Governor Signs Budget

Gov. Sean Parnell approved the state’s budget today, and he was light with his veto pen — he hardly used any red ink at all. Every veto made to the operating budget had to do with fixing calculation errors, and not a single dollar was trimmed from the capital budget. Only $2.5 million was vetoed from a $13.2 billion budget.

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At the bill signing, Parnell said that he didn’t need cut the legislature’s spending because lawmakers stayed within the limits he set out.

“Now given that legislators met my target of dropping spending by over a billion dollars, you will see only modest reductions in the budget,” said Parnell.

Vetoes can be used as a political weapon of sorts when a governor doesn’t like what a legislature is doing or how it’s spending the state’s money. When Parnell started his term in office, he cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget.

Anchorage Republican Kevin Meyer co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee, and he says he wasn’t expecting to see the capital budget make it through the governor’s office totally intact.

“I’m a little surprised because sometimes there are items that get by us that we didn’t realize were unconstitutional for one reason or another, and apparently, there wasn’t any items like that. So yeah, I think this is very unusual not to have at least something vetoed.”

Meyer adds that he wasn’t planning for any huge vetoes, though. That’s because the governor and the Republican majority in the legislature were pretty aligned in their priorities this year.

Democrats in the minority didn’t share that same agenda. Les Gara serves on the House Finance Committee, and he says there probably would have been a clash if his party had been in charge. He says Democrats are still disappointed that their push to get an increase to the education funding formula didn’t go anywhere.

“You know, if we had succeeded in getting enough funding in to reverse the fourth year of cuts in a row on education staff across the state — classroom funding across the state — the governor might have vetoed that. But his party joined him in not allowing any classroom funding increase.”

Instead of increasing the funding formula, the legislature approved $21 million for school security grants. The state will be spending $1.25 billion for K-12 education next year, which is a slight increase over last year.

The operating budget also includes $40 million for the Power Cost Equalization program and $5 million for new state troopers and village public safety officers. The overall operating budget went up by just 1 percent this year.

The capital budget was significantly smaller. Last year’s was about $3 billion, while this year’s was $2 billion. A good chunk of the money in it is going toward energy projects, like the Susitna-Watana hydroproject and the natural gas trucking plan for the Interior.

In total, the state will be $1 billion over last year’s $12 billion budget, even though the operating budget saw little growth and the capital budget shrunk. Most of that increase comes from federal spending and from parts of the budget the legislature can’t control. Spending from the state’s unrestricted general fund went down by a billion dollars, which was part of Parnell’s goal to stop the growth of the budget over the next five years.