Senior citizens will consider financial security and affordable living when casting their ballots on Nov. 7, many long-time Alaskans have said.
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House District 4 candidates Andrea Doll and Randy Wanamaker, unopposed District 3 incumbent candidate Beth Kerttula and Senate candidates Mac Meiners and incumbent Kim Elton squared off Friday night at the Juneau Senior Center. The forum was mostly taken up by five preselected questions regarding hot-button community issues.
The longevity bonus is an issue than many senior citizens care about greatly, said 68-year-old Bob Cartill, who attended the Legislative candidate forum.
Wanamaker was the only one of the five candidates who opposed the longevity bonus that Gov. Frank Murkowski did away with after elected.
"If we restore the longevity bonus program and open it up to all eligible seniors in this state, that's about $125 million the state has to come up with from somewhere," Wanamaker said. "That's probably not sustainable unless we eliminate other programs."
Instead of bringing back the monthly state check for eligible senior citizens, he said he would like to see payouts increased in the Senior Income Program for those who need financial assistance the most.
"We can sustain paying the people who need it the most by increasing them from $120 to $200 a month," Wanamaker said. "That's what I would be willing to do."
Doll, who said she was a senior citizen herself, said the program is important in helping keep Alaskans in Alaska.
"I don't know why we have to say how badly we need something," she said. "I feel absolutely indignant about the whole thing."
It was a slap in the face when the current administration took it away from the seniors on fixed incomes who had come to depend on the bonus, Doll said.
"We have lots of money," she said. "We have tons of money in this state and I think we need to think about where our priorities are."
Kerttula said is was "shameful" to lose the longevity bonus in the first place and said she will continue to fight to have it reinstated.
"We're not going to have a rush of people coming up to Alaska just because of the longevity bonus," she said.
Meiners said he is in favor of bringing the bonus back for eligible seniors. However, he said, it may not be the best idea to keep it around forever.
"I think maybe we should sunset it - take a good look at what is going on and try to provide better services for the seniors and long-term care," he said.
Elton also said he would continue to work with other legislators to bring back the longevity bonus, and that it should never have been taken away from seniors in the first place.
"It was a bad decision to phase it out," he said. "It was bad faith to just end it abruptly and the best thing that we can do is bring it back."
The longevity bonus is beneficial to more than just the seniors because it helps keep long-term residents in Alaska while they add money to the local economy, Elton said.
"We are so much better off investing in our seniors so they spend their investment in town. They spend their retirement in town. They spend their health benefit in town," he said.
The candidates also discussed the Proposition 2 gas tax, the second Gastineau Channel crossing, assisted living and the Juneau Access project at Friday's forum.
"Another big issue is the road, to give access to the rest of the state," Cartill said. "Because as you get older and have to travel, it's expensive."
Meiners spoke heavily in favor of a road out of Juneau on several occasions Friday night. He said the second crossing should come after building the road.
"I think it's a mirage," he said. "I think it's a smokescreen to hide the fact that what we really need is the road. The road is the No. 1 choice. I think the road lays the foundation that we need to lay the infrastructure so we can get a second crossing."
All four other candidates were in favor of getting the ball rolling on the second crossing.
The Nov. 7 election is highly important because of the way state and federal government has been operating in recent years, 72-year-old Betty McDolugh said.
"I think everybody wants to know what direction we are heading," she said.