House, Senate Give Final Approvals to Next Year’s Operating Budget

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The House and Senate Friday morning gave their final approvals to the negotiated operating budget for next fiscal year.

The plan, as approved by a joint conference committee on Wednesday, spends a total of $9 billion – $5.7 billion of it in state general funds. Besides taking care of the day-to-day operations of state government, that spending also includes setting money aside for such things as this year’s permanent fund dividends, providing money for new state employee union contracts, saving a Billion dollars in the Budget Reserve and substantially increasing the Power Cost Equalization Endowment.

Conference Committee chairman Bill Thomas of Haines said the differences between the House and Senate bills started with more than two hundred eighty differences that had to be resolved.

The budget passed with no opposition in the House and with only one vote against it in the

Senate – as minority leader Charlie Huggins objected to cuts to the newly constructed Goose Creek Prison in his district. The budget only pays for interest on the loans, the cost of utilities and basic security services. Huggins said the prison project was finished under budget and ahead of schedule. And he wants to see progress toward putting it into operation.

Anchorage Democrat Les Gara, who is a member of the House finance Committee, pointed out that the budget only grew by about 4 percent over last year’s – well within the framework of inflation and population growth. At the same time, he said there was a lot of money spent that will change people’s lives – scholarships for example. He said it has been four years since the last input of money for students who need financial help. Meanwhile, money for students who show academic merit has been brought up.

The budget next goes to the governor for final action. Meanwhile, the legislature will return to the capitol on Monday to continue to work out the final major issue of the special session – the capital projects budget.

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