House committee wades through budget amendments
The House Finance Committee is getting closer to a final vote on the state’s operating budget before sending to the House next week.
The committee has been debating nearly 100 amendments for two days.
Committee co-chair Paul Seaton (R-Homer) says he expects amendment work to be completed in a few days.
The debate has been at times spirited. That’s to be expected so close to a vote on the $4.5 billion budget for state agencies.
After three years of severe cuts, lawmakers restored some funding.
On Monday, the committee added $1 million to the public defender’s office. This would cover costs for four new public defenders and one law office assistant.
"There was going to be a bottleneck and that was in the public defenders," Seaton said in a morning press briefing before the morning hearing. "Public defenders have to be there for people that can’t afford adequate attorneys-- defense attorneys-- and that’s a constitutional requirement."
House Finance Committee member Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole) has offered most of the amendments so far.
She says more scrutiny is needed to the budget and that she is just trying to “hold the line” with her proposed amendments.
"We’re kind of doing it in silos, which is concerning," she said. "We want to add public defenders. Then we want to add more criminal attorneys, but we have to also look at the court system and what the court system can handle."
Last week, the finance committee already added $18 million to the University of Alaska’s budget.
It also added $1 million to the Department of Fish and Game to assist with fisheries management.
The full vote could come as early as Monday.
By then, the House Majority is expected to have its full membership on the floor. Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D-Anchorage), who is recovering from blood clots, is expected to return Monday.
Tiffany Kulkosky is expected to be sworn in as Zach Fansler’s replacement.
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