Anchorage Democrats, Valley Republicans hear concerns from constituents

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Anchorage Democrats and Valley Republicans took questions from their constituents Saturday ahead of the start of the 31st legislature.

Democratic representatives and senators talked about their legislative priorities -- focusing on fiscal stability and opposing promised cuts to state spending by the new administration.

“This is going to be one of the most challenging times our state has seen, really for a long time. There are big fiscal challenges, and big philosophical challenges that we need to embrace,” said Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D - Anchorage.

“Our caucus finds it unacceptable to have cuts to public safety and education,” said incoming Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Tom Begich. Instead, he called for the status quo in education spending and greater spending in public safety, which may need another transfer from the permanent fund.

Democrats would wait for Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget, which is expected to be released sometime in February, to see exactly where the proposed cuts might come from, said Begich.

Rep. Andy Josephson, D - Anchorage, echoed the views of his senate colleague, calling for fiscal and budget stability. He also opposed cuts to the Operating Budget, saying they could harm the state.

Josephson said that the House will need to organize before the start of session, or Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer will be forced to temporarily step in as House Speaker.

The fourth floor room at the Loussac Library was filled with dozens of constituents who wrote down questions to the legislators: one person asked about tackling climate change while another asked about gun violence.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D - Anchorage, advocated for her “red flag” legislation that would empower police, and possibly family members, to temporarily take a person’s firearms away in times of crisis.

Tarr said similar legislation in other states had proven effective in stopping massacres and reducing the suicide rate.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers from the Matanuska-Susitna Valley gathered in the Palmer Senior Center with excitement to see Gov. Dunleavy, a former senator from Wasilla, at the helm.

“Really, crime is first and foremost on our minds and that's what we're going to be working toward, solving those issues,” said Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R - Wasilla. She said tackling crime would take boots on the ground with more prosecutors and courthouses open five days a week.

Earlier in the week,the Mat-Su Borough Assembly met with Valley legislators and asked for more troopers and road upgrades from the 31st legislature.

Public safety was again the foremost issue for Sen. David Wilson, R - Wasilla, who said, “The PFD and the budget are going to be the next major issues.” Wilson described his excitement that so-called budget hawk Donna Arduin would be taking over at the Office of Management and Budget.

People came to the microphone asking questions of their lawmakers, many calling for the repeal of Senate Bill 91. Wilson said a “multi-layered approach” was needed and that the repeal likely wouldn’t occur through a single omnibus bill.

The Valley delegation spoke about the need to tackle an estimated $1.6 billion deficit and achieve fiscal stability despite falling oil prices.

Many constituents called for their lawmakers to work effectively in a 90-day session.“They want us to get down and not get bogged down with the nitty gritty of politics, and just get the peoples' works done, and get it done in a timely manner,” said Wilson.