Berkowitz to legislature: 'Help us or get out of the way'
Many lawmakers are settling in to Juneau for the 2018 legislative session, but before they gavel in, Anchorage leadership has a message for them.
"Either help us or get out of the way," says Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. "Right now they're not helping us and they're not getting out of the way."
Once again, the state budget will take center stage in the capitol building. For the last two years, lawmakers have focused on cutting rather than raising new revenue to fill a multi-billion dollar budget gap. Berkowitz says that has taken a toll on safety in Alaska's largest city.
"I think the state went way too far, they cut eight prosecutors out of the Anchorage office. Figuring each one of those handles 200 to 300 felonies a year, at least, that's 2,000 to 3,000 cases that weren't pursued," Berkowitz said in an interview with KTVA Thursday.
Berkowitz blames a partisan culture for lack of a long-term budget solution in the capitol. As lawmakers prepare to give it another go, Berkowitz hopes they'll take a page out of the Muni's book.
"We're all about solutions, it doesn't matter, there are no Democratic solutions or Republican solutions, there are just solutions," Berkowitz said. "We've learned to focus on getting things done, and I think in Juneau they're still enjoying the luxury of partisan combat. And that doesn't really help Alaskans move forward very much, and I'd ask them to put that aside."
A few things Berkowitz and Anchorage assembly members are asking for this year include:
- $298 million dollars for the Port of Anchorage, which serves 85 percent of Alaskans.
- $549,000 for the Alaska Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Intervention Program, which is based in Anchorage.
- The creation of a community dividend program.
- $52 million to rebuild the Clitheroe substance abuse treatment center - which assembly members agree, must happen to help get homeless people off of the streets.
"It's got to be a very high priority because the number of homeless are affecting the average citizens' lifestyles," said Pete Petersen, Chair of the Assembly's Legislative Committee. "We have an amazing number of parks and facilities here in town that some citizens don't feel safe using now because of the number of homeless we have."
Anchorage leaders won't likely get everything on their wishlist this year. If lawmakers can't help solve Muni problems, Berkowitz says he just hopes they don't make them worse.
The legislative session starts Tuesday morning, in Juneau.
Watch the video below to see the full interview with Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.