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5/25/15 Public expresses frustration with Legislators

Legislators get an earful:  “stop playing”

By Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN

Friday for the first time since the regular session adjourned in April, a legislative committee took verbal testimony from the public.

The House Finance committee allotted three hours for input on the state operating budget, and more than 80 people spoke. The meeting opened with a series of former foster children coming to the microphone, and asking for more funding for social workers at the Office of Children’s Services.

Robin Ahgupuk is 20 years old, and he spent 15 of those years in foster care. He said he had 56 workers in OCS, and they were overburdened, stressed out, and overworked.

The topics that came up after were varied. Some called for increased education funding, others Medicaid expansion, and then there were comments on a smorgasbord of other cuts made to things like public broadcasting and domestic violence programs. They also asked the Legislature not to tap the Permanent Fund to plug the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget deficit.

There was one common theme: Frustration. While many expressed theirs with restraint, Frank Gold of Fairbanks did not hold back on his opinion of state government.

“Stop playing with Alaska’s money like it’s your own alone. You were elected to make the hard decisions, the politically unpopular decision,” said Gold. “No one’s going to come home unscathed after a cantankerous and ludicrous session in Juneau or Anchorage. There’s no doubt that at least some of you will be pilloried for the budget you finally develop.”

While most of the comment focused on restoring cuts and achieving a budget deal, the testimony turned in the final hour. About a dozen people came to the hearing to express their support for more budget cuts, after the president of the conservative political group United for Liberty sent out an action alert notifying members that “liberals are out in mass to force their spending spree on the legislators.”

Legislators then  met over the weekend – the House for 15 minutes; the Senate for five minutes. Both bodies also canceled separate Finance hearings.

Lawmakers have until June 1 to pass a budget before layoff notices are sent to state employees, and until July 1 before Alaska experiences a partial government shutdown.

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Toksook Bay teenager Byron Nicholai performs for U.S. Secretary of State, VIPs 

By Liz Ruskin, APRN

A Toksook Bay teenager who became a singing sensation on Facebook performed for ambassadors and Arctic V-I-Ps at the State Department in Washington D.C. Thursday.

Byron Nicholai was introduced by Secretary of State John Kerry at a reception to mark the beginning of the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. The two-year rotating chairmanship gives each arctic country an opportunity to set priorities. The United States has selected ocean safety, security, improving living conditions and climate change. Kerry described the balance.

“So we have to implement the framework that we’ve developed to reduce emissions of black carbon and methane in the Arctic, and at the same time we have to foster economic development that will raise living standards and help make renewable energy sources the choice for everybody,” said Kerry.

Alaska leaders have been pressing the State Department to focus beyond climate change and recognize the needs of Arctic people. That message came through in Kerry’s speech.

“As beautiful as it is, it is not just a picturesque landscape. It’s a home, it’s a lifestyle,” said Kerry.

Nicholai was the only performer at the reception in the ornate Benjamin Franklin room of the State Department. He is 17 years old , and has more than 16,000 followers on his Facebook page “I sing. You dance.”

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Repairs begin on flood-damaged Dalton Highway

Flood waters have receded enough for the Alaska Department of Transportation to begin repairs on an 80-mile section of the Dalton Highway, the one road to Prudhoe Bay.  In a prepared statement, the Department stated crews will be putting culverts in at the north end of the road to facilitate the flow of waters back into the main channel of the Sag River, and staging materials at the south end. Gov. Bill Walker declared the North Slope borough a disaster on Friday. The declaration enables DOT to request federal funds to help mitigate damage. Sag River flooded after unseasonably warm weather and rapid melting of ice and snow.