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Note from Rep. Les Gara
Note from Rep. Les Gara  
Safer Streets, Better Schools
Note from Rep. Les Gara

September 14, 2016

Voice Your Opinions!

Letters to the editor make a difference. You can send a letter of up to 200 words (shorter letters are more likely to be accepted) to the Alaska Dispatch News by email (letters@alaskadispatch.com); or by fax or mail (call them at 257-4308). Send letters to the Anchorage Press via e-mail editor@anchoragepress.com or by mail to 540 E. Fifth Ave, Anchorage, 99501. Feel free to call us if you need factual information to help you write a letter.

Contact the Governor. The Governor can be reached at 269-7450; or www.alaska.gov.

Contact us. My office can be reached at: 716 W. 4th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501; by phone: 269-0106; visit my website at http://gara.akdemocrats.org; or email: Rep.Les.Gara@akleg.gov

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Dear Friends and Neighbors:

We have all been shaken by a crime spree that has made many people feel unsafe across Anchorage. The same holds true for many communities across Alaska. While police protection is largely a city issue, and I believe the Mayor wants to address the issue, there is a state role for state legislators too. I was not, and am not, happy with legislation passed last year by conservative leaders that massively cut the amount of help communities receive from the state for things like police and firefighters. Public safety isn't free, and I voted against that legislation, which will cut the help Anchorage receives for these basic services by roughly 67%, or $9 million over two years. 

First some better news, then a discussion of what we can do to protect our neighborhoods, and your safety.

Governor Right To Heed Calls For Education Veto Reversal

I am happy the Governor listened to public education supporters, including myself, as we wrote and called to ask him to reconsider one of his education vetoes – to public schools that today receive roughly $30 million less than they did just two years ago. 

My August 5th letter saying these funds were needed by students (whose schools receive roughly $30 million less than just two years ago, with high school classes of sometimes more than 40 students) is available here. The Governor and I had a good conversation about this in August, and I objected to his $17 million in education vetoes earlier this summer. 

I get the need for a fiscal plan, and support one, but crowded classrooms, and public school vetoes that didn't save even a day of state savings, aren't the best solutions. A student hit with bigger classrooms, and less help in third grade, loses that education forever. It can't just be provided later.  

This week the Governor announced he'd reverse a veto of $6.3 million to the per-student funding formula, which will help struggling schools some. As stated in my letter, and by the Division of Legislative Finance, that veto was likely unenforceable the way it was written. Conceding that the veto was unenforceable was the right move, and saved the state potential litigation costs I and others warned would be a waste of money and a poor use of funds that could otherwise help student opportunity and achievement.  

The remaining education vetoes were to $4.7 million of per student funding my Independent Democratic Caucus negotiated into the budget, and $6 million in school transportation funds, which, since transportation is necessary, might come out of classroom funding in many districts. Those vetoes were not challengeable, though I would have voted to override those vetoes if the Senate agreed to the House's invitation to consider veto overrides. The Senate didn't, and legally we could not reverse these vetoes without Senate Republican leadership support.

Police Officers On Our Streets and Trails: They Matter

Neighborhood policing and patrols matter. With an adequate number of officers, police can be dedicated to neighborhoods, get to know neighbors, and patrol to prevent crime. With too few officers, police are left to react to crime. So, what can we do?

This is largely a City issue, but the state can take some blame for a major policy change I and members of my Independent and Democratic Caucus opposed. And to be fair to Mayor Berkowitz, who has called for more police on the street, the 2016 city vote implementing a lower revenue cap has made hiring officers tougher. Add to that the fact that the state has vastly reduced, over my objection, the funds we send to municipalities for police, firefighters and other basic local needs, and you have a perfect mess.

What is the state role? Without a fiscal plan, conservative legislators vastly cut the funds the state shares with municipalities, which is called "revenue sharing.” Their legislation, which I voted against, cut Anchorage's share of funds from $13.8 million last year, to $9.3 million this year, and to $4.4 million next year. 

I don't believe in wasteful spending. But police officers are neither free nor "waste.” Calls to keep cutting the budget across the board are sloppy, in my view. We should fund needed services, and focus on cutting waste. I opposed the last two legislative office building purchases, a $2 billion Knik Arm Bridge, and a $6 billion Susitna Dam – all unaffordable, wasteful projects. But some things are underfunded, and public safety is one of them (child protection and education underfunding will cause damage too if not reversed). 

Republican leaders have said they want more cuts before we are allowed to pass a fair, balanced and comprehensive plan to address Alaska's $3.2 - $3.5 billion budget deficit. I disagree. Our Democratic, Moderate Republican and Independent legislators – almost, but not quite a majority in the House – think it's time leaders stop preventing a full, balanced plan from being voted on. Republican leaders in the House and Senate did not allow a comprehensive, needed, balanced revenue plan to reach the Floor for a vote.

Ducking a fiscal plan, continuing unaffordable oil company subsidies, and pretending you can cut police, school, university and other basic public functions to fix a $3.2 billion deficit (not possible according to any rational policy analyst) isn't leadership.

I will keep fighting for a budget solution, for needed, vibrant schools, and for safer streets. But we need police officers and a public safety plan to do that – which costs money.

Let's cut waste. But let's not cut ourselves into poverty and endangered residents.

As always, let me know if you have questions.

My best,

[signed] Les Gara

 

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