTION!

      CUT OPERATING BUDGET. LAYOFF UNNECESSARY STATE EMPLOYEES. CUT STATE SALARIES BY 35%.

      POWER TO THE PEOPLE.

    • To all state government workers, Leftists, Democrats, Lib wackos, environmental extremists, Dunleavy haters, etc: turn over your PFD’s back to the State of Alaska and sign the back of the check “Return to Sender.” Then go vote for candidates of the above mentioned groups. They desperately need your vote.

  • I am curious the final number of residents that testified…were many cut off due to time restrictions?
    This sentence:
    “After nearly three hours in Wasilla, 187 had signed up, 85 had testified, and it was running about two-to-one in favor of budget cuts.”
    Leads me to believe that a majority of those signed up never got to testify, so we are unsure how they felt on the budget.
    Maybe a more modern approach like online surveys tied in with voter registration number might work?

    • I was there until 5:30. They cut off signing up for testimony at 4 PM. That was a full 12 pages and the 13th started. It was one person after another until about 4:30/4:45 when names called were no longer there. That increased some more after 5 PM. By that time, I would guess, maybe 10-20 had left. 12 pages times 17 per page equals 204.

      Also, the libs talked upwards of 3 minutes, some of us did so, but that was more toward the end.

      So no Steve Stine, the vast majority that wanted to speak, spoke. Solid 2-1, maybe 2.5-1. A few whose comments could not be figured out.

      • Mike,
        Thanks for clarifying that…
        Like many stories ADN gives a different story on what the “majority” of Alaskans spoke on this issue.
        I personally feel the PFD should be paid out at higher rates and government should take a 10 percent cut across the board.
        That means a cut to pet projects (like the gasline) and salaries as well.
        If politicians had an incentive to bring new business and income to our state, they might work harder to foster growth.
        AK’s GDP is lacking way behind the majority of states…
        Thanks again for your first person account.

    • Steve Stine: 2/1? What? You can’t figure it out on your own? Let me explain it to you. Your Democrat Party is so desperate of losing state government jobs, that they travel around like a pack of hounds pestering Dunleavy. Republicans are too busy working and supporting their families, primarily in the private sector. That’s why the press reports so much protest coming from the Left. We thought you were a fairly smart guy, Steve. Guess we misjudged you.

      • So no republicans are State employees ? Have you checked who has been in charge of the Legislature of late? And democrats have no families to feed? Be careful in your personal smartness test, it’s lacking.

      • Legislators are NOT state bureaucrats, smarty. Legislators are representatives who are supposed to be reflective of the will of the majority of Alaskans. Bureaucrats are more synonymous with D e m o c r a t s, the party that LOVES government, who need to tell everyone else how to live their lives. Republicans are in charge of the Executive Branch of government now. All of you state workers (Democrats) can’t get over the election results. And yes, elections have consequences. Go back to school and study harder next time, so at least you sound more educated.

        • M.L.
          You can play “Semantics” until the end of the day, but those of us who do our research know that both Dems and Reps were on the Finance Committee for the last ten years and that their bloated spending on pet projects along with the hefty salaries and pensions paid out to both “bureaucrats” and “politicians” have got Alaskans in the budget mess we are seeing today.
          SB 21 has not helped at all, since if you remember the plan that Sarah Palin had in place to tax oil produces would have allowed for a higher rate of tax at the lower rates of sell that we are seeing today.
          The world is currently flush with oil and gas, hence we will continue to see the price of crude fall as world economies (like Scotland) get 100 percent of their electricity from green energy produced by wind turbines.
          Alaska needs modern energy alternatives and new revenue streams that are in line with global demands like “fish farms” that are located on land and produce chemical free fish for the world to eat.
          The old way of doing business in AK is slowly coming to an end and consumer choices around the world are driving this change.

  • Root out waste, fraud and abuse before steep cuts and taxes.

  • Not one person in red addressed the failure to educate the children it was the despair over their paycheck.

    Their job is educating children and adults in college.

    It would seem that the education system is has a majority of rot when the money has been there for years and we are turning out student requiring two years plus or remedial education on student loan to be in college.

    The student are REALLY paying for the school failures. This gov. Get its it. teachers who can not teach are teachers that need to go!

  • Suzanne-
    When can expect to hear about coverage from the other cities? Kenai and Anchorage have spoken, how did that come out? Will you be covering the rest of the legislative meetings in the other towns? Inquisitive Alaskans want to hear what happened??

      • Mark and Suzanne, Kenai audio is on Gavel to Gavel. Still nothing on the others although being shown.

  • “END TYRANNY. END GRAFT. END CORRUPTION!

    CUT OPERATING BUDGET. LAYOFF UNNECESSARY STATE EMPLOYEES. CUT STATE SALARIES BY 35%.”

    Boom! Drop the mic. Do it!