Alaska state senators scour budget in hopes of $300M in cuts

State Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, shown here at a Senate Majority press availability on Feb. 24, says cuts to the Department of Health and Social Services were difficult. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The state Senate is looking to make up to $300 million in cuts to the state budget. But the Senate subcommittees looking to trim state agencies’ budgets are finding much smaller cuts.

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The subcommittees planned to finish their work Tuesday.

The biggest recommended cuts were to the Department of Health and Social Services, which saw a $55 million cut, and the University of Alaska, whose budget was cut by $16 million.

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said it was difficult to make the Health and Social Services reductions.

“It was certainly easier a couple of years ago, when perhaps there was some fat,” Micciche said. “I think we’re past those days. We don’t have the perpetual benefit of continued cuts. At some point, there will be someone that is going without a constitutionally required service.”

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said of the university budget cut that Alaskans may not understand the effect of deeper cuts.

“I hate to see this happen, but I think the problem is the public is just not aware of the horrible situation we are in,” Stevens said. “And although all of these budget cuts are painful and we’re sorry to see them happen, we just have got to get the public awareness out there that we’ve got a serious problem — and the inclination of the public to do something about it.”

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Berta Gardner said cutting the university budget is unwise at a time when the state’s need for a better educated workforce is large and growing.

Gardner said she doesn’t believe $300 million in cuts will make it into the final budget.

“I don’t see where it’s coming from,” Gardner said. “I think the House wouldn’t tolerate it either.”

The House has rejected a series of amendments proposed by the Republican minority caucus over the past two days. The House Finance Committee cut the budget by $31 million.

The Senate Finance Committee will hear public testimony on the budget Friday.