House Passes Leaner Operating Budget

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The Alaska House of Representatives has passed a $4.1 billion operating budget, reducing agency operations by 10 percent over last year.

The vote happened shortly after midnight. House Finance Co-Chair Mark Neuman said they set a record with a $229 million cut in spending from the unrestricted general fund.

“That reduction represents both the single largest single-year dollar reduction and percentage cut in Alaska’s history,” said Neuman, a Republican from Big Lake.

Every state agency saw its non-formula funding reduced compared to the previous budget. The Departments of Commerce, Education, and Military and Veterans Affairs took the greatest hits, with funding cut by roughly a third each.

But while the cuts are significant, they’re only a fraction of the $4 billion budget deficit that triggered them. One member of the Republican Majority broke caucus rules and voted against the budget for that reason. Rep Lora Reinbold, who represents Eagle River, said she wanted bigger reductions.

“I will be pushing the red button tonight, knowing that there may be unnecessary consequences by bucking the system, by challenging a very difficult system to work within,” said Reinbold. “I encourage you to join me and do best for what’s Alaska’s future by voting no on this unsustainable budget only until we make more meaningful reductions that reflect Alaska’s current fiscal crisis.”

The last time a member of the Majority opposed the budget was in 2005, when Nancy Dahlstrom, also of Eagle River, voted against a capital appropriations bill. According spokesperson for the Republican Majority, the caucus plans to meet to discuss Reinbold’s actions.

The Democratic Minority also opposed the budget, but because it did not reflect their priorities. Juneau Democrat Sam Kito said the cuts would cause pain without actually fixing the deficit.

“I will be voting no on this budget, but not because we haven’t cut enough but because I believe we have cut too much,” said Kito. “We have a $3.5 billion deficit. We’ve reduced that to $3.4 billion. We’re still going to have to withdraw a significant amount of savings. But the amount of money that we’ve cut out of the budget will have a significant impact to Alaskans’ lives.”

Other Democrats voted against the budget because it did not include federal money for Medicaid expansion.

Through the night, their caucus offered 21 amendments to restore funding for early education, for workforce development, and for health care. None of their amendments succeeded.

The operating budget will now be considered by the Senate, which says it plans further reductions.