State House Rejects Proposed Budget Amendments

The House today rejected minority amendments to next year’s operating budget in anticipation of a final vote on the plan this evening.

The changes requested by Democrats pointed to places in the budget that do not prepare the state for future financial instability, which they consider an important goal.

Proposed cuts would have reduced or eliminated funding for several individual programs – such as the Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation, Tourism marketing, and the Alaska Land Mobile Radio system.  They would also have increased or restored spending for such programs as a pilot program to demonstrate the value of pre-kindergarten classes in local schools or the Natural Gas Development Authority that voters adopted ten years ago.

Anchorage Democrat Pete Peterson was unsuccessful in protecting school funding from the costs of inflation.

“I’ve had numerous school districts in my office showing me the improvements they have made in the last few years,  including higher graduation rates,  lower dropout rates,  increased test scores and more students going on to college.  Now is not the time to lose the momentum that many districts have gained by forcing districts all over the state to lay off teachers and cancel programs.”

Finance Co-chair Bill Stoltze said he’s working on a more comprehensive approach to school funding and asked members to hold the issue until he can schedule hearings.

And Anchorage Democrat Mike Doogan proposed putting another $2-Billion dollars into the body of the Permanent Fund.  He says the state can afford savings right now.

“So there’s plenty of money on the table.  The last time I looked, if we cashed out everything we’ve got, it’s about $19 billion.  So in my view, it’s time to put a little money really away to help increase the value of the Permanent Fund for a time when we’re actually going to have to go into it and get money.”

Bill Thomas, the other finance Co-chair, reminded members that the state already faces financial challenges – a potential need for as much as $11 billion to cover State Employee and Teacher retirement funds and decreasing revenue from oil production.

The budget remains unchanged from the version the Finance Committee approved yesterday.

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