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Parnell signs state budgets

Praise, and some criticism, for spending, cuts

Posted: May 15, 2012 - 12:02am

Gov. Sean Parnell signed $12.1 billion in operating and capital spending budgets into law Monday, including about $100 million specifically for Juneau, but also raised concerns with some of his few vetoes.

Parnell appeared before the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce to announce he was signing 2013 budgets for Alaska that he called “clear-eyed, clear-headed and fiscally smart” for the state.

Despite battles over education funding during most of the regular legislative session, Parnell praised legislators and himself for the budget’s strong commitment to education.

Acknowledging “some measure of disagreement early in the session,” Parnell praised the final budget agreement that added $50 million in education spending over what he’d first proposed.

Parnell was accompanied at an Anchorage budget-signing ceremony by key players on both sides of the education funding debate.

Much of the debate revolved around one-time versus continuing funding for education. In the end there was a compromise with some continuing and some one-time money, they said.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, was Senate majority leader and said eventually pupil transportation money will be allocated based on costs, not per student to better reflect district costs.

No local capital projects were among a handful of vetoes from Parnell. Last year the governor set a veto record when the House and Senate failed to agree on budgets and left Parnell to sort out competing priorities.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, said this year’s process clearly worked much better with the House, Senate and governor agreeing to a certain capital budget number and sticking to it.

All the Juneau projects came through intact under that process, she said.

“That has worked well, obviously,” she said.

Highlighting the list was $49 million for the state Library, Archives and Museum project, but additional key appropriations included $6.25 million to finish the University of Alaska Southeast’s Banfield Hall project and $50 million for an Alaska-class ferry.

Parnell called the budget a responsible one, with Alaska’s oil running out.

“The goal was to get legislators to slow our rate of spending, given the decline in production,” he said.

Parnell’s largest veto, $50 million out of a total cut of $67 million, was for a lump-sum contribution to the underfunded Judicial Retirement System.

Parnell said he wanted to retain funding flexibility by keeping the $50 million in the treasury, and solve the JRS retirement system funding issue at the same time other retirement funding problems are addressed.

Parnell’s cuts to education were questioned by Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, including the early education programs designed for children before they start kindergarten, which she called “short-sighted.”

“We absolutely know that children who get pre-K early do better their entire lives, it’s not something you can wait on,” she said.

Parnell questioned whether that was the responsibility of the government or parents, though he acknowledged some parents were unable to provide that on their own.

Still, he questioned what he called a “headlong rush into public school funding of early learning.”

That may be something that faith-based groups or the Department of Health & Social Services should be providing, he said.

Parnell said the total spending increase by the state was a reasonable 3.3 percent, mostly driving by formula programs.

The budget also targets some stubborn Alaska problems, and includes funding for 15 new Village Public Safety Officers, along with associated Trooper support.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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