Juneau legislators address budget concerns at town hall

About 200 Juneau residents turned out for a budget town hall hosted by the Juneau legislative delegation on Monday, March 13, 2019. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

In back-to-back town hall meetings this week, Juneau city officials and legislators addressed concerns about Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed state budget.

There’s been vocal opposition in Juneau to many of the suggested cuts, and local leaders say they want constituents to continue letting the Legislature know.

The City and Borough of Juneau has said it stands to lose more than $28 million from reductions in state funding.

Those losses would be spread between the city, Bartlett Regional Hospital and the Juneau School District.

No one spoke in support of Dunleavy’s budget at Monday’s town hall. Nor on Tuesday, when Juneau’s legislative delegation hosted a similar event for nearly 200 residents.

About 20 people testified, many calling for a state income tax and expressing dismay over cuts to education and the ferry system.

One resident asked pointedly whether legislators are building a coalition of votes necessary to override a veto from the governor.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl said he has seen indications that the momentum to make that happen exists.

“I have worked in the Capitol building for a long, long time, and I will say that I have never seen legislators so nice to one another as we’re all being this year,” Kiehl said. “I suspect you’re not the only one thinking about that.”

He added that 45 votes out of 60 legislators is a high target to hit to override a veto.

The Juneau delegation promised constituents that they’ll continue to present a united front against cuts they feel are bad for the region and state at large.

Rep. Sara Hannan said that locals need to continue reaching out to them and other legislators to share their concerns.

She said although the pushback against the budget has been strong, there is still vocal support for the governor’s plan in other parts of the state.

“There are still Alaskans sending us emails every day from other parts of the state — some here in Juneau — saying, ‘I want my $6,700 back pay like the governor promised,’” Hannan said.

This week has been a busy one for public testimony in Juneau.

Immediately after the town hall, Rep. Andi Story hurried back to the Capitol to hear more public testimony on proposed cuts to the ferry system in the House Transportation Committee.