ANCHORAGE—Many hundreds of Alaskans participated in a series of public hearings hosted by the House Finance Committee over the weekend, calling for changes to the dividend, implementation of broad-based taxes, rethinking oil taxes and reductions state spending.
Turnout was high around the state, with the line to testify at the Anchorage Legislative Information office stretching out into the parking lot on Sunday. Townhalls were also held in Juneau, Sitka, Juneau, Ketchikan, Fairbanks, Mat-Su, Bethel and Kenai.
They frequently ran over the allotted time with Anchorage going at least an additional 30 minutes past its scheduled end and in Fairbanks testimony lasted more than four hours, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Testimony—at least outside of the Mat-Su—was almost entirely opposed to Dunleavy’s budget, arguing that the proposed cuts were unjustified, harmful, immoral, cruel and undercut the state’s future.
While much of the budget conversation in Juneau has seemed like a decision between a full PFD and adequate state services, much of the public argued for a broader approach to the solution with many people pleading “please tax me.” Many asked for a progressive income tax while others said even a sales tax would be better than nothing.
In Anchorage especially, there was quite a bit of testimony directing legislators to reconsider oil taxes and particularly the per barrel credit that allows companies to deduct more than $1.25 billion from production taxes annually.
Why it matters
Much of the conversation in Juneau has seemed to focus on the decision between a PFD and state services. Even the House Finance Committee hearings seemed to suggest that with presentations that balanced state deficit against the entire spend of the PFD.
The public clearly doesn’t view the choice as so black-and-white, especially when a cut to the PFD effectively translates to the biggest possible hit on children, families and poor Alaskans. One testifier in Anchorage called on everyone to remember that despite the high turn out that there were many, many parts of Alaska that weren’t represented at the meetings and solutions should keep them in mind.
There’s not been much appetite in Juneau for an income tax. While the former House coalition passed one, the largely unchanged Senate has been steadfastly opposed to any talk of taxes. The PFD may be the easiest form of new revenue for legislators to tap into—and the fastest considering the time it would take an income tax to come online—but the takeaway from the town halls is that it shouldn’t be the only one considered.
The weekend meetings won’t be the last opportunity for the public to sound off on the House budget, and the House Finance Committee will hold more formal public testimony on Monday and Tuesday night:
5:30 – 8:30 pm – Off-net sites
5:30 – 7:30 pm – Kodiak, Seward, Utqiagvik, Dillingham, Petersburg, Cordova, Kotzebue, Nome, Wrangell
7:30 – 8:30 pm – Mat-Su, Kenai, Juneau, Bethel
5:30 – 8:30 pm – Off-net sites
5:30 – 7:30 pm – Homer, Delta Junction, Glennallen, Tok, Valdez
7:30 – 8:30 pm – Fairbanks, Anchorage, Ketchikan, Sitka
The governor’s roadshow will also get underway today in Kenai with a radio appearance on KSRM at 4 p.m. He’ll be at the Cannery Lodge in Kenai at 6 p.m., but registration is required and testimony will not be taken.