Operating budget narrowly clears the House
The House early Monday afternoon narrowly passed its operating budget.
This comes after two weeks of debating amendments and the annual Permanent Fund payout.
With the House chamber tally board showing a vote of 20-19, Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) cast the deciding vote, 21-19.
“The frustration for me is that, unfortunately, we did the PFD amendments at the end rather than the beginning and didn’t give me the opportunity to perhaps look into offering some of my own amendments to delete some of the funding that I think is less critical at this time,” she said to her colleagues on the House floor.
Without comment, Rules Chair Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage) voted against the budget. She has long advocated for a fully funded dividend, an estimated $2700. On Friday, the House cut its initial dividend approval from $2,700 to $1,600.
It’s a cut that Tarr addressed as unfair.
“I hope that at some point we will consider a fiscal plan that is fair to all Alaskans,” she said, "and I think the cut on the PFD in this budget is very unfair and continues a path of being very unfair in terms of addressing our budget problems.”
The House backed spending of $5.35 billion for state operations. That’s a 3 percent increase from the current spending plan passed last year. That’s still too much for many lawmakers.
“The public is watching us to see how we respond to the deficit we have. Are we reducing the budget? No,” said Rep. Dan Saddler (R-Eagle River) to his colleagues on the House floor. “Are we even holding steady with the budget? Again, no. Are we increasing the budget, increasing the deficit? Sadly, yes. And so, Mr. Speaker, my answer has to be no.”
The overall budget, which includes federal dollars, passed at $11.5 billion. That covers all fund sources, including federal dollars and oil taxes.
It’s also more than $1 billion above what Gov. Bill Walker proposed.
The boost essentially enables the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. to seek outside investors for a $43 billion gas line project. The $1 billion doesn’t exist unless AGDC secures an investor, but it still requires legislative oversight and must be included in the budget.
But it’s the state’s unrestricted general fund that generates the most legislative and public debate.
Some of the additions to the general fund for statewide operations include:
- $19 million for the University of Alaska’s budget
- $1 million for public defenders
- $1 million to the Department of Fish and Game to assist with fisheries management
The budget must still get vetted by the Senate, which has 13 days until the 90-day statutory limit.
Lawmakers, however, are a free to work until May 16 under the Constitution’s 121-day limit without any formal action. And there is still a lot of work to be done with budgets.
Once the Senate has completed its operating budget work, the two sides must still work out differences.
The House also failed to get a three-quarters vote to draw $700 million from the Constitutional Budget Reserve.
The Senate still needs to finish a capital budget to cover construction projects and send it to the House.
The Legislature must also decide whether to accept Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed income tax to pay for a specific list of projects proposed in the capital budget.
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