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Operating budget, coastal zone on tap this week

Posted: March 12, 2012 - 12:00am

JUNEAU — The state operating budget and coastal management are among the issues on tap this week as Alaska lawmakers return to the state Capitol from a short break.

The House Finance Committee is putting the finishing touches on the budget. Last week, the committee adopted for consideration a $9.5 billion plan to fund state government. It is $60 million less than what the governor proposed but the total could get higher when the committee takes up amendments.

For example, Gov. Sean Parnell on Wednesday asked that $30.3 million in one-time funding be added to the budget to help school districts deal with rising energy and student transportation costs. His request comes weeks after the deadline for the administration to propose amendments but it is not unprecedented. An aide to Rep. Bill Thomas, the committee co-chair overseeing the operating budget on the House side, said Thomas hadn’t decided what to do about the request before leaving Juneau to return home.

Last week marked what’s known as “The Energy Council Break,” the annual point during session in which work in Juneau grinds to a virtual halt as some lawmakers go to Washington, D.C., for meetings of The Energy Council. The Energy Council is comprised of 11 energy-producing states, Canadian provinces and Venezuela.

Some lawmakers say the break gives those who don’t attend the conference a chance to return home around the midway point of session to meet with constituents.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn April 15. The operating budget is expected on the House floor this week. It then must go to the Senate.

Also in the House this week: the first hearing on a coastal management bill.

A co-sponsor of HB325 has said the measure tracks closely with a proposed ballot initiative that would re-establish a coastal management program in Alaska.

The program, which lets states put conditions on certain activities on federal lands and waters, lapsed last year, after several failed attempts by lawmakers to save it.

The Legislature can pre-empt a ballot initiative by passing substantially similar legislation.

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell on Friday certified the proposed initiative as having sufficient signatures to qualify for this year’s ballot.

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