Budget debates under way in State House
Alaska’s point man on the proposed natural gas pipeline and non-union state employees became budget cut targets Tuesday while the House worked to approve next year’s spending plan.
No vote was taken yet on the budget, and it could still be a few days.
The House spent most of the day voting on a few dozen proposed amendments to the unrestricted general fund budget of nearly $4 billion. That part of the budget covers state agency funding. It also generates most of the public and legislative debate.
Most of the amendments came from the Republican-led minority looking to cut programs and positions and freeze salaries.
Rep. Lora Reinbold, (R-Eagle River) pushed to eliminate the president of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. That position belongs to Keith Meyer. His salary and benefits package costs the state $750,000 annually.
Meyer is in charge of advancing a $43 billion project to deliver North Slope gas to Cook Inlet for export to Asian markets. Lawmakers for decades have viewed this project as essential to Alaska’s economic future.
“This is just one position I don’t think we can afford at this time, during a recession,” Reinbold said during a break.
She received support from fellow Eagle River colleague Dan Saddler.
“This kind of pay range might be defensible for the head of the AKLNG project if there was revenue flowing through to the state’s benefit,” Saddler said. “According to the information I’ve seen, so far, the AKLNG project has been a drain on the treasury.”
House Resources co-chair Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) disagreed.
“The reality is if we are going to have megaprojects, they are going to be managed by executive officers whose duties and talents and burdens bear this sort of salary,” he said. ”That’s what happens.”
Reinbold’s amendment failed, 27-12.
Later, Rep. Chris Birch (R-Anchorage) proposed a salary freeze that resembles a bill offered last year by Gov. Bill Walker.
Birch could not say how much it would save the state but says it sets a strong example for others.
“If we are going to ask those around us to make due with less, we must make due with less ourselves,” he said. “If we are going to inspire confidence in the public, we must also act in a manner that inspires it.”
House Finance Committee co-chair Paul Seaton said the amendment would need further review.
“I don’t think we know at all what the implications of this are,” he said. “There is no time to look at the different agencies and find out how does it impact those.”
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