Originally published in the Peninsula Clarion
Hundreds of peninsula residents squeezed into the Kenai Peninsula Borough Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers to attend a town hall with Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Kenai/Soldotna, and Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski. Many residents spoke against the governor’s proposed cuts to education, while some residents supported the administration’s plan to reduce government spending.
The event was standing room only and Micciche said he was surprised by the turnout and would encourage a bigger venue for the next town hall.
Before the lawmakers took questions from residents, Micciche discussed legislation he was working on, including a progress report on a bill he introduced, which closes the “Schneider loopholes” that were found in a case where an Anchorage man served no jail time after strangling and masturbating on a woman.
Micciche also encouraged residents to take a survey, which he said would help him to better understand what is most important to his constituents. The survey asks District 30 voters what their budget priorities are.
Carpenter used a pomelo grapefruit as a prop to explain Alaska’s “ginormous budget problem.” Holding up a tangerine in his other hand, Carpenter emphasized the importance of balancing the budget and reducing the cost of government.
Attendees were asked to raise their hands if they were there to discuss issues with the governor’s budget, crime, education or to support a full Permanent Fund Dividend check.
Many people in the crowded room raised their hands to say they were there to discuss the budget, crime, and education, while only a few raised their hands to defend a full Permanent Fund Dividend check.
Micciche said the governor’s budget was a great conversation starter.
“We have real issues and we do have to manage the cost of our government,” Micciche said. “Some of you here are just going to say ‘slash to the bone,’ but when I talk to you about your disabled child’s services and you want me to slash to the bone, you need to realize your disabled child will not receive what they’re getting today.”
Many people spoke in support of education, and against Gov. Dunleavy’s proposed cuts to the K-12 system.
One local student asked for a smaller Permanent Fund Dividend check if it meant adequate funding for education.
Concerned about losing extracurriculars, Allison, a student at Soldotna High School, asked how the lawmakers planned on giving young Alaskans the tools they need to succeed.
“Extracurriculars are important to a lot of high schoolers,” she said. “They help them regain their mental stability. It helps them keep going and makes them refresh, in a way. I feel it would be very bad if it was taken away from them. Students are 100 percent the future of Alaska and if we’re not giving them the tools to help make Alaska better, then I don’t know how that’s going to help us in the long run.”
To improve local schools, Carpenter encouraged parents to get more involved in their child’s education.
“From what I hear, the problems are not in the schools they are in the homes,” Carpenter said. “We need more participation. We need parents to care and to get involved with the schools.”
Several people asked the lawmakers if new taxes were being considered. Several residents spoke in support of a flat tax or income tax. Melody Jordan came to the town hall from Seward. She said when she first moved to Alaska in the 1970s, a $10 tax was taken out of her paycheck to help fund education. Jordan asked why it was removed and supported the tax’s return.
“I was just a young kid and I was like ‘I don’t have any kids. I don’t have anyone in school here,’” Jordan said. “I wonder why that tax was repealed and if we could reinstate it? If we could reinstate that tax, at maybe a higher amount, that could help our education.”
Micciche said he didn’t know why the tax was repealed.
“We came into more money than we could ever spend, except we spent more than we ever had, and that’s how we got into this situation,” Micciche said. “I don’t know what kind of support there would be for that, but that’s the kind of conversation we have to have.”
Borough resident Karl Kircher asked if Alaskans contributing to the revenue stream was on the table.
“When you say all of the above, is a revenue stream from Alaskans contributing to their state, on the table?” He said.
Carpenter said tax ideas have to be on the table, while Micciche said it would be on the table at the proper time.
“Why should only working Alaskans pay for the services,” Micciche said. “We have to prioritize first, and I’m more than willing to have that discussion.”
“Do I support a flat tax over other forms of taxes, I think so,” Carpenter said. “Do I think it’s necessary at this point in time? I don’t think so. I’m certainly not going to stand here and tell you that that’s what I think the solution is because it’s not. Do I think everybody needs their dividend? No, I don’t think everyone needs a dividend. Do I think cutting the dividend hurts the people who actually need it most? Yes, I do. It’s an all-of-the-above approach that we are going to have to look at. Our bottom line is that our revenues do not match our expenses. A new tax has consequences. Government spending has consequences.”
One resident, Kate, listed possible money-making ideas the state could implement, such as taxing junk food, increasing the sales tax between May and September when tourists are visiting, a state income tax and an increase to the alcohol tax.
Several residents also spoke in support of less government and reduced government spending. Christine Hutchinson said she was in favor of Dunleavy’s proposed budget.
“We are a conservative district,” Hutchinson said. “We voted for Dunleavy. We voted for Pierce. We voted for Trump. If you can’t understand that and convert it to this budget there is something wrong. These two guys have repeated several times that this budget is not final and these two guys are not done voting on it… Everything you can do to get the government out of my way, I would appreciate.”