As Spending Talks Continue, House Takes Crack At Capital Budget

After a day of stalled and canceled meetings, the Alaska Legislature made small advances on a capital budget.

The Alaska House considered the appropriations bill on Monday evening — the 91st day of the 90-day legislative session — but did not actually pass it. The House version of the capital budget funds $1.5 billion in projects. Federal money makes up the bulk of the spending, with less than 10 percent coming from the state’s unrestricted general fund.

Democrats offered six amendments, all of which failed on caucus lines or were withdrawn. Their top amendments would have restored education funding that had been stripped out by the State Senate. Rep. Les Gara, of Anchorage, spoke to his own experiences as a foster child when arguing for the money.

“Schools give people a chance in the world. I know that from my own life. I would not have had a chance in the world without schools,” said Gara. “The idea that we can’t afford this — it’s self-imposed poverty.”

House Finance Co-Chair Steve Thompson, a Fairbanks Republican, opposed the measure, in light of the state’s multi-billion-dollar deficit.

“This amendment was proposed with the best of intentions,” said Thompson. “However, it is irresponsible in our current fiscal environment.”

After about two hours of debate on the failed amendments, House leadership pulled the budget legislation before it could be considered in its entirety. The bill is both a bargaining chip and vehicle for change in ongoing negotiations between the Republican majority and the Democratic minority over government spending and the use of the state’s rainy-day fund.

While the House Majority did not allow the Democrats’ education amendments to advance, their leadership has said they would ultimately like to see some of the Senate’s cuts to school funding reversed.