News-Miner opinion: Way to go, residents of the Fairbanks region.
Several hundred people showed up Wednesday at the Fairbanks Legislative Information Office to testify at the House Finance Committee hearing about the Alaska Permanent Fund and the state budget. The comments, as was to be expected, also included reaction to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes.
The hearing went almost 9 1/2 hours, way beyond the scheduled time of 2-7 p.m. It wrapped up after 11 p.m.
Turnout in Fairbanks far exceeded the turnout at the committee’s hearings earlier this week in Anchorage and the Mat-Su.
Some people at the Fairbanks hearing waited several hours just to speak their mind in the 2 minutes allowed per person. People here are clearly upset by the governor’s vetoes of $130 million for the University of Alaska, of his elimination of the Senior Benefits Payment Program, of grant programs that aid nonprofit organizations and more. Those who spoke expressed strong support for a 2019 dividend smaller than the $3,000 that the existing formula calls for and which Gov. Dunleavy has insisted upon.
Will that turnout help influence the governor to soften his position? Will it convince some members of the House and Senate minority caucuses to change their minds and now support the sensible budget the Legislature produced instead of siding with the governor and his vetoes?
By itself, perhaps not. But coupled with the reaction from around the state, it might.
One indication is that the governor has called legislators to meet in Juneau, giving up on his insistence the Legislature convene in Wasilla. The 22 legislators who gathered in Wasilla for a special session called there by the governor and who support the governor’s vetoes might feel betrayed at being ordered to Juneau, but statesmanship requires the surrendering of positions from time to time for the greater good.
And the greater good here is that Alaska won’t be able to successfully stomach more than $400 million in vetoes.
Public outrage at the vetoes could be having an impact. Legislators are feeling it. Let’s hope the governor and his team are feeling it also.
Fairbanks residents deserve much credit for their exceptionally strong showing at Wednesday’s hearing, but credit also must be given to the committee members who paid attention through nine-plus hours. Appreciation goes to those committee members who came to Fairbanks and to those who called in to listen.
Committee Co-Chairs Neal Foster, D-Nome, and Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage, and Reps. Bart LeBon, R-Fairbanks; Gary Knopp, R-Kenai; Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan; Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks; and Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, were present at the hearing. Reps. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole; Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River; Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla; and Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, listened over the telephone.
People power can have an effect. Let’s keep it going.