Lawmakers Warn About Spending Limitations
JUNEAU — Lawmakers heading up the state’s budgets are telling constituents not to get their hopes up in a year where declining state revenue will put a tight cap on available funding.
The size of the budget has been a much-discussed issue this session, with the administration forecasting big revenue drops and a razor-thin surplus above the governor’s proposed budget.
On Friday, House Finance Co-Chairman Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Mat-Su/Chugiak, said the Legislature has received a long list of funding requests.
“Far greater than our capacity to fund,” he said. “I’ve done one count earlier and there’s already $4 billion. ...I’ve seen folks coming down earlier and in greater numbers than other years. When they know there’s less, they try to be first in the office. I’m doing my best to lower expectations for people.”
Stoltze said he’ll be looking at projects that have “long-term sustainability and tangible benefits.” He also noted that the governor’s proposed budget has “large holes.”
State budget officials say there’s less than $300 million of additional funding the Legislature can add to the governor’s budget before state savings need to be tapped. That’s all before the estimated $900 million hit associated with the current oil tax proposal.
Fairbanks Rep. Steve Thompson, a Republican member of the House Finance Committee, said the state will need to prioritize what it funds, touching on a long-standing discussion of “wants versus needs.”
“I don’t see how we’re going to be able to fund everything,” he said. “There’s a lot of feel-good programs and projects and there’s a lot of needs out there. It’s going to be difficult, but I’m hoping to look at infrastructure projects in the future.”
The long-term state of the budget is also on some lawmakers’ minds.
In an interview with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Senate Finance Co-Chairman Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said the state’s budgets have grown greatly in recent years and that it’s time for an overhaul.
“Now the operating budget itself is up to $5.7 billion; those things don’t happen because of wild spending for specific things,” he said. “They happen because you have structural drivers in the budget, how you pay for your employee costs, education and health and social services.”
His goal will be for the subcommittees that have traditionally been tasked with holding department overviews and generating budget recommendations over just a few meetings to hold more exhaustive reviews of the budget after the session is completed.
“So our subcommittees this summer are going to be looking at some of the larger structural things rather than trying to do it this year,” he said. “In years past they don’t get to those larger structural things because they’re dealing with paper clips and reams of paper. They’re going to take those on. It’s going to be controversial and darned interesting.”