Before Gov. Mike Dunleavy takes his pitch for an austerity budget to Alaskans next week, the state House majority is doing so with public hearings this weekend.

Members of the House Finance Committee will hold meetings Saturday in Bethel, Ketchikan, Soldotna and Wasilla. On Sunday they will meet in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Sitka.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said he believes Alaskans should be able to see the tradeoffs in deep cuts to education, the University of Alaska and Medicaid versus receiving full Permanent Fund dividend checks under a formula in state statute.

That formula has not been followed each of the last three years, after reductions in the first two years by then-Gov. Bill Walker and the third by the Legislature. Instead of being paid out in dividends, that money went back to the Permanent Fund earnings reserve.

Last year, the Legislature approved a formula for an earnings draw that would be used for the dividend and government services such as education and public safety.

“We want to show Alaskans that we have some tough choices at hand,” Edgmon said. “The governor is proposing essentially displacing about a third of the budget while doubling the PFD. Is there room somewhere to meet in the middle between those choices, all the while not having to dip into savings or into the earnings reserve?”

Dunleavy, who has presented a plan to repay the reduced dividends over the next three years, will also be on the road starting Monday. His first stop will be in Kenai, two days after the House majority.

This week Dunleavy released a radio spot telling listeners that a reduced dividend is akin to a tax on it.

“Alaska’s state government is confronting what every Alaskan household knows – your spending cannot exceed your income, if you want to avoid bankruptcy," the radio ad said in part. "The state House majority is holding public testimony on the budget.  One option that is being discussed is an 80 percent tax on your PFD. Governor Dunleavy’s plan is a reduced budget with a full PFD.  He believes the PFD should not be used without the vote of the people.”

Edgmon said the ad surprised him.

"They were contrary to the internal discussions we’ve been having with the governor and his group of advisors that have been meeting with the House leadership," he said. "Our focus going forward is to continue building a relationship with the governor, with the Senate, putting a responsible budget forward that doesn’t spend outside of our current revenue stream.”

House Minority Lance Pruitt didn’t question the need to reach the public, but he said he thought the majority could have saved on the travel expense and accomplished the same thing in Juneau.

“We have the facilities available,” he said. “We spend a lot of money to ensure that we have access, that Alaskans can participate in this process. I think we still could have had this conversation and heard from Alaskans, which we absolutely need to do. But we didn’t necessarily have to spend the additional money right now.”

Saturday's meetings are scheduled as follows:

Bethel: 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center, 401 Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway
Ketchikan: Noon to 3 p.m., Ted Ferry Civic Center, 888 Venentia Avenue
Soldotna: 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Soldotna Sports Center, 538 Arena Avenue
Wasilla: Noon to 4 p.m., Mat-Su LIO Building, 600 E. Railroad Avenue

Sunday's meetings all take place from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., at these locations:

Anchorage: Anchorage LIO Building, 1500 W. Benson Boulevard
Fairbanks: Fairbanks LIO Building, 1292 Sadler Way, Suite 308
Sitka: Centennial Hall Assembly Chambers, 330 Harbor Drive

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