Public testimony backs stable or increased state budget

Former Rep. Charles Degnan, D-Unalakleet, testifies March 2, 2018, in favor of an income tax. The House Finance Committee heard public testimony over three days on the $5.3 billion portion of the state budget that it directly controls. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

Alaskans who provided public testimony on the budget largely asked lawmakers to maintain or expand state funding.

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One-hundred-and-one people testified Thursday, Friday and Saturday from across the state to the House Finance Committee. Many testified from legislative information offices.

Ninety people focused on funding services. Most of the other 11 asked for spending cuts.

While visiting Juneau, Democratic former state Rep. Charles Degnan of Unalakleet said the state should have an income tax to fund services.

“One of the things that I know about our people that live in villages,” Degnan said. “We help people. We help all those that need help. And everyone takes turns needing help.”

The proposed $5.3 billion budget is $330 million more than the current budget. Most of the increase is from pension payments, Medicaid and permanent fund dividends.

Some of the areas that received the most support in public comments were addiction and mental health treatment; the University of Alaska; and the public defender agency.

Former U.S. Attorney Robert Bundy said the state should increase funding for public defenders.

Bundy said under-funding has caused delays that affect crime victims. He said that’s because public defenders don’t have the time to convince their clients to reach plea agreements.

“If the defendant does not trust his or her lawyer, they’re not going to agree to a deal, they’re going to drag it out forever,” Bundy said. “All of this delay is gong to inure to the detriment of every victim and every citizen in this state.”

The House Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss the budget Monday. It could send the budget to the full House later this week.