The Senate on Friday passed a $5.7 billion operating budget that was less than Gov. Sean Parnell sought or some minority Republicans pushed for, but Senate budget writers said its most prominent feature was the amount it saved for the future.
“It’s absolutely the most dedicated commitment to savings that I’ve seen,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, co-chairman of the powerful budget-drafting Senate Finance Committee.
“I think we made some good decisions,” said Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau.
Adding in federal and other funds, the total budget is about $9 billion.
Unless the House agrees to the Senate’s budget, a conference committee will merge the two budgets.
The first order of business was to set aside $1 billion in savings, before other work was done, Hoffman said.
The Senate is controlled by a Republican-led, majority Democrat, caucus. Four Republicans, led by Sen. Huggins, make a separate minority caucus.
Among the budget changes debated on the Senate Floor Friday was a request by Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, to begin opening the new Goose Creek Prison in the Mat-Su Borough. The Senate’s budget withholds money to begin using it due to concerns over cost overruns and Department of Corrections disregard of legislative instructions.
Huggins said the building is complete, and the state needs to begin using it while it is still under its one-year warranty
A budget increase sought by the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for additional office space, storage and a conference room was pared back by the Senate. Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, another minority Republican, sought to restore the money.
Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said the commission’s request for two new staff was deemed necessary and approved, but a conference room of its own wasn’t absolutely necessary.
“Every agency of government, almost every one, would like their own conference room,” Ellis said.
Huggins said the Legislature was willing to expand its own space.
“We bought a whole new building next door,” he said, referring to the Legislature’s newly acquired Thomas Stewart Building.
“Let’s just practice with others as we practice with ourselves,” Huggins said.
The Stewart building, actually purchased by the city and provided to the Legislature, was remodeled at a cost of $5.5 million. It includes a hearing room.
Both the Goose Creek and AOGCC changes were voted down, largely along caucus lines.
Notable parts of the budget that didn’t get floor debate included setting aside $60 million to help build a new Alaska-class ferry, now under design.
Hoffman said the Senate has also added money for a variety of other programs, ranging from $380,000 for the Best Beginnings early education program and $400,000 to help with quickly processing oil and gas permits.
There was also $2.7 million added to the wildlife management budget.
“I wanted to spotlight this because we have a Constitutional responsibility to manage our resources on a maximum sustained yield basis,” Hoffman said.
The additional wildlife appropriation comes after as similar boost to fisheries last year and aims to end lawsuits over scarce resources, he said.
“What we are trying to do with these appropriations is trying to get back into a situation were we are not fighting about the resources, but get them as abundant as possible,” he said.
Egan said that among the issues he was proud of was restoring $2 million in funding for pre-kindergarten pilot programs that had been cut by the House.
“We put those back,” Egan said.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.