Alaskans giving public testimony this week on the House’s budget proposal oppose cuts to many areas.
The Republican-led majority released a budget this week that included 145 million dollars more in cuts than Governor Bill Walker’s budget. It would reduce spending on everything from public libraries to senior benefits.
Roughly 100 people testified Monday and Tuesday on the budget.
The cuts include reduced grants to mental health and addiction treatment programs.
Residents also oppose cuts to pre-kindergarten, public libraries, and the University of Alaska. And they say they want the House to avoid cuts to senior benefits and public broadcasting.
Juneau resident Kara Nelson directs Haven House, a faith-based home for women leaving prison.
“There are over 120 people today alone that died from an accidental overdose in our nation,” said Nelson. “That is a Alaska Airlines flight that died every single day, and that was in 2015. And so I urge you, that we are trying to lessen the beds in our prisons, but we have no supports already to support the well-being of our people, and our Alaskans.”
Elizabeth Ripley, executive director of the Mat-Su Health Foundation, shared her concerns over behavioral health cuts.
“Cutting behavioral health grants will only reinforce the current system that drives people to seek care in the emergency room,” Ripley said. “A 2013 data analysis shows that Mat-Su Regional Emergency Department had five times the number of visits than our community mental health center. These visits to one hospital cost Alaskans $23 million in 2013, not including doctor, EMS or police costs.”
Kodiak Public Library Director Katie Baxter urged House Finance Committee members to restore funding for the Online With Libraries, or OWL, program. It funds high-speed internet connections.
“I am here to urge you to restore the governor’s funding of $761,800 to restore the OWL internet connectivity program,” said Baxter. “This program is an intricate system that is cost efficient, that involves local and federal funding. By eliminating the OWL program as the house subcommittee has done, now we are leaving federal E Rate dollars on the table. And I for one really don’t want to do that.”
The House Finance Committee will hear more public testimony Wednesday and Thursday.