More than five weeks into the legislative session, House Finance Subcommittees recommended the first cuts to the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1st.
They include nine point $8 million in cuts to education programs, as well as cutting all $2.7 million in state funding for public broadcasting.
Representative Daniel Ortiz, (I-Ketchikan) said eliminating the $2 million for a pre-kindergarten program is a mistake.
“It’s about investing now, so that you don’t have higher costs later,” he said. “And it just makes good economic sense to do this. Yeah we get the two million dollar reduction but you know it’s going to be hard for anybody to chart the costs to the state later on down the road.”
Other proposed cuts include eliminating state funding for rural schools and libraries to increase broadband internet access. As well as a state program to fund mentors for teachers, which is aimed at retaining new teachers in rural Alaska.
Representative Lynn Gattis (R-Wasilla) said none of the cuts are easy, but they’re necessary. That’s because the state has a three-and-a-half-billion-dollar budget shortfall.
“Let’s put it this way. There’s nobody sitting here and I suspect nobody in the audience that’s very comfortable with any of these cuts. That being said, given I think somebody said to me, they said, you’re making me make a choice the right arm or the left arm and unfortunate part is, which arm do you write with, is where we’re at in making these cuts.”
Representative Sam Kito (D-Juneau) said the state should be looking for new revenue, like Governor Walker has proposed, before cutting programs that disproportionately benefit rural areas.
“The libraries in many of these communities become the focal point in trying to maintain connections with the outside world to try and engage students with technology,” he said.
For Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican, the debated education cuts are a small fraction of the overall cuts that are needed to close the state’s budget gap. He contends that the state expanded programs during oil boom years that it can no longer afford.
“The decisions that I want to see coming out of this Legislature are the difficult decisions to reduce our spending to a level that is sustainable and, Ma’am, to do that there is no question that we are going to have to be reducing programs in areas across the state that are good that are desirable that people want but that respectfully we just can’t afford these days.
Representative Neal Foster, a Democrat from Nome, said he hopes, before the budget is completed, the effect of cuts are geographically balanced. “I agree that cuts have to be made. I guess I was just – I’m sad to see that so many of these cuts are being made out of rural Alaskan programs. And so, um, I know it’s the beginning of the process, so I’m hopeful.”
Subcommittees are completing their work on the budget over the next week.