More than 50 Kodiak residents gathered outside the Legislative Information Office on Thursday evening to protest Governor Mike Dunleavy’s budget line item vetoes. Some carried signs that read “save our state,” “45 override,” or “fund our future.”
Both City Mayor Pat Branson and Borough Mayor Dan Rohrer were present to explain how the budget cuts would affect Kodiak and field questions from constituents. For the borough, cuts to school bond debt reimbursement are the biggest concern, Rohrer said. The $2.6 million hit to the borough will likely mean increased property taxes.
Other concerns in the crowd ranged from the cuts to education and senior benefits to the potential loss of public assistance and power cost equalization programs.
Margaret Hall, a well-known Kodiak resident who recently celebrated her 100th birthday, said she’s never seen anything like the current budget cuts in her 70 years living in Alaska. Cuts to arts programs, the university system, and senior benefits are particularly concerning for her.
“I didn’t stay here to have all my rights taken away from me,” she said. “I stayed because of the quality of life I had here. And now at 100 I’m much too old to move.”
Jennifer Sheridan, a Kodiak resident who turned out yesterday evening with her husband and two young children, said she wanted to protest the vetoes because they target the most vulnerable Alaskans. The efforts to work out a budget, she said, have been partisan to the point of hurting the state’s residents.
“I feel like the group of legislators who are meeting in Wasilla are acting like this is big national politics,” she said. “Like there’s an us and them, but it’s just us in Alaska, there’s not that many of us, and we should all be together, supporting and taking care of each other.”
The legislature is currently split between Juneau and Wasilla. The legislators in Juneau failed to override the governor’s vetoes on Wednesday since there weren’t 45 members present to provide the necessary votes. In a fiery speech, Branson encouraged Kodiak residents to reach out to anyone they know in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley who could help sway the more than a dozen legislators currently meeting in Wasilla.
Both mayors also encouraged protesters to write emails to not just Kodiak legislators Representative Louise Stutes and Senator Gary Stevens, but to the entire legislature and Dunleavy himself.
“We have invited Governor Michael J. Dunleavy three times to Kodiak. I personally have invited him, and he’s never been here,” Branson told the crowd. “So everything that you do in copying legislators your information, please make sure you copy him as well so he understands as well.”
Rohrer told KMXT that legislators expect to hear from people like himself, Branson and the two assemblies, but “average Joe Public” residents have an opportunity to make an impact on GOP legislators supporting the vetoes. “Even if they’re not our representatives, they do represent us at the state on some level,” he said.
“The area where it impacts you personally, whether it be KMXT radio or the Arts Council or senior benefits or the Brother Francis shelter. Whatever area that it directly impacts you, write an email and talk about it,” Rohrer added. “That’s my encouragement.”
Currently, no plans have been announced for a second override vote, and it would require legislators traveling from Wasilla to Juneau to make up the 45 votes minimum necessary to override any of the 182 vetoes. The split legislature has until the end of Friday to vote.