With lawmakers breathing a deep sigh of relief from the early morning 7.9 earthquake and tsunami scare, it was business as usual in the capital.

On Tuesday afternoon, a house panel got its first critical analysis of Gov. Bill Walker’s budget proposal.

Legislative Finance Division Director David Teal presented an overview to the House Finance Committee, an annual offering that typically kicks off budget scrutiny.

The House normally, first, handles the operating budget – also known as HB 286 – which covers day-to-day costs for government services.

Then the bill gets sent to the Senate for additional review; then a special committee works out differences.

Tuesday’s discussion centered largely around what many lawmakers call “truth in budgeting”.

Lawmakers and Teal raised several questions about how classifying a fund can create a confusing portrayal of whether a budget has truly been reduced.

Among them:

  • Does placing an inaccurate designation on how money gets spent, create a misleading impression on whether the budget has been cut or increased, and if so, by how much?
  • Does seeking supplemental money – one-time funding for emergencies and unplanned expenses – distort the year-to-year comparisons or create an impression that an agency or government program was deliberately underfunded?

Committee member Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage) said questions like these need reconciling.

“I think we have different numbers being spoken by different individuals, which creates a challenge when we go talk to the public about what the budget is,” he said. “Somehow we’ve got to come to which one are we going to focus on so we are in uniform.”

The panel agreed on this much: the state faces a $2.5 billion budget gap for the fiscal year beginning July 1, and how that deficit gets filled remains in question.

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