FAIRBANKS — Cruel, shortsighted, heartless, draconian, a nonstarter, extreme, unrealistic and BS.
Those are just some of the ways Fairbanks residents on Sunday described Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget at a community meeting — one of multiple meetings around the state hosted by the House of Representatives’ Finance Committee.
Republican Reps. Tammie Wilson and Bart LeBon, and Democratic Rep. Adam Wool were on hand to listen directly to constituents.
Wilson is co-chair of the House Finance Committee, on which LeBon also serves, while Wool is not a member.
Public testimony lasted more than four hours. With one hour remaining, approximately six budget opponents spoke for every supporter.
Many people were critical of the budget in general, while others stuck to specific topics, such as the University of Alaska, Medicaid, mental health services, Pioneers’ Homes, oil-tax credits or the PFD.
Wilson kicked off the meeting by giving a brief presentation on proposed cuts and possible budget outcomes using a total expected revenue of $5.27 billion.
“Taking more from the earnings reserve is unsustainable. Our goal this year is to make sure we stay within the means we have, and that means the $5.27 billion,” she said.
Her PowerPoint gave three scenarios. First, a $3,000 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend (total $1.9 billion in distributions) with $1.5 billion in budget cuts.
Second, a $1,600 PFD (total $1 billion) with $600 million in cuts.
Third, a $630 PFD with a status quo budget.
After the presentation, public testimony quickly took aim at both revenue and expenditures. Many opponents agreed with Dunleavy that a budget crisis does exist, except it’s the result of poor management by Dunleavy and the Legislature.
Carl S. Benson received one of the day’s loudest applauses when he criticized the combination of oil-tax credits and large PFD distributions.
“We don’t raise money, and our biggest expense is to give away money. What kind of business plan is that? ... Your job is to not to give money away,” he told the legislators directly.
Kathy Karella hit on a similar point: “It doesn’t make sense that our income is so short, but we’re giving everyone a bigger check.”
Karella added she’s not a fan of taxes, which will hurt her fixed income, as would a smaller PFD, but “if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. ... We’ve been cutting and cutting and cutting and cutting. At some point we have to get a second job.”
Through the legislators, Rebecca Dunne asked Dunleavy why he thinks residents can spend PFDs better than the state can.
“How many individual Alaskans will spend their PFD windfall to pay for monitoring a plume of chemicals in the ground water in North Pole? ... Or paying for nurses in Pioneer Homes, or restaurant inspections?” she asked.
Tim Brennan had one of the most blunt assessments. “I think we can all agree that Dunleavy’s budget is BS. It’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. ... Gov. Walker already made the cuts there are to make,” he said.
Dunleavy did have supporters in the crowd on Sunday, who thanked and praised him for a budget that would reduce government and give people their PFDs, such as Christine Robbins, Vivian Stiver and Dustin James.
Robbins said the PFD belongs to the children of Alaska, as their heritage and inheritance.
“We can’t afford new taxes, nor for you to take away our PFD, which would not just be a tax, but a theft as well,” Robbins said. She also called for a list of all state employees, their job titles and pay.
Stiver, whom Dunleavy nominated to be a representative on the Marijuana Control Board, credited the governor for introducing the budget Alaskans asked for.
“I think it does something greater, it’s making the Legislature focus on the budget. And it has a downward pressure on municipalities, the university and school districts,” she said.
James identified as a private sector worker and roundly criticized the University of Alaska, “For the University of Alaska to continue, and demand like a spoiled child, continued funding and funding as a whole, is selfish. It’s not a university worth funding anymore.”
He said state services need to operate more like the private sector, “I run a small business. And I know how to pay my way, and it’s tough going.”
Another person to identify as a private sector worker was Mike Quinn. While Quinn didn’t take a specific stance on the budget, he did take a different approach than James, and advocated for a higher fuel tax, a head tax and a seasonal sales tax.
Local political figures were among those testifying Sunday, most notably Borough Mayor Bryce Ward.
Ward also didn’t express a position on the state budget, but he was sure to point out the negative impact it would have on borough finances: a reduction of approximately $48 million in funding.
Ward said the legislature is facing a monumental task because “the shortfall of state revenue is unprecedented and the state can no longer rely on savings.”
Connie Moore commented that belt tightening is appropriate but implored the Legislature “not to destroy the economic engines that are working in Alaska.”
Moore also said that everyone has a role to play in the state’s fiscal future, which is jeopardized by Dunleavy’s fiscal plan.
“The proposed budget pits groups of Alaskans against one another, rather than encouraging everyone to come together. Pulling together is the only way we’re going to build a better, more secure future, for us and our families,” she said.
Contact staff writer Robin Wood at 459-7510. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcity.