Senate Finance Committee makes deeper cuts to budget
The Senate Finance Committee delivered on a promise that it would wield the biggest, baddest budget ax of them all — that its cuts would run deeper than those made by the governor and the House.
Sen. Pete Kelly, co-chair of the committee, said the state is spending about $750 million less compared to last year in its combined operating and capital budget.
“This is a real money reduction,” said Sen. Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla. “We’re not going to win some popularity points with the public, but in the end there’s got to be some tough decisions to be made.”
And some of those decisions include:
· A four-percent cut to the base student allocation, a formula the state uses to decide how much to spend per student.
· Discontinue plans to forward-fund education, a budget revision the governor had already made.
· A freeze on pay raises for state workers, salary increases that were negotiated in a three-year contract.
· A provision barring the governor from accepting $145 million in federal Medicaid expansion funds without legislative approval.
· Terminate the lease on the newly remodeled Anchorage legislative offices by the end of next January to save about $3 million a year. Offices would be relocated to the Atwood Building, a few blocks away.
“The cuts were largely across the board,” said Sen. Peter Micciche, vice chair of the committee. “There is not an area of the state that wasn’t touched. What you’re looking at is a $3.5 billion dollar shortfall. Everyone in Alaska is going to feel the pinch.”
Micciche said the drop in the price of oil is like coping with a 50 percent pay cut.
“You’re going to cut off cable TV. You’re going to stop going out to dinner. You might get a second job. That’s what this looks like,” Micciche said.
As the Republican majority keeps slashing the budget, Senate Democrats have been fighting to restore cuts to education and other social programs.
“The hits are piling on, piling on, to the neediest and our children,” said Sen. Berta Gardner, the Senate Minority leader.
“The budget is a moral document. It translates our policies and convictions into dollars,” Gardner said. “The question is, as a Legislature, do we have the conviction to do what’s right?”
Gardner says cuts to the Office of Public Advocacy are among some of the most harmful, because the agency works to protect the “very neediest, to defend the interest of children who are in the state foster care system or in state custody — people who have dramatic disabilities and need a guardian.”
Gardner is hoping a public outcry will help to restore some of these cuts.
But Sen. Anna MacKinnon, co-chair of Senate Finance, believes there’s stronger support for maintaining the present course.
“The people that are calling my office are saying, ‘Cut more,’” MacKinnon said.
After the Senate Finance Committee passed the budget on Thursday, the Senate went into session in the evening to begin work on the budget.
Senate Majority leaders have said they’d like to pass a budget by Friday, before the Easter holiday.
Once the measure passes, it’ll be sent to a conference committee made up of members of the House and Senate. They’ll work to reconcile the differences in the operating budget each body has passed.
It’s likely some cuts will be restored, while other parts of the budget could see further reductions.
Then comes the tough part, gaining the necessary votes to tap the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve to cover the growing budget gap.
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