report from the Juneau “Keep Alaska Open for Business” rally

Image courtesy AFL-CIO.

As you may have heard, the Alaska State Legislature is in Special Session because they don’t have a budget passed. As a result, 17,000 State employees (including yours truly) received layoff notices, which will take effect on July 1 unless a budget is passed between now and then. Without a budget, State government will shut down except for a few life and safety services.

Yesterday, Alaska AFL-CIO hosted “Keep Alaska Open for Business” rallies in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau to remind the Alaska State Legislature – and particularly the Republican-controlled Senate – that they need to pass a sustainable budget.

I attended in Juneau, and the energy was fantastic! 

ASEA/AFSCME Local 52 at work
The local rally was spearheaded by Nadine Lefebvre, who represents Southeast Alaska on the ASEA Executive Board. ASEA represents a lot of people who work for the State (full disclosure: including me – Mary), and so they understand how hard people will be hit by a layoff.

Nadine did a great job of lining up speakers, working the crowd, and taking care of all that behind-the-scenes stuff that has to happen if you want to rally on the steps of the Alaska Capitol Building (thanks a lot, Nadine!). She even had a half-page handout with chants on it, because let’s face it: most of us don’t spend a lot of time at rallies!

Great crowd
If I were to guess, I’d say there were about a hundred people there, maybe more.* There were a lot of home-made signs. My favorite was the fellow with the sign that said “Quit kicking the can down the road” – he had a bunch of cans on string and rattled them whenever one of the speakers made a particularly good point.

I saw at least four legislators – Sen. Dennis Egan, Rep. Justin Parish, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, and Rep. Scott Kawasaki – and both Sen. Egan and Rep. Parish took the microphone to encourage us. My take away from Senator Egan was that we all need to be doing what we can to motivate the Senators from Up North because, as he said, “They just don’t get it.”

Speaking of speakers
I’m not sure how Nadine decided on who to ask to speak; all I know is that I got a call from her. I imagine that most of the other folks did too.

Although I didn’t catch people’s names, and I didn’t take notes, I really admired the other speakers and was grateful that they came. Here’s what stood out to me: a lot of innocent people are going to be hurt if the Senate doesn’t start to “get it”.

The first speaker was Sally Smith, who apologized for her part in the vote that rescinded the state income tax way back when. She said that in her gut, she knew it was a bad idea, but she caved to the intense pressure that was put on her. She urged current legislators to vote for what they knew was right for Alaska instead of just voting with their parties.

One speaker was a gentleman who works at Health and Social Services, I think in the Office of Children’s Services (but I’m not sure – no notes). He related that H&SS gets 50 calls a day from people who are concerned about a child’s welfare. Of those 50 calls, 27 are serious enough for additional screening. Who is going to take those calls if the Senate refuses to work on the budget?

Another man, who is connected to the nonprofit United Way, talked about how their clients depend on State services. And yet another woman, I can’t remember what department she works for, talked about how she processes invoices so that all of the small Alaskan-owned businesses that the State purchases from can get paid on time. She made the great point that those businesses served us in good faith, and they deserve to get paid.

When it was my turn to talk, I was so nervous! I may have accidentally called the microphone a microwave. All I wanted people to know was that their work mattered – all of us in every Department and in every job class from equipment operators to librarians make a difference for people every day.

I work at the Alaska Department of Transportation, and our folks do so much – I wish I could have told everyone about how skilled our Maintenance & Operations people are, and how hard our construction inspectors work, and everything else. But all I had time for was one quick story about one of my coworkers finding a bridge with a cracked beam.

What now?
I’m pretty sure  that the Legislature’s special session ends on Friday. There are currently two different budget proposals: a sustainable, comprehensive plan passed by the House and that Senate plan that results in closed Pioneer Homes.

Compare the plans for yourself: summary from the House, Alaska Legislative Finance.

What can you do? Get on the phone and in the email. Contact Senate leadership and tell them to get their backsides to the negotiation table.

Call people you know in Sen. Pete Kelly’s home town of Fairbanks, and urge them to call him. Know people in Soldotna? That’s where Sen. Peter Micciche is from, and I bet they don’t want to funnel all our dough to oil companies instead of paying for Pioneer Homes.

If you were there yesterday, feel free to add more in the comments because I know I left things out!
– Mary

*6/15/17: This sentence was edited because of a typo. – Mary

Opinions in this article are those of the author and do not represent official positions of, the Tongass Democrats, or anyone other than the author. 

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