There are several proposed state budget cuts that residents in the Upper Lynn Canal are worried about. Funding for ferries, police, public broadcasting and forestry are all on the chopping block.
Last week, people in Haines had the chance to voice concerns to their representative – Democrat Sam Kito III. Kito spent Friday in Haines at the invite of the Chamber of Commerce. He represents Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Klukwan, Gustavus and Excursion Inlet in the Alaska House.
Kito visited Haines the day after the Senate Finance Committee proposed cuts to education funding. Kito told the 20 or so people gathered at the chamber lunch that would have a “dramatic” impact on school districts. He says the legislature should be more cautious about indirect consequences from funding cuts.
“I’m worried about not just the practical impacts of decreasing the funding, but the potential for inducing fear in our population,” Kito said. “[For example,] people that will not go out and buy a house because they’re afraid or not go out and buy a car. I want to make sure we don’t take that step too big and have other impacts that we’re not aware of at this moment.”
For the Alaska Marine Highway, Kito says he wants the state to at least maintain service through the summer for people whose reservations are already booked. But he says the marine highway does need to look at ways of becoming more efficient.
Kito says he is working to get funding back for the two Haines State forester positions that are at risk of being cut.
“If we’ve got an active forest here and we’re managing that active forest, then it makes sense to have somebody here to do that,” he said. “And if we end up with a lower budget for DNR, then it’ll be a matter of negotiating with DNR and the governor’s office to make sure that Haines is adequately covered.”
He also addressed proposed cuts to public broadcasting. Kito said broadcasting cuts would likely be negotiated between the House – which proposed a 23 percent cut, and the Senate – which proposed a 60 percent cut.
“And there have been discussions with the rural members in the House and in the Senate…to find a way to hold the smaller communities harmless and have the cuts for public broadcasting maybe be in areas where they might have the ability to do a little more fundraising. So Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau might see higher cuts than rural areas.”
In Haines Borough Manager David Sosa’s proposed budget, he says a potential cut to the State Department of Corrections Community Jails Program would result in a $270,000 loss for Haines. Sosa wants to balance that shortfall by increasing the mill rate and freezing the hire of a fifth police officer. Haines resident Norm Hughes asked Kito about the community jails cuts.
“If you own property you get to help pay that expense [with an increased mill rate],” Hughes said. “And so these things are coming back. And I have issues with public safety in Haines, and I don’t think we need lots of cops, but we do need some presence here with thievery and things that happen in municipalities.”
“As the state, we’re seeing costs pushed towards the municipalities, and municipalities have a hard time pushing back up,” Kito responded.
After his visit to Haines, Kito told KHNS that he thinks getting money back in the budget for the community jails program is going to be an “uphill battle.”
Kito says one area where he thinks the budget could be cut, is in infrastructure projects such as the Susitna-Watana Dam, the Cook Inlet Knik Arm Bridge and the Juneau Access Road. He said the state can’t afford those kind of projects without a robust budget.