Empire Live: Juneau delegation hosts Town Hall

Empire Live: Juneau delegation hosts Town Hall

Live updates at Centennial Hall

It’s a sad kind of service when people just become numbers in a book. I know the session split with some with Wasilla and while some stayed here, did that affect working relationships? Can you prevent that from happening again?

There’s nothing to prevent it from happening again, Hannan said. The legislature has never disagreed with the executive before about the location of a special session. We feel that it’s a separation of power issue.

As representatives of Juneau, we understand that if we waver on where the legislature meets the capitol will be gone.

Kiehl said that they counted the votes and they didn’t have the votes, which is why they didn’t just go to Wasilla and override the vetoes there.

There are members of the Senate who believe that we should move the capitol. But in the disagreement with the governor it those people became advocates for meeting in Juneau.

Story adds that many of the legislators who went to Wasilla did join the effort to pass a budget when they did come to Juneau.

Empire Live: Juneau delegation hosts Town Hall

Is it equally important to communicate with the governor and his supporters in the legislature? Is that effective?

We got to 31 votes for the reverse sweep, Story says, and some of those votes were from people who initially supported the governor. Those people changed their votes, she believes, because of the public response.

Are they listening to people who don’t vote them in or out?

Story says she was referring to those legislator’s response to their own constituents, which is why it’s so important to talk to friends and family throughout the state and encourage them to contact their representatives.

Hannan says not to attack but to share your information. “Writing to Rep Eastman, are you going to change his mind? No.” You’re going to need to find someone whose mind you can change, she says. Make the story real for people because those who call to make cuts say things like, “their families can provided early childhood education,” so you need to show them how these thing affect you or people you know.

Kiehl adds that you want to talk to constituents because some lawmakers simply will not listen to you. There’s nothing that moves things inside the capital than Alaskans talking outside the capitol, he says.

The governor is only seven months into his term? He’s said that this is only round one, where’s that going to leave us with cuts to social services and jobs moving out of Juneau. There’s no other recourse than recall. If we don’t recall it’s just going to be more of the same.

Kiehl says that none of the delegation are involved in that effort, he says he’s not surprised but they will work with “whoever’s on the third floor,” to work for Alaska.

Means testing the PFD? My family does not need the check. I’d rather have a smaller class size than a check.

The audience applauds.

The governor signed a bill for the capital budget but vetoed funds for a number of programs. How are these vetoes going to support Alaska? What else is he going to cut?

Innumerable Alaskans are going to suffer, Hannan says, we’re going to make sure that we don’t sacrifice people for the sake of the budget. The governor is on record as saying he would prefer the 1960s population for Alaska.

Will there be a third special session?

We don’t know, Hannan says. There are two ways to call a special session, either the governor can call us or the the legislature can call with 40 votes.

I like tourist and tourist jobs but why did $7 million go to the Alaska Tourism Association when so many other programs are being cut. Several years ago it was said that the industry was going to take on the advertising costs itself, but that hasn’t happened. The industry was supposed to be paying a share of it. We have more important issues for quality of life and for the tourism industry.

Kiehl says that things like that are the kinds of compromise that are necessary to get appropriations out of the legislature. “It’s foolish to step over dollars to pick up dimes,” Kiehl says, pointing out that investment in education yields returns in less crime and incarceration later. We need to keep our focus broad enough to serve Alaskans into the future.

In this hyper-partisan time, what we’ve seen in Alaska is our legislators bridge the divide. I feel that we have an entire state of traumatized people, this whole budget fiasco that is frantic. We’ve all written a lot of emails and letters, should we keep writing because it gets exhausting?

Story says the most important person to reach out to is the governor, and let him know that these cuts are not what the people of Alaska want. She says that people should talk to their friends and family across the state and encourage them to reach out to their own legislators.

Many people have observed, it began before Americans for Prosperity paid for Dunleavy’s tour around the state, but it seems that a radical libertarian faction has taken over Alaskan politics. In Montana passed legislation that would prevent something like that, have you looked at that.

None of the legislators know about Montana’s situation. Hannan says that she has been very pleased with the bi-partisanship she has experienced but the anti-government, libertarian faction has been fairly unmovable.

Local elections are coming up. We need people to run for office. You can come and ask great questions but if you want to make decisions that have local impacts, you should run for local office. If you want to come and be part of the local community. He points out that the Juneau delegation is three of 60, but as a city council member you can be one of nine. If you are upset at those impacts, run for office. It doesn’t get any more local than that.

Kiehl seconds the suggestions and thanks several local officials who are present in the audience. He says it’s hard work but it’s important work and it needs to doing. This is when we need hard-working, thoughful people…think very seriously about being one of them.

