As I’ve heard the back-and-forth testimony over the governor’s $1.6 billion in budget cuts, the Bluegrass classic, “Dueling Banjos,” comes to mind – especially the part when the banjo picking accelerates from a slow, deliberate pace to a breakneck speed.    

Lawmakers have about two weeks left in the legislature’s 90-day session, so we’re in that final, frenetic stretch – with Senate and House leaders intent upon putting money back into the budget that the governor pulled out.

Some of the big-ticket items on Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s chopping block: a 30 percent cut in combined state and federal Medicaid funding, a 25 percent cut to education, and 40 percent to the University of Alaska budget – dubbed by critics as a “shock and awe” fiscal fix. At the same time, the governor also wants to pay a $3,000 Permanent Fund Dividend, based on the traditional formula for calculating the payment.

The governor embarked on a series of five road shows to sell his plan, an outreach effort sponsored by the Alaskan branch of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative economic policy group with a mission to downsize government.

These forums offered limited public input, which prompted the House Majority to line up its own budget tour – seven public hearings held across the state – hence, the dueling road shows. 

Perhaps “road show” is not the best term to use, since some of the communities scheduled for hearings are off the road system, accessible only by air at this time of the year.

In this week’s Frontiers, we look at the dueling visions of Alaska’s fiscal future. Here are some of the highlights:

  • On the road and in the air: a taste of the House Finance Committee and Gov. Dunleavy budget tours, including stops in Bethel and Kenai. 

While it’s likely lawmakers will go into overtime this session, they have one hard deadline: June 30. Unless they pass a budget to fund the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, state government could shut down.

The governor did say, when he announced his drastic budget cuts, that they would touch every Alaskan. In this episode of Frontiers, for better or for worse, we see exactly what he meant.

One final note on this week’s program: Special thanks to Katie Basile at KYUK, the public radio and TV station in Bethel. She provided us footage of the House Finance Committee hearing in Bethel. Also thanks to Matt Mahan and his banjo playing, which livened up our dueling budget story. He performed at an open mic at the Schwabenhof in Wasilla, hosted by Rick Brooks, who graciously allowed us to record the session. Love it when we can spice up our shows with some local music.   

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