House delegation says it’s listening
You can’t drive to Juneau, but area lawmakers still want a road map for the upcoming legislative session.
Alaska State House representatives Dan Saddler (R-Eagle River/JBER), Lora Reinbold (R-Eagle River) and Cathy Tilton (R-Chugiak/Butte/Knik) attended a Town Hall meeting Saturday, Jan. 6 in order to learn what their constituents would like addressed in the Capitol.
“Our purpose is not to talk at you, our goal is to listen,” Saddler said at the outset.
Whether legislators followed through with that pledge was debatable, as the trio spent much of the time responding to constituents’ concerns and explaining their positions on policy matters. Still, by the end of the two-hour meeting it was clear several issues reign supreme: public safety, the PFD and the budget.
“You’re basically giving us a ‘to-do’ list,” Reinbold said.
Local state senators Anna MacKinnon (R-Eagle River) and Shelley Hughes (R-Chugiak/Palmer) did not attended the meeting. Saddler said MacKinnon was already in Juneau preparing for the session and Hughes was undergoing a medical procedure.
Numerous people spoke about crime, with the overwhelming sentiment that laws need to be much tougher.
“Take a horse whip to ‘em,” said Elmer Fry.
Saddler voted for SB91, while Reinbold and Tilton voted against. All three voted to support SB54, a recent addendum to the crime law that fixed some “loopholes” in the bill and increased penalties for some crimes.
Although concerns about SB 91 dominated the discussion, fiscal matters also came up. Scott Bailey asked if legislators will cut unfilled positions from the budget, which would result in an estimated $300 to $400 million in savings without having to fire any actual employees.
“We will do our darndest to reduce the cost,” Saddler promised.
The local House members stressed their powers will be limited in Juneau, where none are members of the ruling caucus made up of 17 Democrats, three Republicans and two independents.
“We will do everything we can,” Tilton said.
Reinbold said it’s frustrating three members of the Republican Party — Gabrielle LeDoux, Paul Seaton and Louise Stutes — joined the coalition that has run the House since the current session began last year.
“We got tricked by a couple RINOS,” she said, using an acronym meaning “Republicans In Name Only.”
Several people spoke about the need to protect the Permanent Fund Dividend and ensure income taxes aren’t imposed on wage earners.
“Give the full PFD to the people,” said Dr. Craig Christenson, a former deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Christenson also summed up the opinion of most people about an income tax:
“No,” he said. “Just no.”
Saddler said the Legislature is in a tough spot, with decreasing oil revenues and budget deficits that continue to draw down the state’s savings.
“We just don’t have the money to support the government we have,” he said.
Cut the government then, argued most who spoke up.
“I would like to see no more funds for the governor’s gas pipeline,” said Mike Ward. “I think that is a big waste.”
Saddler said that as members of the minority, local House members will do their best to resist an income tax and the growth of government.
“My goal is to be principled opposition,” Saddler said.
Overall, the message from the public seemed to be a desire for legislators to work for tougher crime laws; to produce a leaner state budget; to protect the PFD; and to fight new income taxes.
Tilton said she and the rest of the local delegation will do their best.
“Listening to my constituents is the number one thing,” she said.
Tilton said the goal of legislators should be to decrease the role government plays on people’s lives.
“To have less government is better than to have more government,” she said.
The second regular legislative session begins Jan. 16.