Four Wrangell residents testified before the House Finance Committee Thursday in a hearing about its proposed operating budget for the state.

This proposal, known as House Bill 256, would cut about half a billion dollars from the state’s operating budget. A combination of cuts and new revenue sources will be needed to close the $3.8 billion budget gap, but lawmakers are focusing on cuts before looking at other options.

Wrangell residents told the House Finance Committee that the proposed cuts would affect local education, municipal funding, and public broadcasting.

Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch stressed the importance of funding community revenue sharing, which makes up about 10 percent of Wrangell’s general fund budget.

“This, like many of the cuts that you’re considering, will come at the cost of reduced services, especially to smaller communities that don’t seem to have the revenue-generating options and tax base of larger communities,” Jabusch said.

Jabusch asked the committee to reconsider the state’s property tax exemption law. He said 17 percent of Wrangell’s property is tax-exempt for seniors. That’s the highest percentage of senior exemptions in the state, which makes it hard for the borough to raise enough revenue from property taxes.

Jabusch also said he would prefer a state income tax over a state sales tax.

“For those cities and boroughs that already have a 5, 6, or 7 percent sales tax as in Wrangell, adding a sales tax to that, or not allowing us to have 7 percent, would limit our options to raise local revenue for the purpose of offsetting reduced state funding,” Jabusch said.

Wrangell Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Mayer asked the committee to keep education at the forefront of budget discussions.

“I truly believe that the Department of Education budget has been reduced to a level where if cut any further, they would not be able to adequately address compliance issues that support our ongoing receipt of federal dollars for such programs as Title One and Migrant Ed,” Mayer said. “The dollars associated with these categorical programs make up a significant part of our district budget.”

Mayer said any reductions in education department personnel would directly impact the department’s ability to help school districts.

Wrangell resident Stephen Todd asked the committee to reconsider its proposed 100 percent cut to funding for public broadcasting. It would force several public radio stations in Alaska, including KSTK, to shut down.

“It would hurt Alaskans across the state that depend on their public radio stations as we do here. Small villages and towns like Wrangell do not have the community resources to recoup the losses of a 100 percent cut, or a large cut such as this,” Todd said. “If you must make cuts to public broadcasting, please consider making these cuts much less drastic.”

This budget proposal is still in the House Finance Committee.

Wrangell residents can weigh in on the Senate Finance Committee’s budget proposal Tuesday, March 8, at 1 pm. at the Wrangell Legislative Information Office.