Union members, students, teachers, community activists and all manner of concerned citizens gathered in front of the Alaska Capitol at noon Monday.
The rally was organized to protest the proposed $400 million in cuts made to government programs by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes of line items in the state budget. Protesters also called on state legislators to override at least some of those cuts.
“This is not where I want to be today,” said Emily Wall, professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast. “But we’re all here fighting for our university. I’m very concerned about all the education cuts,” she said.
The rally was opened by drumming and singing by members of the Yees Ku Oo Dancers, a multicultural group with members from various backgrounds. The song, sung in the Tsimshian language, was written by troupe member Nancy Barnes, who performed at the rally.
“It’s just a happy song,” Barnes said. “We wanted to start out that way. To get everybody in the mood.”
Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon was the first to speak.
“We are concerned as to how the governor’s vetoes will impact our state,” she said. “We respectfully ask (legislators) to override the vetoes.”
Many of the speakers noted that difficult decisions had to be made concerning the state budget, but that such deep and extensive cuts would cripple the state for generations.
“We will continue to suffer job loss and outward migration if these vetoes are allowed,” said Nadine Lefebvre, president of the Alaska Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
Many of the speakers stressed that such massive cuts to the state budget, particularly those to the state’s education system, would make the state less attractive to investment and leave the state ill-equipped to compete in a competitive marketplace.
Amy Jo Meiners, former Alaska teacher of the year, talked about the challenges schools face trying to plan amid unpredictable funding.
“Teachers fear pink slips,” she said. “How can we expect people to live with that fear, year after year?”
“We’re setting our students up to fail,” Israa Kako, a former pre-school teacher and advocate for early education said.
“This is not Kansas,” Brian Holst, Executive Director of the Juneau Economic Development Council and Juneau School Board president said, referring to the massive cuts to public services made in that state. “Dividends do little towards job creation,” he said.
“Is Governor Dunleavy walking back his ‘open for business’ promise? Yes! He is,” said Kate Troll, a former Juneau Assembly member. “He promised not to cut. ‘No pain for Alaska,’ he said.”
The overall sentiment at the rally was perhaps best articulated by Jane Andreen of AARP: “We’re doubling the (Permanent Fund Dividend) at the expense of state services.”
Dunleavy has promised to pay a roughly $3,000 dividend this year, what he says is the full statutory amount. The governor has also said that legislators who voted against the full amount are doing so to fund an “unsustainable budget.”
A special session to address the vetoes has been scheduled for Wednesday, but with the legislature split between Juneau and Wasilla, the outcome of the political standoff remains up in the air.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.