Head Start in Kansas is doing better than in Alaska? Head Start is something that should be preserved, food programs and Tlingit language programs are essential for the state. University of Alaska is being forced to consolidate and community Head Start programs are being consolidated as well. It’s unclear if there will be University programs necessary to finish one’s education. This is not okay for me as an Alaska Native. I should not have to decide whether or not I should leave the state to finish my education or my children or grandchildren’s education. We should not have to come to you with our hands open asking for these programs, we deserve to have the true value of the state. A lawmaker from Wasilla made an accusation about the native corporations and she should be reprimanded. This is our state and we’ve conformed to European, western ways for a long time. We deserve the right to be educated adequately.

Hannan apologizes for not thanking Alaska Natives for allowing the meeting to take place on their land. Hannan thanks the speaker for reminding the group of the passion that Alaskans expect from their elected officials.

Pioneer home horror?

Story says she wrote a letter to the pioneer home department head asking about rate increase. There is a bill in the works that would make a more gradual rise in rates and look at alternatives.

Hannan says that the rates will go up September 1st, but that anyone will be able to remain regardless of financial viability. This however may have adverse effects for future applicants. She says that yes, there is a statutory formula for the PFD but there is also a statute that says that there should be funds even for people who cannot pay in order to keep people in the state as they age.

“We have been assured repeatedly that no one who lives in a pioneer home will be removed,” Hannan said.

Viability of keeping Juneau the real capital of Alaska. We have to keep jobs here and department headquarters. They’re taking away the economic stability of Juneau.

Hannan says that the current administration has made it very clear that they are commuters to Juneau and that they have little intention of remaining in Juneau. The legislature has little power to demand that these jobs remain. She asks that if a public employee learns that there job is being moved they contact their representatives.

This administration is letting commissioners move as many jobs as they want without the proper review process. They’re taking as many jobs as they can and the governor has no interest in this being the capital in any other way than on the map.

An older gentleman asks to make a statement before others ask their questions. Standard of living? Many things contribute to a standard of living, but education is one of the most important factors affecting standard of living. Also, alcohol vendors should pay the cost of incarcerating people accused of crimes while under the influence of alcohol. Lastly, oil companies are bribing lawmakers in this city and state to never pass legislation that restricts the profits of oil companies in Alaska.

Kiehl says in response that he knows of no bribes but he does believe that Alaskans should get a fair share of their oil. Kiehl also says that the legislature manage to avoid cuts to K-12 education but called the cuts to the University of Alaska, “draconian.”

The floor is now open to questions.

Empire Live: Juneau delegation hosts Town Hall

5:33 p.m.

Hannan says that there was not political will during the previous session to discuss revenue, whether it was oil or tobacco taxes, or an income tax, but she believes that has changed.

5:30 p.m.

Story adds that this is a very contentious debate, and has in many ways about how much we want to draw from the Permanent Fund. She says she and her colleagues understand how important the PFD is to Alaskans and that everyone should take pains to understand how profoundly it affects people.

Kiehl now turns to the Permanent Fund Dividend, saying that the amount chosen, roughly $1,600, was done by taking a “sustainable draw” from the Earnings Reserve Account, and a drawing the remainder of the funds from the Statutory Budget Account. He says that this PFD gives Alaskans an amount of “roughly on par” with what has been historically given, adjusted for inflation.

5:25 p.m.

Hannan says that the governor’s vetoes resulted in a “hue and cry” throughout Alaska from citizens protesting. She urges people to contact the governor to express their opinions.

She says that the legislature was able to restore a certain amount of funding to the Alaska Marine Highway System which has been cut back to the point where it cannot provide winter service to rural communities.

Hannan says that we do not have a bloated government, Alaska today spends less per capita than it has in its history, even before oil, she says.

She is going through a list of things that the legislature was able to restore funding to, including senior benefits and medicaid, which receives a round of applause from the audience.

“One of our favorite programs in our district is the OWL program,” she says of the library program which provides internet access to rural areas.

Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, center, speaks during a town hall meeting with Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, left, and Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, at Centennial Hall on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, center, speaks during a town hall meeting with Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, left, and Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, at Centennial Hall on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

5:17 p.m.

She says it was a “relief to everyone” that the bill included money for federal matching funds for transportation and infrastructure. She also talks about the reverse sweep and how maintenance for the ferry system was not vetoed.

The Lemon Creek Correctional Center received new funds for its laundry facilities.

Rep. Stori comes to the microphone to discuss the capital budget.

The delegation introduces themselves and Sen. Kiehl begins describing the detail of the “crime bill” that was passed into law earlier this year and what that will mean for law enforcement in the state.

Kiehl adds that the governor just vetoed funding for addiction treatment centers was, “short-sighted” and would negatively affect public safety in Alaska.

5:00 p.m.

The Juneau delegation to the Alaska State Legislature is holding a Town Hall meeting at Centennial Hall in downtown Juneau Thursday evening.

Reps. Sara Hannan and Andi Story and Sen. Jesse Kiehl will be addressing the public and taking questions.

Their meeting comes on the heels of Gov. Mike Dunleavy signing SB 2002 into law. The governor signed that bill in Anchorage earlier Thursday and while it provided significant funding the governor also chose to veto over $34 million from the states budget.

Contact reporter Peter Segall 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

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