Hundreds of area residents filed through the Fairbanks Legislative Information Office on Wednesday to participate in a public hearing, hosted by members of the House Finance Committee, that was designed to gather input from constituents, most of whom urged lawmakers to restore the state funding vetoed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and reduce the permanent fund dividend if needed to maintain state services. 

The hearing in Fairbanks was the third of four public hearings across the state hosted by the House Finance Committee across the state. Members of the committee heard testimony in Anchorage on Monday and Wasilla on Tuesday.

Fairbanks area residents shared concerns over cuts in funding to the University of Alaska, public broadcasting, nonprofit resource agencies, health care, senior benefits and more. 

Diane Hutchison, a registered Republican, UAF alumna and local accountant, shared stories from her clients and urged the Legislature to compromise and fund state services. 

“One couple has ties to the university, one couple does not have ties to the university,” Hutchison said. “They are both putting their homes, small businesses and rentals and/or their homes up for sale. One is a result of the governor’s veto, and the other is a trickle down effect as their employers have given them notice.”

Christina Robins, on the other hand, told lawmakers she supported the governor and wanted a full $3,000 dividend from the state. 

“The PFD is not free money. The PFD belongs to the people of Alaska. As a citizen it is my share in the wealth of this state in exchange for me giving up my mineral rights; it is our inheritance,” Robins said.

“To take any portion away without the consent of the people is outright theft. In fact it’s socialism.”

Paul Doak, Alaska resident since 2006, also advocated for a $3,000 dividend. 

“I find it very disturbing that this dividend has came up since Gov. Bill Walker. This dividend has been the same for years and years, not all of the sudden you get one guy who puts his hand in the cookie jar and now everybody gets social benefits,” Doak said.

“This is not a socialistic society. This dividend has precedence for being delivered based on the figures, not based on how much money gets spent by the government.”

Jasmine Nichols, 41, told lawmakers she was concerned over political strategies that have come forward during the past several months of budget discussions. 

“Already, my hometown of Fairbanks has become a more terrifying place to live, from increased theft, homicides, suicides, hard drugs, not to mention the constant talk of jobs on the line, my children’s education standards being forced lower,” Nichols said. “What I’m seeing is that our state leaders are mimicking the same separation and lack of production that our country as a whole is revealing at this moment, and it’s disheartening.”

Other topics that garnered comment throughout the night were concerns over funding for the Power Cost Equalization program as well as UA scholarships

Those unable to attend the hearing in person were also invited to call in to the meeting, bringing the total number of residents who testified to more than 100 testified by 8 p.m., with about 10 urging lawmakers to provide residents with a full $3,000, many of whom also supported the governor’s vetoes, and about 103 testifying against the governor’s vetoes and encouraging lawmakers to fund state services and reduce the dividend if necessary.

The hearing was designed to go from 2-7 p.m. but, because a roomful of residents was waiting to testify as of 8 p.m., it continued. 

Seven members of the committee were present in Fairbanks while three listened over the phone. 

Co-Chairs Neal Foster, D-Nome, and Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage, as well as Reps. Bart LeBon, R-Fairbanks; Gary Knopp; R-Kenai; Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan; Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, and Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, were present in Fairbanks. 

During a brief reprieve in the testimony, Knopp took a moment to acknowledge all of the residents whom he noted “clearly paid attention to the budget process”, adding that he was impressed at the dedication.

Reps. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole; Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River; Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla; and Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, participated in the hearing over the phone. 

Nikiski Republican Rep. Ben Carpenter did not participate in the hearing.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.

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