House Rep. Sarah Vance (R-Homer) told constituents she won’t budge on her campaign promises of fighting against a state income tax and pushing for a $3,000 permanent fund dividend during a legislative update meeting last Thursday.
Dozens of people gathered at Captain’s Coffee in Homer last week to hear from Vance now that she’s back from Juneau. The representative still has one more special session ahead of her, but came to brief constituents on the process of forming a state operating budget, what happened with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s line item vetoes, and other work like the repealing of crime bill SB91.
Things turned tense when meeting attendees accused Vance of not being communicative enough or listening to them. One audience member made a comment about Vance hiding behind her children, after she explained that she needs to make time to see her family in between sessions as well as constituents.
“I’m not hiding behind my children, and I do take this job seriously,” Vance said. “… I want to make something very clear. I have put myself into this job for you. I love Homer and I love this district. But my children still need to see their mom.”
Meeting attendees asked Vance to be more communicative before and during the legislative sessions, rather than after all the votes are cast and decisions made. They asked for ways to get their questions answered and points made ahead of big votes.
Others said they would like it if Vance would participate in the legislative update call-ins put on by KBBI public radio, which Sen. Gary Stevens currently participates in. Vance said she sends legislative update shorts to local radio stations to be used if they wish. KBBI reported it reached out to Vance asking her to participate in the weekly legislative updates and that she declined.
“It would be great if we could have discussions before we get to this point,” said resident Candy Rohrer. “I would just like more conversation, and more of an opportunity to be a part of it, because we need to build bridges, and I don’t think we’re building bridges just across the whole state. And I think you could be a bridge builder as well.”
Vance said she agreed communication could be better. She pointed to the fact that she has one staffer, while other representatives and Stevens (who as a senator represents two house districts) have more. She said she would work on providing more opportunities for constituents to weigh in.
In briefing the community members on what happened during legislative sessions this year, Vance spoke about the contentious line-item veto to benefits for low income seniors, which Dunleavy originally vetoed but was eventually restored. She let people know that seniors eligible for that program would start receiving checks again soon and that they would also get back pay for the period of time the program funding was vetoed.
Vance said she fought against that particular veto and advocated for funding for seniors, because keeping senior interests at the forefront was one of her campaign promises. At the same time, Vance said she would be in favor of talking about a temporary moratorium on letting any new seniors enroll in the benefits program until the state has more revenue to fund it.
Vance also spoke in favor of funding for education, reminding attendees that funding for early education had been restored after Dunleavy vetoed it. Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board member Zen Kelly spoke up and said that, while the funding for the base student allocation (or funding for K-12 education) was not vetoed this year, he worries that it could be on the chopping block in the future. He urged Vance to be part of the conversation on a local school district level.
“My concern is that in fiscal year (2021), the funding of the (base student allocation) … is now going to be open to having the governor veto (it),” he said. “… What I want to do is invite you in October to come attend the public budget forums. Or, I chair the finance committee for the school district, so if you have questions about how our school district funding is allocated, reach out. We’re happy to include you in the process and make sure that you’re well informed of what we do with the money that we receive.”
On the subject of education, Vance also spoke about a bill she worked on and introduced this year that would give school districts the option to come under the umbrella of the state’s health insurance plan in order to save money. The rising cost of health care is a constant sticking point in the school district’s negotiations with teacher unions. Vance said she had local principals and Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones look at the bill before she submitted it.
Asked about the proposed Pebble Mine project, Vance said she does not have a position on the actual project itself.
“But I’m not going to commit. Right now, my commitment is obeying the rule of law and due process,” Vance said while an audience member continually interrupted her. “That’s where I’m going to stand.”
Asked what new forms of revenue she supports, Vance spoke about making Alaska a more attractive place for business.
“We need new money flowing in the state, and that can come in many forms,” she said. “And until we have that, we’re not going to solve any of our problems because we don’t have enough money within the state…. whether it’s individual income tax or whatever it is, we can’t tax enough to pay at the rate that we are spending.”
When asked by a meeting attendee, Vance said she’s open to looking at oil and gas taxes. However, she said she still won’t support a state income tax going forward because it would contradict her campaign platform.
Several people in attendance said they disagreed with that stance and advocated for her being open to multiple forms of revenue, including taxes.
“If it were to come to me voting for a state income tax, at this point I would vote ‘no,’” she said.
People in attendance also told Vance they would be happy with a lesser PFD amount if it meant more money would be available to pay for things like schools and other state services. Again, she said she would not go against what she ran on during her campaign.
After the meeting in Homer, Vance went on to provide two more legislative updates in Kasilof and Ninilchik that week.