Rep. Gary Knopp (R-Kenai/Soldotna) addressed his efforts to build a coalition in the state House of Representatives and the governor’s proposed budget to the community Friday morning at a special Joint Chamber breakfast.
Knopp’s efforts to organize the House have been criticized by some residents. At the breakfast, Knopp said his goal was to create a functioning House, where both parties are working together.
“The House needs to function,” Knopp said in his short chamber presentation. “It had no chance of functioning or succeeding with our makeup.”
Knopp dug into the local impacts of Gov. Dunleavy’s proposed budget, which was released Wednesday.
Proposed education cuts to the foundation formula for education spending was cut by about $300 million. For the Kenai Peninsula Borough, that would equate to a loss of about $20 million, Knopp said.
“About every million dollars for the education system is about 10 teaching positions,” Knopp said. “So if you lose about $20 million, you do the math, you can see the impacts to employment. Pretty substantial. The fact of the matter is it could resolve in closing and consolidating schools and some pretty drastic changes.”
A loss of $20 million would result in the loss of about 200 teaching positions.
The Alaska Marine Highway system faces a $96 million reduction, Knopp said, which would go into effect in October if passed.
“After that, they might bring in a consultant and look at privatizing the entire ferry system,” Knopp said. “Southeast will be devastated by the marine highway system. For us in south central — Valdez, Cordova Whittier, Homer to Kodiak routes — it will impact us on the peninsula.”
Knopp said he was concerned about cuts to corrections, and the potential closure of one wing of Wildwood Correction Center in Kenai. The Department faces about a 10.5 percent reduction.
“For us, Wildwood is proposed to close one wing,” Knopp said. “It results in 46 people losing their jobs. That’s 46 families who may move without work and it trickles down into the schools.”
Knopp also noted the budget for Alaska Public Broadcasting had been “completely zeroed out,” which prompted applause from one resident in the audience.
“Some of us like public radio, some of us enjoy it,” Knopp said. “Some of us not so much. In other parts of the state, it’s all they have.”
Local seniors could experience a lack of benefits if the governor’s budget is passed. Knopp said the senior benefit program supports 11,000 seniors across the state, and 1,171 seniors on the peninsula. Benefits range from $76 to $250 a month. Knopp said many of these seniors are low-income.
Knopp said cuts to the university are another major concern. With a nearly 50 percent cut to the university budget, Knopp said it is more than likely the Kenai Peninsula College could be closed, or at best, be “reverted back to a community college-type deal.”
With cuts to the budget, the state is poised to lose 700 jobs at the state level, and 1,300 jobs in the university system. However, Knopp said anywhere from 14,000 to 20,000 jobs could be lost indirectly.
Knopp said he has concerns with the governor’s approach to the budget.
“He wants to wield the big axe and do it all in one fell swoop and I think it takes a more analytical and methodical approach to minimize these impacts and have these conversations about what we want our communities to look like,” Knopp said.
Knopp said he did agree with the governor and the budget does need to be balanced.
“The governor is correct,” Knopp said. “You can’t keep deficit spending, whether you’re an individual or a government or a corporation, you can’t sustain that. You have to fix it,”
After his presentation, several residents commented and questioned Knopp’s decisions when it came to House organization. He said his focus was simply on the success of the House.
“My fear was is that we got to Juneau, organized as 21, and when we got to the policy decisions — constitutional amendments, PFD payments and repayments — I said our divide would be so great we will never fix it,” Knopp said. “It’s better to deal with this right now then in two months or three months into session and completely implode. That’s what we were on track to do. There was no chance of success.”
During the event, a petition was being passed around the room asking for Knopp to be recalled.