Alaska’s lawmakers debate budget ‘compromise’
A new budget bill will be debated in the House Thursday morning in Anchorage.
Republican leaders have offered a “compromise” budget — CS House Bill 2001 — that adds $16.5 million back into education funding to increase the Base Student Allocation (BSA) to a level required by state statue. House Minority Democrats aren’t satisfied; none of them called the bill a compromise on Wednesday.
“We are still not keeping the promise,” said Minority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck, referring to the $32 million cut in one-time funding for schools that’s not being reintroduced in the offer.
“They are not going to get every issue that they had on their plate,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Chenault. “That’s usually not how negotiations work and so these are the two big ticketed items.”
Chenault says the offer is something he believes his divided caucus could agree on. The offer also honors state employee contracts with an additional $30 million that Gov. Bill Walker’s administration will be responsible for finding through more cuts.
“Not only have we worked with the Minority we’ve also worked with the public. The public spoke and we listened, and this what we are doing and this is what we are putting forward,” said Rep. Charisse Millett.
House Democrats are concerned that asking the administration to make an additional $30 million cut is too much too fast.
“We need to give departments an opportunity, a chance to find out where they can do efficiencies, but to pull the rug out underneath them so quickly is very damaging,” Tuck said.
Tuck says the new budget bill is a “take it or leave it offer,” referring to the additional language included in the bill that gives House Minority Democrats an ultimatum: If they don’t accept the deal, and therefore do not vote to access the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) to fund the budget, then the education and state employee contract offer is off the table.
The Republican Majority has signaled they are willing to go around the Democrats to access the CBR.
The House Finance Committee discussed the new budget offer on Wednesday, and 13 additional amendments were offered. One from Rep. Mark Neuman passed. An amendment offered by Representatives Les Gara, David Guttenberg and Scott Kawasaki to increase caseworkers in the Office of Children’s Services was first passed, and within an hour Republican members rescinded the vote.