Legislature passes 2016 budget, adjourns special session
The Alaska Legislature passed and funded the $5.2 billion 2016 operating budget Thursday and adjourned the second special session.
“A budget is a moral document, it shows what you stand for, it shows what you believe in,” said Rep. Les Gara during a speech on the House floor.
Gara says he’s happy $15 million was added back to some areas, including seniors benefits, pre-K programs and the University of Alaska.
Democrats and Republicans compromised Wednesday night on the final sticking points — primarily, state employee contracts and education funding.
On Thursday morning, Day 22 of the second special session and 143 days after the Alaska Legislature first convened in January, the House of Representatives passed the budget in a 32-7 vote. Shortly after, the Senate passed the operating budget 16-3.
Democrats Rep. Sam Kito, Rep. Andy Josephson, Rep. Scott Kawasaki, Rep. Chris Tuck, Rep. Harriet Drummond and Rep. David Guttenberg and Republican Rep. Lora Reinbold voted against the budget bill.
Tuck says he voted no because it did not include $32 million in one-time education funding that was promised to schools in a bill passed last year. Tuck also says he didn’t support the budget because it included language that restricts Medicaid expansion and it doesn’t include cuts to oil tax credits.
“We should’ve been able to keep our promises on public education. That’s an investment that is very important for Alaskans,” Tuck said. “And then I would’ve also liked to see us put a cap on the oil tax credits for this year since this is such a difficult year for us.”
Lawmakers in the House also voted 38-1 to use money from the Constitutional Budget Reserve to fund the budget, with Reinbold casting the sole opposing vote. The Legislature was forced into a special session to get this budget done because the Democratic minority votes were needed to access the savings account.
Before the vote, lawmakers gave final speeches focusing on the state’s fiscal problems.
“We just simply can not spend more when we have less,” said. Rep. Dan Saddler. “I think reducing the budget at this time is the responsible thing to do.”
Dillingham Rep. Bryce Edgmon says budget cuts are already having an impact on rural Alaska.
“We do have smaller committees that have more needs from the services and programs that the state government provides,” Edgmon said.
“We will have to continue to tighten our belt,” said Republican Rep. Shelley Hughes. “And we need to be thinking long and hard about being prepared to do that.”
The budget passed on Thursday includes roughly $32 million in additional spending compared with the budget that the House and Senate passed in Juneau, though at that point the budget did not have enough support from Democrats to access the CBR. Spending on agency operations totals $4.1 billion in unrestricted general funds, which represents a 9.1 percent decrease from last year’s budget.
“I think all in all it was a fairly good job in trying to reduce the budget, we could probably do more,” said Rep. Mark Neuman.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, Sen. Johnny Ellis and Sen. Berta Gardner voted in opposition of the budget. The Senate then voted unanimously in favor of using the CBR to fund the budget.
Gardner and Wielechowski said they can’t support the budget because it restricts Medicaid expansion and doesn’t include enough cuts.
“There are no cuts to the $700 million in oil tax credits we are paying out,” Wielechowski said. “There are no cuts to the additional $500 million in deductible oil tax credits, there’s no cuts to refinery credits.”
At a press conference on Thursday, Walker says there is still lots of work to be done. In regards to the $30 million in cuts the government still needs to make, Walker says they’re moving forward.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Walker said. “Yesterday we talked about combining divisions. That’s a savings of $600,000. $600,000. doesn’t balance a budget, but, you know, it’s a start.”
Walker says he’s relieved the special session is over, even though Medicaid wasn’t addressed.
“Certainly disappointed that was not put to a vote. Very disappointed,” Walker said. “It’s $150 million a year of our tax dollars I’d love to bring home. I’ve watched Republican governor after Republican governor in this country bring home those dollars.”
Walker says it’s too soon to say whether or not he will call another special session to take up Medicaid Expansion.
The post Legislature passes 2016 budget, adjourns special session appeared first on KTVA 11.