ALASKA - Governor Sean Parnell signed budget bills Monday and complimented legislators on staying within his spending limit for public works projects.
He also proposed a new way of restraining growth in the operating budget.
The big story of the legislative session was the dysfunctional relationship on oil tax reform between the governor and the House on one side, and the Senate on the other.
But that was a secondary topic today.
Almost everyone agreed that the process for developing the Fiscal Year 2013 budget worked out well.
"I wanted to say thanks to the legislators for working with me to maintain that spending limit that I set,” said Parnell, in a news conference. “That's huge. That is something that we haven't seen for several sessions."
The last two years Parnell has vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars in public works projects from the capital budget.
That didn't happen this year because legislators agreed not to go beyond last year's figure of $2.9 billion.
Senator Lesil McGuire likened Parnell’s speech to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, in which he offered praise for the Legislature.
"And it was nice to hear those words of cooperation. I think that's accurate. We all sat down and said the needs are greater than what we can expend right now because we do need to save for a rainy day. But at the same time we were able to come up with education as a priority - $1.2 billion - and to forward-fund it, knowing that you lose a lot of teachers in pink slips."
The governor touted the budget reserves of more than $15 billion.
"They represent fully one-third of all 50 states' rainy day funds put together; that is potential strength. 49 other states would trade places with us at this point."
Even so, Parnell said spending restraint must remain a theme.
And he suggested future budgets should be based on the price per barrel of oil needed to fund them. "Let's say it's $100 now. If it's $100 now, maybe our spending target should be 99, then 98 and then 97. You know, just start bringing it down. And that's a discussion I’ll need to have more publicly as well as with legislators."
"It's a good step,” said House Finance Co-Chair Bill Stoltze. “We have the Senate not too interested on the production increase side, so we better look at some reality. If we're not going to bring in more oil, then there's going to be less to spend, and we'd better brace for that."
Senator Hollis French said Parnell’s idea is “intriguing” but problematic.
"If you set an artificially low number, then what, what happens if your oil price doesn't support that, then what? The thing to do is to set a rational budget. The thing to do is to pay for that budget, and we've got the money to do so out of savings for the foreseeable future."
But however future budgets are crafted, there is unusual harmony about how this one got done.
The governor did cast more than $66 million in vetoes, but the biggest chunk - an extra cash infusion of $50 million into the Judicial Retirement System - isn't going to raise any protests.
Parnell did limit increases to some programs aimed at preparing children for kindergarten, partly out of a concern about whether they should be in the education budget -- and thus restricting involvement of faith-based organizations -- or rather in the health and social services budget.
Representative Les Gara posted a scathing comment on Facebook, saying Parnell doesn't care about children who are not born into privilege.