$63 million more in cuts voted by Alaska Senate

The Alaska Senate voted today on a state budget with 63 million dollars more in cuts than the House budget passed last week.

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That’s mainly because the Senate added about 100 million dollars in executive branch cuts — though lawmakers didn’t specify what, exactly, those cuts will be.

Fairbanks Republican Pete Kelly says the legislature can work out the specifics before the end of the session.

“This 100 million dollars was mostly a recognition of those kinds of structural changes,” Kelly said. “Medicaid reform is a pretty good example. We – Somewhere in the neighborhood of 31 million dollars this year and up to hundreds of – over 100 million dollars each year after that, later on.”

Before the vote, minority Democrats proposed restoring money for several programs, including senior benefits, pre-K, and inflation-proofing the Permanent Fund. They proposed paying for those changes in part by cutting oil and gas tax credits, and reducing spending on several stalled infrastructure projects.

But all of those amendments failed.

Anchorage Democrat Berta Gardner says the state can afford the education funds she included in one amendment.

“This amendment chooses education and Alaska’s children over projects that may once have been a great idea but that we simply can’t afford any more,” said Gardner. “The amendment restores pre-K education, Online With Libraries, the teacher mentor program, and the unallocated 10-million-dollar university cut.”

Gardner proposed offsetting the cost of her amendment with cuts to the Knik Arm Crossing, the Susitna-Watana hydroelectric dam, and the Ambler mining district road.

Eagle River Republican Senator Anna MacKinnon says it would be wrong to use cuts to construction projects to pay for budget items that will pop up every year.

“We have tough decisions to make,” MacKinnon said. “And I appreciate scrubbing the budget and looking at one-time funding to fulfill re-occurring costs, but it’s just not the way to do business. You do not take one-time money, and invest it in re-occurring costs. It just, it just means we’re going to face the same battle next year.”

The Senate bill also includes 25 million dollars more for the University of Alaska. But it would cost less than the House in other areas, including eight million less for Health and Social Services and seven million less for transportation.

The two houses will resolve the differences between their versions of the budget in a conference committee.

But before the conference committee is assigned, both houses will consider major changes to oil and gas tax credits and the Permanent Fund, as well Medicaid and criminal justice overhauls.