For the first time since the regular session adjourned in April, a legislative committee took verbal testimony from the public.
The House Finance committee allotted three hours for input on the state operating budget, and more than 80 people spoke. The meeting opened with a series of former foster children coming to the microphone, and asking for more funding for social workers at the Office of Children’s Services.
Robin Ahgupuk is 20 years old, and spent 15 of those years in foster care. He experienced the agency’s high turnover rate firsthand.
“While I was in care, I had over 56 social workers in OCS,” said Ahgupuk. “The reason I had so many social workers is they were overburdened, stressed out, and overworked.”
The topics that came up after were varied. Some called for increased education funding, others Medicaid expansion, and then there were comments on a smorgasbord of other cuts made to things like public broadcasting and domestic violence programs. They also asked the Legislature not to tap the Permanent Fund to plug the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget deficit.
But there was one common theme: frustration. While many expressed their vexation with restraint, Frank Gold of Fairbanks did not hold back on his opinion of state government.
“Stop playing with Alaska’s money like it’s your own alone,” said Gold. “You were elected to make the hard decisions, the politically unpopular decision. No one’s going to come home unscathed after a cantankerous and ludicrous session in Juneau or Anchroage. There’s no doubt that at least some of you will be pilloried for the budget you finally develop.”
While most of the comment focused on restoring cuts and achieving a budget deal, the testimony turned in the final hour. About a dozen people came to the hearing to express their support for more budget cuts, after the president of the conservative political group United for Liberty sent out an action alert notifying members that “liberals are out in mass to force their spending spree on the legislators.”