JUNEAU — Wasilla Republican Rep. Lynn Gattis faced a backlash Tuesday for comments she made about elderly Alaskans in a television interview, suggesting they might be better off moving as lawmakers slash subsidies and services to close the state's massive budget gap.
"Alaska is a tough state for older folks to live in, slipping, falling, icy, so on and so forth," she told KTVA in a story that ran Monday. "So if you're not working, on a fixed income, sometimes there are other places that are less expensive to live."
Gattis' remarks came as the House Finance Committee — on which she sits and which her GOP majority caucus controls — is proposing to cut $5 million from a $20 million state program that makes cash payments to low-income senior citizens.
Asked by KTVA's reporter whether senior citizens with families in Alaska should be able to remain in the state, Gattis, an outspoken conservative in her second term, responded: "They should be able to. If they can afford it."
Gattis was at the center of another controversial idea a few months ago: raising the minimum size of Alaska schools that qualify for full state funding, which advocates say could lead to the shuttering of dozens of rural schools.
Her comments about senior citizens were condemned by Democrats and mocked by a new political website, Grinder News, which is run by a former Democratic legislative aide.
Grinder News' satirical article described how Gattis "doubled down" by saying kids — the "real drag on the economy" — should leave the state, too. And it included a doctored photograph of a boy walking away with a massive suitcase, as Gattis offered a parting message: "Tell Grandma Alaska said hi!"
In an interview Tuesday, Gattis said her view did not match the headline of the KTVA article, which read: "Wasilla lawmaker: Fixed-income seniors should consider leaving Alaska."
She said her comments were in the context of a larger conversation, in which she was trying to make a point about how low oil prices and a massive budget deficit will likely result in lawmakers reducing the scope of Alaska's government and public services — confronting residents with tough choices about their living arrangements.
"Back in the pre-oil days, it wasn't uncommon that folks chose to leave the state to be in warmer climes, and a cheaper area. That being said, I'm not stating that people should. What I am stating is people have to make choices," she said. "I'm not singling out elderly. I'm not singling out anybody. But we have a generation, or maybe even two, that have had a free ride in this state."