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Rep. Vance gives Legislature update, fields heated questions at town hall event

Renee Gross, KBBI News

Homer Rep. Sarah Vance defended her legislative positions at a heated town hall last week. During the roughly hour-long capital update, Vance touched on her positions on senior benefits, state revenue and the permanent fund dividend. But multiple residents challenged the representative on her support for Gov. Mike Dunleavy cuts to the state’s budget and complained of difficulties with getting in touch with her.

Roughly forty people crowded Captain’s Coffee Roasting Co. on Thursday to hear Rep. Sarah Vance talk about the Legislative sessions. 

The Homer Republican began the conversation with one of the most contentious topics: senior benefits. Governor Mike Dunleavy initially vetoed funding for the program that gives monthly checks to low-income seniors before later restoring it. 

“So when this benefit program came up, I went to the administration and said, this is something that communicates that’s advocating for seniors,” Vance said. “We need to make sure that this is something going forward.”

But Vance also said she is in favor of temporarily banning new seniors from joining the program until the state finds more revenue. Whether that should be permanent…

“I haven't looked at the full pros and cons and the full effects of it,” she said. “I think it's a good idea for the temporary until we can figure out how we're going to continue to fund programs, but I definitely want to keep promises to those who are already within the program.”

But resident Kathy Carssow questioned Vance on her support for seniors. Carssow argued that if senior benefits were important to Vance, then she should have voted to override Dunleavy’s initial vetoes to the operating budget back in July. 

“It wasn’t important enough for you to override the vetoes to go with the whole package, so it wasn’t that important,” Carssow said. “If it had been that important, you would have gone with the package.”

Vance said she couldn’t stand behind a piece of legislation that looked at all the vetoes as whole. She added that she feels for the seniors who had to go without benefits because the Legislature was still figuring out the budget.

“If I could have done it differently, if I could have prevented it, I would have but … there is so much at stake,” she said.

She reiterated that what’s at stake is a full permanent fund dividend and a balanced budget, which garnered applause from some audience members. She also spoke about other services she fought to keep in the budget from arts to agriculture. 

“I had people from the farmer's market and AG come in and say we got to do something,” she said. “We need our support for our farmers. So we talked to the administration and that $2.7 million roughly was restored.”

When asked about what new revenue she would support, Vance spoke out against taxes. 

“Whether it’s individual income tax or whatever it is, we can't tax enough to pay at the rate that we are spending,” she said.

Vance said instead that she is looking at ways to stimulate the economy to be more attractive to businesses but was unclear about what that will look like in practice. 

However, it wasn’t just state budget issues that took precedent at the event.  Multiple residents, such as Sara Jackinsky, expressed frustration over what they saw as lack of communication from Vance. 

“So I sent you several emails and several texts and several phone calls, and I never got a response and so a two-way communication means that you have to communicate with me when I'm asking you a question,” Jackinsky said.

Some residents claimed that they heard from Sen. Gary Stevens’ office but not from Vance’s. Vance said she has less staffers than Stevens, although his district is bigger than hers.

“And I apologize, I'm going to work on that but we are in unprecedented times and the amount of email and phone calls that we've received during this, we simply couldn't keep up,” Vance said.

Other residents wanted Vance to appear regularly on KBBI as part of the Friday Legislative call-in segment. KBBI offered Vance the chance to do a weekly call-in with the radio station during the Legislative session but she declined. At the coffee shop, however, Vance said she would consider participating in the future. 

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