Civic groups angered by the limited meeting space and unusual registration requirements associated with meetings for the governor’s budget roadshow next week are organizing protests on the streets outside.
Some lawmakers are also pushing back, suggesting the governor choose larger venues that won’t be sponsored and hosted, as the five meetings are, by the conservative-libertarian group Americans for Prosperity.
At the meetings, up to 200 Alaskans who register for free online will hear budget presentations and have the chance to ask questions on cards in a format designed to prevent disruptive outbursts, said Ryan McKee, state director of AFP-Alaska, on Friday.
Public speaking won’t be allowed, in order to prevent grandstanding, McKee said.
Participants who submit questions will get responses from a five-person panel that includes Gov. Mike Dunleavy and some of his top officials.
“Our goal is to get their questions answered directly from the people who made the budget,” McKee said.
The approach isn’t sitting well with what’s described as a loose coalition of labor, conservation, education and health care groups who plan to protest. Organizers said they’re trying to address concerns from Alaskans outraged over the far-reaching impacts of the massive cuts. They say the governor should directly answer to the public.
“We are trying to rally people who can’t get in and let them know that the governor is literally having closed-door meetings sponsored by this Outside group,” said Leah Moss, communications director for The Alaska Center. “It is appalling.”
Alaska AFL-CIO officials said they’ve secured a permit to occupy the street in downtown Anchorage outside 49th State Brewing Co. on Tuesday. It’s scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
“I would expect a large group,” said Joelle Hall, the union group’s director of operations.
Moss, Hall and representatives of NEA-Alaska on Friday said they’ve worked with other groups to organize the rallies under the name “Save Our State” on Facebook. The events are set for Anchorage, Fairbanks and Kenai.
The clash comes as a different set of statewide meetings on the proposed budget - organized by the House Finance Committee -- began Friday evening in Juneau. Those meetings end Sunday, with sessions in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Sitka.
It’s the governor’s meetings, and the sponsorship by a group founded in 2004 by the billionaire Koch brothers, that has drawn the most attention.
Those meetings, part of the governor’s “Statewide Discussion for a Permanent Fiscal Plan," start Monday evening in Kenai and end Friday night in Wasilla. The governor will also speak before civic groups and on radio shows next week.
Matt Shuckerow, a spokesman for the governor, said Dunleavy has been meeting with a wide range of stakeholders. There will be many more meetings with Alaskans in the coming months, he said.
“This isn’t a debate as some people want it to be,” Shuckerow said of the upcoming meetings. “It’s a conversation about this proposal and plan.”
Democratic lawmakers suggested Friday that Dunleavy dump his reliance on Americans For Prosperity, and instead pick bigger venues, including at the University of Alaska Anchorage Wendy Williamson Auditorium in Anchorage.
“The governor will take it under advisement,” Shuckerow said.
McKee, with AFP-Alaska, said his group wants to encourage discussion, and the Democrats should hold their own meetings at the larger locations.
“I would encourage them to, if they feel passionate enough, to host one of these themselves,” McKee said.
McKee said online registration for the meetings has been maxed out for Anchorage, where 175 spots were filled, and Kenai with 150 spots.
He said there was still room at the Mat-Su Resort, with up to 200 spots, though it was filling up fast. Events in Nome on Wednesday and Fairbanks on Thursday are “pretty open.”
It’s first-registered, first served, with no screening of who attends, he said.
McKee said the the panel will include, besides Dunleavy and administration officials, Jeff Crank, regional director of Americans for Prosperity, and Bethany Marcum, executive director of Alaska Policy Forum which helped with hosting the meetings.
The agenda will include presentations about the governor’s proposed constitutional amendments to limit spending and the Legislature’s taxing authority and enshrine the Permanent Fund dividend.
McKee said if state officials dodge questions, he and others will make sure they’re answered. Written questions not addressed because of time limits will get responses later through an email sent to all meeting-goers.
The “terms and conditions” laid out by AFP-Alaska on the online ticketing site, including possible ID checks, still stand, he said.
But the restriction against recording the meeting will be loosened. It won’t be a problem if someone videos a portion of the meeting or takes pictures with a cellphone, he said. AFP just doesn’t want participants setting up tripods with cameras that could obstruct views and take up space.
Members of the media, of course, will be allowed to film, he said.
On Sunday, the House Finance meetings are set for 2-5 p.m. at: Anchorage Legislative Information Office, Centennial Hall Assembly Chambers in Sitka, and the Fairbanks Legislative Information Office. Meetings were held Saturday in Ketchikan, Wasilla, Bethel and Soldotna.
The governor’s registration-only meetings are:
* Monday at the Cannery Lodge in Kenai from 6-8 p.m.
* Tuesday at 49th State Brewing Co. in Anchorage from 6-8 p.m.
* Wednesday in Nome from 4:30–6:30 p.m. at Old St. Joe’s Civic Center.
* Thursday at the Westmark Hotel in Fairbanks from 6-8 p.m.
* Friday at the Mat-Su Resort in Wasilla from 6-8 p.m.
Other events the governor will attend next week include “Talk of Alaska” with Lori Townsend of Alaska Public Media at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. He’ll speak Thursday in Fairbanks at the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Carlson Center from 8-9 a.m.