The lawmakers representing people in Alaska’s largest city met with their constituents Saturday morning. Twenty Alaska state senators and representatives discussed issues facing the state at the Anchorage caucus at the new legislative information offices in Midtown.

They divided into small groups led by a few lawmakers each and talked about a large number of issues. The future of the Permanent Fund Dividend, budget cuts’ impact on education and Senate Bill 91 were just some of the most hotly debated topics. However, no matter the issue being discussed, the common theme was the state’s budget crisis, how to handle its impacts, and solutions to the problem.

Rep. Les Gara spoke alongside Rep. Geran Tarr and Sen. Tom Begich. Gara said there is no one solution to the budget gap. He said introducing a statewide income or sales tax could help the problem, but not solve it entirely.

Tarr said one part of the solution is diversifying the Alaska economy beyond oil.

“I really loved hearing that people want to start thinking about new opportunities,” said Tarr, who said she wants the tourism and fishing industries to make up a more robust part of the Alaska economy.

The prospect of introducing a statewide sales or income tax was discussed at length. Shelly Vendetti-Vuckovich, an advocate for disabled Alaskans and special education, said the education system has already suffered enough cuts because of the budget shortfall.

“We’ve gotten away for a lot of years without paying income tax or sales tax,” Vendetti-Vuckovich said. “It’s time for everybody to just put on their big boy pants and deal with it.”

She said she was appreciative of the opportunity to voice her concerns to the people who represent her in Juneau.

“It seems like our elected officials are very approachable,” Vendetti-Vuckovich opined.

Another heavily debated topic was the future of the Permanent Fund Dividend and whether dividend checks will be slashed again this year. Dora Christine Moore lived in Emmonak, Bethel and Sitka before moving to Anchorage. She said PFD checks impact rural people’s lives in an entirely different way than those of most urban Alaskans.

“I want to know — if [the Legislature] plans to use the PFD — how it’s going to be used,” Moore said.

Tarr said while she represents an urban area, many of her constituents depend on PFD checks because they have low or moderate incomes.

“I actually have quite a number of people who are from rural communities or are new to the United States or refugees,” Tarr noted. “The families in those circumstances really need a little extra income to get ahead.”

She said she was grateful the weekend caucus gave most working people a chance to weigh in on state issues, and that their passion for the future of Alaska inspired her.

“I feel even more energized and more passionate to get the work done,” Tarr said.

KTVA 11’s Eric Ruble can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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